Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Fresh courage take

The performance above omits the fifth verse below.
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His gracious will.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.
William Cowper, 1774

Monday, April 24, 2017

Unworthy lives

"60,000 Reichsmark is what this person suffering
from a hereditary defect costs the People's
community during his lifetime.
Fellow citizen, that is your money too."
.... The Holocaust—the Shoah—did not begin with the mass killing of Jews or other ethnic or religious minorities, or even Hitler’s political opponents. It began with the killing of the handicapped and infirm. They were, according to Nazi ideology, “useless eaters,” “parasites,” lebensunwertes leben (“lives unworthy of life”). It is important to remember that this eugenic doctrine did not originate with the Nazis. It began with polite, urbane, well-educated, sophisticated people who saw “social hygiene” via, among other methods, euthanasia, as representing progress and modernity. They wanted to ditch the old Judaeo-Christian belief in the sanctity of all human life and replace it with what they regarded as a more advanced and rational philosophy.

This was the view articulated by, for example, noted legal scholar Karl Binding and psychiatrist Alfred Hoche in their treatise Permitting the Destruction of Life Unworthy of Life, published in 1920. Binding and Hoche were not Nazis, and when they were writing their book the Nazi party didn’t even exist. In a few years, however, Hitler and the Nazis would adopt their ideas about “social hygiene” (mixing in racialist ideology and nostalgia for a mythical golden age of Teutonic paganism) and carry out the euthanasia program with a remorseless, pitiless fervor. Thus, began what became the Shoah—the murder of six million Jews, two to three million Russians, two million ethnic Poles, and nearly countless other so-called “undesirables.”

Yes, let us truly say, from our hearts and with conviction: “Never again.”

Friday, April 21, 2017

Another fan

Today John Mark Reynolds posted about several authors, "They were almost great...Five Remarkable Writers." One of those falling just short of his five was R. Austin Freeman.
R. Austin Freeman
I don’t know many people who read the Dr. Thorndyke stories outside of detective book junkies. They are odd in that they start with the “whodunit” and then reveal the how he done it. ....
I love the Freeman books and as I thin out my library they will not be among those that go. From previous posts on this site:

Many of Freeman's stories are "inverted" detective tales where you are told the story of the crime from the perpetrator's point of view including, of course, all the steps taken to conceal what he has done, and then observe the detective's inexorable discovery of the guilty. Evans says that Freeman was one of T.S. Eliot's favorite detective novelists, better than Christie. Evans on Freeman:
Although Freeman’s first detective novel, The Red Thumb Mark, appeared in 1907, well before the beginning of the Golden Age, Freeman, a contemporary of Arthur Conan Doyle, continued writing mystery fiction until the year before his death in 1943. Between 1922 and 1938, Freeman published fifteen detective novels and three collections of detective short stories, all but one detailing exploits of his then-famous detective (and the greatest rival of Sherlock Holmes), medical jurist Dr. John Thorndyke. Two more Thorndyke novels appeared in 1940 and 1942, outside the proper span of the Golden Age.

Freeman’s Thorndyke tales brought science and forensic medicine into the detective fiction genre in a masterful way. Compared to Thorndyke, Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is far less credible on scientific matters. ....

Though some of Freeman’s best works, such as The Eye of Osiris (1911) and the short-story collections John Thorndyke’s Cases (1909) and The Singing Bone (1912), were published before the Golden Age began, Freeman produced many superb Golden Age works, including the three later short story collections Dr. Thorndyke’s Casebook (1923), The Puzzle Lock (1925), and The Magic Casket (1927) and novels such as The Cat’s Eye (1923), The Shadow of the Wolf (1925), As a Thief in the Night (1928), Mr. Pottermack's Oversight (1930), The Penrose Mystery (1936), and The Stoneware Monkey (1938).

Freeman’s story collection The Singing Bone has been credited with creating the inverted mystery, and the later novels Wolf and Oversight are fine examples of that form. (more)
I don't possess all of those books, but of those I do own Mr. Pottermack's Oversight is a favorite, as are a couple he doesn't mention, A Silent Witness (1929) and For the Defense: Dr. Thorndyke (1934).


Most of these books, by R. Austin Freeman, were what was known as an "inverted" detective story: the book started with the crime, from the criminal's point of view, and then you observed Dr. Thorndyke, as he inexorably moved toward discovering the criminal (although not always exposing him). I'm reading Mr. Pottermack's Oversight, first published in 1930, and came across the following in the text, reminding me that plot is not the only reason I find Freeman so enjoyable:
Temperamentally, Dr. John Thorndyke presented a peculiarity which, at the first glance, seemed to involve a contradiction. He was an eminently friendly man; courteous, kindly and even genial in his intercourse with his fellow creatures. Nor was his suave, amicable manner in any way artificial or consciously assumed. To every man his attitude of mind was instinctively friendly; and if he did not suffer fools gladly, he could, on occasion endure them with almost inexhaustible patience.

