Saturday, 30 December 2017

Denys Turner in The Atheism Tapes

Notes from some of the things Denys Turner said in the clip Jonathan Miller in conversation with Denys Turner
Being a card-carrying atheist is no longer intellectually interesting in the way it still was in the 19th century. Indifference is more troubling, as it ceases to be astonished and rules out certain questions, especially “Why is there any thing at all?”
“There is all the difference in the world between a question concerning HOW things are and the question concerning THAT things are.”
Classically: creatio ex nihilo. This is an odd expression. Aquinas pointed that there isn’t a kind of thing that the name “nothing” names.
“God is not any kind of thing...We’re not talking about something that’s on the map of creation. We’re talking about something that’s off the map of creation.”
Hence the need for negative theology, “knowing that you don’t know what you’re talking about”. Theology is “the sense that on the other side of our language is something which sustains it but which can’t be contained within it.” Cf. Ludwig Wittgenstein at the end of his Tractatus logico-philosophicus “What underlies how we say things cannot itself be said.” [strongly interpretative rendering of “Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen.”]
Bertrand Russell: “the world is simply given” – better: “the world is gifted, it has been given to us by a good and loving God”
The language of gift presumes intentionality but beware the language of purpose. Gifts can be gratuitous; a thing can exist simply because this sort of thing is beautiful.

Either everything, in some way or another, including failure, reveals God, or the atheist position is correct.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Schistocerca Gregaria

While there is enough food the desert locusts live individually on their own, meeting only for mating. They are greenish light brown in this (solitaria) phase.


But in arid times foraging grounds become smaller and the locusts meet each other more often. Rubbing against each other, especially at their hind legs, effects a profound change of phase in the animals which leads to a different behaviour within hours. At this (gregaria) phase the animals meet in swarms, after a generation their body grows bigger, the jaw stronger and they now look a reddish brown.


Right into the 20th c. these were thought to be two different species.

Nesina Grütter, Das Buch Nahum. Eine vergleichende Untersuchung des masoretischen Texts und der Septuagintaübersetzung (WMANT 148; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Theologie, 2016), 204.

See further M. Rothschild, B. Gardiner, R. Mummery, and G. Valadon, "Carotenoids in the solitaria and gregaria phases of the locust: Schistocerca gregaria fed on artificial and natural diets," Journal of Zoology 181 (1977): 475–494.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Numbering Pascal's Thoughts

Blaise Pascal did not number his thoughts. The various editors combined different bits and pieces of the textual tradition here and there with their own numbering. This can make it hard to locate a thought. A precise concordance is impossible in the nature of things but, thankfully, Prof. em. Dr. Dr. Thomas Bonhoeffer has created an excel sheet which points to broadly equivalent passages in  several French editions. See the link to his "flexible concordance" here.
Maybe Pascal's most famous aphorism comes from this thought:
Le coeur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaît point; on le sait en mille choses. Je dis que le coeur aime l’être universel naturellement, et soi-même naturellement selon qu’il s’y adonne; et il se durcit contre l’un ou l’autre à son choix. Vous avez rejeté l’un et conservé l’autre: est-ce par raison que vous vous aimez?

The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know. We feel it in a thousand things. I say that the heart naturally loves the Universal Being, and also itself naturally, according as it gives itself to them; and it hardens itself against one or the other at its will. You have rejected the one, and kept the other. Is it by reason that you love yourself?

This is Brunschvicg 277 = Strowski 89 = Chevalier 477 = Lafuma 423 = Kaplan 85. In the editions by Brunschvicg, Strowski, and Lafuma this is followed by this thought (which is Chevalier 481 and Kaplan 83):
C’est le coeur qui sent Dieu et non la raison. Voilà ce que c’est que la foi: Dieu sensible au coeur, non à la raison.
It is the heart which experiences God, and not the reason. This, then, is faith: God felt by the heart, not by the reason.
 English translation from Blaise Pascal, Thoughts, translated by W. F. Trotter, The Harvard Classics XLVIII, Part 1 (New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1909–14); www.bartleby.com/48/1/ [2001; accessed 26 Dec 2017].

