Tomorrow: John Calvin on the Holy Trinity

Somehow, poor John Calvin has his name associated with a certain breed of hardheaded, argumentative, internet-addicted, theological-nitpicking jerk.  This is really too bad because John Calvin (though I personally would not go so far as to say that he completed the Reformation that Martin Luther started) was a brilliant man who wrote insightful Bible commentaries and sound, orthodox theology.  Besides that, lots of people of the Reformed/Calvinist position aren’t jerks and are open to thoughtful discussion of their beliefs, including things besides predestination again.

I’m not saying I agree with everything John Calvin ever wrote, especially regarding icons, and I’m not overly committed to the mechanics of predestination, but he is worth reading.  And worth reading for more than predestination.

So if all you think of when you hear, “John Calvin,” are those hardheaded jerks and endless arguments about predestination, please read his words on the Holy Trinity here (for those with their own print copies of The Institutes of the Christian Religion, it’s Book I, Chapter 13).

There you will find defense of the word “person” as well as a very brief history of it and its use (nothing as mind-crushing as Zizioulas’ in Being As Communion), a defense of the divinity of both the Son and the Holy Spirit, and a discussion of how the Unity in Trinity runs down the middle course between Arianism on the one hand (only the Father is God) and Sabellianism on the other (all three are different “modes” of God’s being).

For those who are thinking, “You say The Shack isn’t really theology, but where do I turn?”  Turn here!  It is briefer than Augustine’s On the Trinity, more modern than Boethius.  Here you will find the true, orthodox doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity expounded.  It is honey and sweetness to your ears, balm to your soul!  Read it and praise the Father, praise the Son, praise the Spirit — Three in One!


John Donne: Good Friday

Tom Wright declares, in The Prison Letters (fr. his series Paul for Everyone):

As you look at the incarnate son of God dying on the cross the most powerful thought you should think is: this is the true meaning of who God is.  He is the God of self-giving love. (103)

In Holy Week at the Small Group we looked at some of John Donne’s Holy Sonnets, and Easter Week we perused George Herbert.  Donne’s poetry is available via Luminarium, and the sonnets we read were numbers X, “Death Be Not Proud,” XI, “Spit in My Face, You Jews, and Pierce My Side,” XIII “What If This Present Were the World’s Last Night,” and XIV, “Batter My Heart, Three-person’d God.”  Herbert’s were “Good Friday,” “Sepulchre,” “Easter,” and “Easter-Wings,” all available at Luminarium save “Good Friday” somehow.

Today let us consider John Donne’s, “Spit in My Face, You Jews.”  All of the above-mentioned poems are worth reading several times.  Indeed, we read them all aloud twice each.  Here is John Donne’s eleventh Holy Sonnet.  Read it to yourself a few times, especially aloud, even in company.

Spit in my face, you Jews, and pierce my side,
Buffet, and scoff, scourge, and crucify me,
For I have sinn’d, and sinne’, and only He,
Who could do no iniquity, hath died.
But by my death can not be satisfied
My sins, which pass the Jews’ impiety.
They kill’d once an inglorious man, but I
Crucify him daily, being now glorified.
O let me then His strange love still admire ;
Kings pardon, but He bore our punishment ;
And Jacob came clothed in vile harsh attire,
But to supplant, and with gainful intent ;
God clothed Himself in vile man’s flesh, that so
He might be weak enough to suffer woe.

Part of the appeal of this poem is its provocative first line.  I think it’s supposed to make you think that Donne is being racist.  Only he’s not.  I don’t know if he was in real life, but this poem is not racist.  Read it again if you thought it was.  That first line is calling the Jewish people of the first-century to spit in Donne’s face.  Why?  Because these people killed the sinless one, “who could do no iniquity.”  And Donne?  Oh, Donne’s a sinner.  Read his un-holy sonnets.  Donne is the one who deserve buffetting, scoffing, scourging, and crucifying, not Jesus.  He is calling on the Jews to turn their attentions to himself instead of to Christ.