And yet, with all his pleasant exterior and his really kindly nature, he was at heart a confirmed solitary. Of all company, his own thoughts were to him the most acceptable. After all, his case was not singular. To every intellectual man, solitude is not only a necessity, it is the condition to which his mental qualities are subject, and the man who cannot endure his own sole society has usually excellent reasons for his objection to it. (p. 105)
Many of the Freeman books are now in the public domain and available for download free as ebooks. One source.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

"By their fruits..."

.... Whatever your views on origins and evolution, we can hopefully all agree that, at present, we give far too much honor to the British thinker who justified genocide.

Darwin didn’t hide his view that his evolutionary thinking applied to human races as well as to animal species. The full title of his seminal 1859 book was On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life. He followed up more explicitly in The Descent of Man, where he spelled out his racial theory:
The Western nations of Europe...now so immeasurably surpass their former savage progenitors [that they] stand at the summit of civilization.... The civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace the savage races through the world.
Thankfully, most British people today are embarrassed by the racist rhetoric that under girded the late-Victorian British Empire. What’s astonishing is how little they understand that Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution provided the doctrine behind its white supremacism. Whereas the British Empire of the early 19th century had been dominated by Christian reformers such as William Wilberforce, who sold slave badges that proclaimed, “Am I not a man and a brother?”, Darwin’s writings converted an empire with a conscience into an empire with a scientific philosophy. Four years after Darwin published The Origin of Species, James Hunt turned it into a justification for slavery. In his 1863 paper, “On the Negro’s Place in Nature,” he asserted: “Our Bristol and Liverpool merchants, perhaps, helped to benefit the race when they transported some of them to America.”

Christian reformers had spent decades in the early 19th century teaching Britain to view non-European races as their equals before God. In a matter of years, Darwin swept not only God off the table, but also the value of people of every race with him. ....

.... When The Melbourne Review used Darwin’s teachings to justify the genocide of indigenous Australians in 1876, he didn’t try and stop them. When the Australian newspaper argued that “the inexorable law of natural selection [justifies] exterminating the inferior Australian and Maori races”—that “the world is better for it” since failure to do so would be “promoting the non-survival of the fittest, protecting the propagation of the imprudent, the diseased, the defective, and the criminal”—it was Christian missionaries who raised an outcry on behalf of this forgotten genocide. Darwin simply commented, “I do not know of a more striking instance of the comparative rate of increase of a civilized over a savage race.” .... [more]

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

No gods

World War II was a unit in almost every course I taught. Included would be its causes which meant time spent on the development of the USSR, Japanese militarism, Italian Fascism, and, especially, Hitler and the Nazis. Hitler's beliefs were central to Nazi behavior. From Lars Walker's review of Hitler’s Religion by Richard Weikart:
.... Atheists like to declare that Hitler was a Christian, and Christians like to retort he was an atheist, or an occultist.

Richard Weikart, author of Hitler’s Religion, says they’re all wrong. He provides pretty convincing documentation that Hitler was in fact a pantheist. ....

.... Christianity, he said, was a weak, corrupt religion. Jesus (whom he claimed to admire) was in truth an Aryan who fought against the greed of the Jews, and was martyred for it. The vile, Jewish, Apostle Paul then twisted Jesus’ simple teachings into a superstitious system that promoted degenerate Jewish ethics.

Hitler was not a systematic thinker, so his actual beliefs aren’t easy to pin down. But the preponderance of evidence in this exhaustively researched book argues that Hitler was most sympathetic to romantic Darwinism.... In this kind of pantheism, Nature is conceived of as a universal force that exercises some kind of will. Nature’s divine will can be deduced by observing her laws, under which the strong always destroy the weak, permitting the species to evolve. Humanity is the pinnacle of animal life, and the Aryan race the pinnacle of humanity. To allow inferior races to dilute Aryan strength is thus a mortal sin against Nature’s law and purpose. So the inferior races must be eliminated. It seems cruel, but it’s the most virtuous choice in the long run.

The argument that Hitler was an occultist, so popular among sensational Christian writers, does not hold up, in Weikart’s view. Although there were occultist and heathen elements in the Nazi Party, Hitler sneered at them. He didn’t want gods of any sort. Only Nature – the Universe itself – aroused his veneration. ....