Monday, 25 December 2017

Am heiligen Christfest

Herr Gott himmlischer Vater, wir danken Dir, daß Du schon vor Grundlegung der Welt den Ratschluß unserer Erlößung gefaßt; daß Du, als die Erstgeschaffenen der Versuchung der Schlange erlegen waren, den Trost der Verheißung in der Menschheit aufgerichtet und als nun die Zeit erfüllet war den gnadenreichen Plan Deiner erfinderischen Liebe ins Werk gesetzt hast. Was Du den Vätern des alten Bundes in Weissagungsworten und Vorbildern in Aussicht gestellt hast, das hast Du treulich und herrlich über Bitten und Verstehen erfüllet; denn also hast Du die Welt geliebt, daß Du Deinen eingeborenen Sohn gabst.
Und Dir, Sohn Gottes, Jesu Christe, danken wir, daß Du von Ewigkeit her Dich in unaussprechlicher Liebe entschlossen hast, für uns, die Kinder des Zorns, ins Mittel zu treten; daß Du, als die Zeit erfüllet war, die Herrlichkeit, die Du bei dem Vater hattest, ehe der Welt Grund gelegt war, verlassen hast, um Dich in unser Fleisch und Blut zu versenken und Deine Gottesherrlichkeit mit der Knechtsgestalt zu vertauschen, und daß Du unseres Gleichen geworden, unsere Sünden gebüßt und unsre Schuld mit Deiner Unschuld gedeckt und uns Gott wieder angenehm gemacht hast in Dir, dem ewig und unendlich Geliebten. Als die Erde gegründet wurde, da jubelten zusamt die Morgensterne und jauchzten alle Kinder Gottesö als aber die Erde durch Deine Menschwerdung der allerhöchsten Ehre gewürdigt und das ewige Liebesgeheimnis offenbar ward, da staunten die Himmel und die Menge der himmlischen Heerscharen feierete diesen Anbruch des Lichts in der Mitternacht und sang: Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe und Frieden auf Erden und den Menschen ein Wohlgefallen.
Und Du Gott heiliger Geist, der Du einst die Wasser des Schöpfungsanfangs überschwebtest, daß die Erde daraus emportauchte, Du warst es auch, der die Gebenedeite unter den Weibern überschattete, damit der Sündlose empfangen und geboren würde, der die sündige Erde erlösen sollte. Von Dir in den Schoß der Jungfrau hineingewirkt, ward uns die unaussprechliche Gabe des Christfestes zu teil, das Himmelskind, welches Himmel und Erde versöhnt hat, Christus Jesus, welcher uns gemacht ist von Gott zur Weisheit und zur Gerechtigkeit und zur Heiligung und zur Erlösung. Wir danken Dir, daß Du durch die heilige Taufe uns in seine Gemeinschaft gepflanzt, und bitten Dich: mache auch, so oft wir sein Abendmahl feiern, sein Fleisch und Blut zum Pfande unserer Entsündigung, zur Triebkraft unserer Heiligung, zur Macht unserer Verklärung, auf daß wir, die wir jetzt an der Krippe anbeten, einst um seinen Thron versammelt seien und ihn sehen von Angesicht. Amen.


Franz Delitzsch, Das Sakrament des wahren Leibes und Blutes Jesu Christi: Beicht- und Kommunionbuch, siebte Auflage (Leipzig: Justus Naumann, 1886), 214-216.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Christmas Fantasy Then and Now

It may be unpopular to trespass on popular images associated with Christ’s birth and to debunk myths, but it is theologically dangerous to allow the account of his birth to be hijacked by fiction. Christmas fables lure us to seasonal sentimentality and away from the year-round task of discipleship in which we are to deny ourselves and take up our crosses daily (9:23). They yield only superficial spirituality.
      The fictional Christmas has been a long time in the making. It has been said that whoever (it is debated) wrote “’Twas the Night before Christmas” in 1822 changed the way Americans celebrate the holiday of Christmas. The poem manufactured the character who became Santa Claus by combining St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6) with Christmas. In 1863, Thomas H. Nast drew a cartoon of Santa as a fat, jolly man with a white beard, who became the standard image. A Coca-Cola advertising campaign from the 1930s dressed Santa in red and white clothing.
      The same kind of fictional development happened centuries ago in the popular conception of what happened at Christ’s birth. The Protevangelium of James, an apocryphal, fictional account of Mary’s and Jesus’ birth, contributed mythical details. For example, it has Joseph as an older widower, Jesus’ birth in a cave, and the midwife’s astonishment that the Virgin Mary’s hymen remained miraculously intact even after the birth.