This fact is central to the mystery of Good Friday, the glory of the Cross — we sinners who deserve death are spared, while the livegiver who has done no wrong dies on our behalf.  Jesus on the Cross is showing us the upside Kingdom of God’s mercy — not simply pardoning as an earthly king, but bearing our punishment.  And yet we surpass the impiety of the first-century Jews.  We, by our sins, crucify Jesus daily.  What impiety!  What sin!  Should we not feel sorrow and seek to amend our ways?

Finally, we see that God, YHWH, who is impassible, who cannot suffer, has “clothed Himself in vile man’s flesh” — in order to “be weak enough to suffer woe.”  Christ, who is himself perfect God, tasted all there is to taste of humanity, including suffering, including woe, including death.  All of these things are now taken up into God through the Incarnation and Crucifixion.  Our pain is known to the Almighty, and he shall not remain silent forever.

If you’ve been following my posts on the Cult of the Cross (here and here), I would argue that poetry such as this is part of the early seventeenth century’s Protestant “Cult” of the Cross — devotional poetry reflecting upon the Cross and upon Christ and how Christ might be made real to me, and I might change my ways.

Tomorrow Night: Martin Luther

This Tuesday, we’ll be moving along from the mysticism of Evelyn Underhill to the theology & exegesis of Martin Luther.  However, this is most appropriate in my opinion because we need to have a firm underpinning of doctrine & theology in our minds before we embark on the journey of contemplation and mysticism — else we end up heterodox like Origen, Evagrius, Meister Eckhart, Madame Guyon.  The life of prayer as we looked at it in Underhill is to be intrinsically connected to the life of the intellect and the reading of Scripture.

Our reading shall be his “Preface of the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans.”  It’s about 14 pages long and crammed full of ideas and teachings; I heartily recommend you read it more than once.  It is online here.

If you have time, also check out the Christian History article and his 95 Theses.

Living Vicariously

I know that living dangerously is probably more exciting, but sometimes vicarious living is the best you can do.

If you do not live in Toronto or cannot make it to my small group on Tuesdays, make this website (not the imports to facebook, but your home.

Every Saturday, I plan to post a little nugget of information, highlighting what we’ll be doing the coming Tuesday; if available, I will link to the texts/ideas to be studied.

Between Wednesday and Friday, I’ll post some reflections from the Tuesday night discussion.

As well, once I have time, I’ll post a tentative schedule in the right-hand side bar on the page “Classic Christian Small Group.”

Finally, if you keep your eye on those pages to the right, the links to the right, and the blog posts right here, you’ll hopefully be drawn further into this journey through Classic Christianity.

September 22: Why read old stuff? Who really cares?

On September 22, the first meeting of my new small group will discuss, “Why read old stuff?  Who really cares?”

This is really the fundamental question facing anyone who is curious at any level about Classic Christianity, for even to engage with with the devotional practices of those who go before us, we must read old stuff.  A portion of one’s journey into the Great Tradition can be spent with art, traditional liturgy, old music, and suchlike, but a significant portion will be spent reading, unearthing, evaluating, discussing old texts.

So what is the value in reading old texts?

On Tuesday, our first guide to this question will be GK Chesterton and his essay “On Reading” from The Common Man. I have posted it on the website here.

The second guide will be CS Lewis and his “Introduction” to On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius (published by SVS Press, 1977).  This essay is apparently available online along with the entire text of On the Incarnation!  It sometimes appears in Lewis anthologies as something like, “On Reading Old Books,” or “Why Read Old Books.”

Once we have read these and discussed a bit the why of reading old books, John Wesley will stand up and help us see how to read, we shall read part of Wesley’s introduction to The Christian’s Pattern, his abridgement of The Imitation of Christ.

I trust that the evening will be excellent, thought-provoking, and challenging.