"Self-evident, not obvious"

"Self-Evident, Not Obvious" is the title of Gilbert Meilaender's essay about a recent book, C.S. Lewis on Politics and the Natural Law. ("Too bad for potential readers...that Cambridge University Press could not have priced this book more reasonably!") The subject of the book is very similar to that of my long-ago proposed, but abortive, master's thesis. Meilaender:
.... Our knowledge of right and wrong, and our ability to reason about such matters, must surely be distorted by sin. While not denying that, Lewis did not think it made sense to suppose that fallen reason is completely unreliable. After all, unless we assume at least some capacity to reason reliably, how could we make any judgment about the extent to which our rational powers have been darkened by sin? Nevertheless, what reason is able to perceive depends to a large extent upon the will, not just the mind. Anyone who remembers the dwarfs (who are obstinately unable to see the feast Aslan spreads before them) in The Last Battle will realize how a will disordered by sin can undermine our ability to understand the truth.
In Mere Christianity, Lewis may not have taken this distorting effect of a sinful will as seriously as he should have. For example, he says the law of nature was called that “because people thought that every one knew it by nature and did not need to be taught it.” This tends to obscure the distinction between thinking that the basic moral truths are self-evident and thinking that they are obvious. To say that they are self-evident is to say that their truth is not grounded in or proven by any other, more fundamental truths. They shine by their own light, as Lewis says. But this does not necessarily mean that they are obvious or that no one needs to be taught them. For they may not be at all obvious to those who, like the dwarfs, will not see. ....

Although, as Lewis acknowledged, some human beings may by nature be ordered to govern others, the natural order has been so disturbed by sin that none of us is any longer fit to be the master of others. Thus, Lewis’s commitment to democratic rule was grounded less in a belief in a general capacity of people for wisdom and justice than it was in a sense that none of us could be trusted with too much power over others. ....

.... One thinks of Reinhold Niebuhr’s oft-cited aphorism: “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” Convinced as Lewis was about the inclination to injustice, his entire moral theory makes clear that he could not entirely deny that we also possess at least some capacity for justice. Had he written more than occasional essays on politics, this secondary emphasis might have made its presence felt. What is clear, however, even from those occasional essays, is that Lewis was reluctant to endorse legal coercion aimed at enforcing certain moral views held by Christians but not shared by their fellow citizens. Hence, he did not want to prohibit divorce or criminalize homosexual activity (which is not the same as endorsing same-sex “marriage”). .... [more]

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

"It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body"

Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
Wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.

In the grave they laid Him, Love Whom men had slain,
Thinking that never He would wake again,
Laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen:
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.

Up He came at Easter, like the risen grain,
He that for three days in the grave had lain;
Quick from the dead my risen Lord is seen:
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.

When our hearts are wintry, grieving or in pain,
Thy touch can call us back to life again;
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.

Monday, April 17, 2017


Some of the prayers from the Brief Order of Worship in the original Presbyterian Book of Common Worship (1906):

MOST holy and merciful Father; We acknowledge and confess in Thy Presence: Our sinful nature prone to evil and slothful in good; And all our shortcomings and offenses against Thee. Thou alone knowest how often we have sinned: In wandering from Thy ways; In wasting Thy gifts; In forgetting Thy love. But Thou, O Lord, have pity upon us; Who are ashamed and sorry for all wherein we have displeased Thee. Teach us to hate our errors; Cleanse us from our secret faults; And forgive our sins; For the sake of Thy dear Son our Saviour. And O most holy and loving Father: Send Thy purifying grace into our hearts, we beseech Thee; That we may henceforth live in Thy light and walk in Thy ways; According to the commandments of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.


O GOD, by whose hand all living things were made, and by whose blessing they are nourished and sustained; We give Thee hearty thanks for all the bounties of Thy providence, wherewith Thou hast enriched our life; and we humbly pray that, enjoying Thy gifts in contentment, we may be enabled by Thy grace to use them to Thy praise. Especially we thank Thee for Thy great love in sending Thy Son to be the Saviour of the world and in calling us out of our sins into fellowship with Him: and we beseech Thee to grant us always Thy Holy Spirit, through whom we may grow continually in thankfulness toward Thee, as also into the likeness of Thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

O GOD, the Creator and Preserver of all mankind, we humbly beseech Thee for all sorts and conditions of men; that Thou wouldest be pleased to make Thy ways known unto them, Thy saving health unto all nations. More especially, we pray for Thy holy Church universal; that it may be so guided and governed by Thy good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life. Finally, we commend to Thy fatherly goodness all those who are any ways afflicted, or distressed, in mind, body, or estate; that it may please Thee to comfort and relieve them, according to their several necessities; giving them patience under their sufferings, and a happy issue out of all their afflictions. And this we beg for Jesus Christ's sake.  Amen.


