Thursday, September 15, 2011

John Ashton on Demythologization

In his splendid book on the Fourth Gospel, John Ashton has some truly wonderful turns of phrases.  It is one of the most erudite and humane books in biblical studies I have ever read.  One of the hidden gems can be found in his discussion of John 1.51 ("Amen, amen I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man"):

"One of the difficulties of interpreting the saying satisfactorily is that the imagination, for once, is of no avail.  Confronted with the bizarre spectacle of the angels clambering up and down on the strange new figure of the Son of Man, it seizes and stalls.  This is a common experience of twentieth-century Westerners:  as they look at myth, they feel compelled, somehow, to demythologize.  But why should a demythologized myth be any more use than dehydrated water?  The medium is the message--it does not contain it or hold it imprisoned like a genie in a bottle, waiting to be released.  Somehow, then, we have to allow the picture of the ladder, base on earth and top in the clouds, to fuse with that of the Son of man, and at the same time to allow the busily climbing angels, some going up and others going down, to convey the message with which the evangelist has charged them" (249-50).

What is that message?  You'll have to check out the book, which besides being a thoroughly humane and cultured volume, mounts an impressive interpretation of the Fourth Gospel.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of ChristendomRemember when I posted about "Constantinianism"?  I vaguely do, so I won't blame you if you don't.  Well, I have been enjoying (when not reading about Paul or writing about the Encratites) Peter Leithart's Defending ConstantineLeithart draws on an impressive array of evidence and scholarship in his sensitive treatment of Constantine.  Let me humbly advise all who think Constantine was the worst thing to ever happen to the church to read this book.  I'm only about one third of the way in, but so far it is shaping up to be an excellent contribution.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Why do Christians pray? Oh, right.

The monastic literature of the fourth and early fifth centuries develops the pattern of a contemplative ascent through the moral life to the perception of reason and order in creation and thence to that openness to God as God which evades all conceptual definition and is true theologia.  In other words, the person who prays is the person who both in behaviour and in understanding restores order to a disordered world, a person who makes visible the effect of submission to logos; he or she is someone who vindicates the Christian faith as a scheme that unifies the world of experience rather than fragmenting it.  And the climax of the process is an acknowledgement of the absolute difference of God:  holiness is both living in an ordered universe and recognising that this order is derivative from a reality quite uncontainable within it.  It is as if the contemplative acts out in his or her life of prayer the relation between Christ's human and divine natures.  The mature life of contemplation is an embodiment of logos (just as it might have been for a certain kind of philosopher), but that logos emanates from a reality that cannot be encompassed by rational perception, only by love and radical detachment and the silencing of analytical and imaginative activity.  Just as in Christ, a human life is transfigured from within in function of an indwelling divine agency which is in loving relation with an infinite source.  In and with Christ, the believer represents both the unshakeable order of the universe and the utter freedom and mystery of the self-giving God.

Rowan Williams, Why Study the Past?, 45-6.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Changing Educational Paradigms

Got this in an email from my sister-in-law (that still sounds weird in my ear). Fascinating. Both the animation and the talk.