David E. Garland, Luke (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 128.



Friday, 15 December 2017

The (Proto-)Masoretic Text

The Ancient World Online blog reports a ten-part series of posts on the (Proto-)Masoretic Text by Prof. Emanuel Tov which is both written in an accessible style and includes information of which I was unaware.



Table of Contents
Part 1 – The Bible and the Masoretic Text
Part 2 – Judean Desert Texts Outside Qumran
Part 3 – Socio-Religious Background and Stabilization
Part 4 – The Scribes of Proto-MT and their Practices
Part 5 – Precise Transmission of Inconsistent Spelling
Part 6 – Scribal Marks
Part 7 – Key Characteristics of the (Proto-)MT
Part 8 – Other Biblical Text Traditions
Part 9 – Evaluating (Proto-)MT
Part 10 – Editions and Translations of (Proto-)MT

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Presbyter in the Latin BCP

An addendum to the previous post on the etymology of the English term "priest": The Latin translation of the BCP authorised by Queen Elizabeth (1560), which does not include ordination services, uses presbyter five times, once in relation to the ministration of public baptism of infants (the equivalent at private baptism is Minister), once at the the giving of the ring during the solemnization of matrimony, and three times in the service of Holy Communion, namely before the two exhortations ("minister" in English) and in a rubric right at the end in which priests are distinguished from deacons (Presbyterii et Diaconi).

The Latin sacerdos is not used in the baptism services but once in the marriage service. It is used seven times in the Holy Communion service, namely in the rubrics before the Ten Commandments, the reading of the Epistle, the general Confession, the Absolution, the Prayer of Humble Access, the Prayer of Consecration, and the Blessing. It is also found about a dozen times in services in which presbyter makes no appearance (Visitation of the Sick, Communion of the Sick, Burial of the Dead, Morning and Evening Prayer), always in rubrics, except for the petition "Endue thy Ministers with righteousness" (Sacerdotes tui induanter Justitia, cf. its occurence in the Benedicite hymnus, also at Matins).

The (unauthorised) 1885 Latin translation of the 1662 Prayerbook show a greatly increased use of sacerdos with presbyter having dropped out of baptism and marriage services. In the Holy Communion service presbyter is used twice, in both instances presbyteri are distinguished from diaconi. By contrast, sacerdos is used about two dozen times. The only place in which presbyter is used prominently is in the ordination service which is not surprising, as it helps to distinguish one kind of sacerdos from another (the episcopus).

The 1571 and 1670 Latin translations of the Book of Common Prayer are not available online, as far as I can see. The latter, by Jean Durel, would be particularly interesting. Charles Marshall and William W. Marshall in chapter 2 (pp. 46-60) of The Latin prayer book of Charles II; or, an account of the Liturgia of Dean Durel, together with a reprint and translation of the catechism therein contained, with collations, annotations, and appendices (Oxford: James Thornton, 1882) comment on Durel's preference for the term presbyter as due to its lack of sacrificial connotations. Presumably Marshall and Marshall think that sacerdos carried such connotations by that time, even though they believe that in the early church sacerdos referred to a person in holy orders, including deacons.

J. Robert Wright in the chapter on "Early Translations" in The Oxford Guide to The Book of Common Prayer: A Worldwide Survey, edited by Charles Hefling, Cynthia Shattuck (OUP, 2006), pp. 56-60, in reviewing the various Latin and Greek versions of the Book of Common Prayer comments that "there is no strict consistency as to how such words as 'priest', 'presbyter', or 'minister' are to be translated, and the confusion has given rise to much unnecessary theological speculation" (pp. 56-57).