O LORD, our heavenly Father, bless and keep, we pray Thee, our kindred, friends, and benefactors, and graciously watch between them and us, while we are absent one from another, that in due time we may meet again to praise Thee, and hereafter dwell together in heavenly mansions; through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Worship at home

Mere Orthodoxy has been posting a series about family worship. In today's post, "On Family Worship and Failure," Eric Hutchinson mentions a book I don't have but have just now ordered.
What I’ve found to be most useful–really, an ideal combination of non-trivial solemnity (that is, language that elevates and ennobles) and brevity, is the Brief Order of Worship in the original Presbyterian Book of Common Worship (1906), a book that draws fairly heavily on the Book of Common Prayer. The order is: opening sentences, prayer (invocation, confession, Lord’s Prayer), Psalms, Gloria Patri, Creed, Scripture, hymn, prayers, ascription of praise.

But also remember to be flexible. On some days my family can’t do all of these. That’s OK. It’s better to do 4 minutes of something than no minutes of nothing. No time for two Scripture readings? Do one. ....
The complete book can be found here.

Sunday, April 16, 2017


This seems to have been out for a while. I haven't seen it. I'd like to.

In "Picking What We Like From Niebuhr" Barton Swaim reviews the documentary and observes that people across the ideological and/or theological spectrum claim admiration for him. From that review:
.... I watched the documentary's treatment of Niebuhr's best and most famous work, Moral Man and Immoral Society. ....The book's basic idea is this: While people are capable of "moral" or altruistic behavior as individuals, they become cold and cruel, even vicious, when they act as collectives. Men and women are able to act morally in some circumstances; governments and nations basically are not. Political ideologies built on the idea that man can create a perfectly just society by means of collective coercion are therefore doomed to failure. "There are definite limits of moral goodwill and social intelligence," he writes, "beyond which even the most vital religion and the most astute educational programme will not carry a social group, whatever may be possible for individuals in an intimate society."

The best check on group egoism, Niebuhr contends, is not coercion by a technocratic elite but the ordered conflict of democracy. What is lacking in the worldview of Thomas Dewey and other progressives, he writes,
is an understanding of the brutal character of the behavior of all human collectives, and the power of self-interest and collective egoism in all intergroup relations. Failure to recognize the stubborn resistance of group egoism to all moral and inclusive social objectives inevitably involves them in unrealistic and confused political thought. They regard social conflict either as an impossible method of achieving morally approved ends or as a momentary expedient which a more perfect education or a purer religion will make unnecessary. They do not see that the limitations of the human imagination, the consequent persistence of irrational egoism, particularly in group behavior, make social conflict an inevitability in human history, probably to its very end.
That is a powerful argument. Its implications, whatever one's philosophical allegiances, are bewildering. It's applicable to the utopian ideologies of communism and Social Gospel theory with their wild optimism about human nature, modern progressivism and "compassionate conservatism" with their faith in bureaucratic benevolence, and even the new Trumpian nationalism with its confidence in the restorative power of unity and patriotism. ....

.... Liberal Protestant theologians in the first third of the twentieth century no longer took the doctrine of sin seriously, believing man to be perfectible. Niebuhr forcefully told them they were wrong. He brought an "Augustinian sensibility" to the debate—which is a radical theologian's fancy way of saying Niebuhr insisted on the inescapable reality of sin in human life. .... [more]


Christ Jesus lay in death’s strong bands
   For our offenses given;
But now at God’s right hand He stands
   And brings us life from heaven.
Therefore let us joyful be
And sing to God right thankfully
   Loud songs of alleluia!
Here the true Paschal Lamb we see,
   Whom God so freely gave us;
He died on the accursèd tree—
   So strong His love—to save us.
See, His blood now marks our door;
Faith points to it; death passes o’er,
   And Satan cannot harm us.

No son of man could conquer death,
   Such ruin sin had wrought us.
No innocence was found on earth,
   And therefore death had brought us
Into bondage from of old
And ever grew more strong and bold
   And held us as its captive.

So let us keep the festival
   To which the Lord invites us;
Christ is Himself the joy of all,
   The sun that warms and lights us.
Now His grace to us imparts
Eternal sunshine to our hearts;
   The night of sin is ended.

Christ Jesus, God’s own Son, came down,
   His people to deliver;
Destroying sin, He took the crown
   From Death’s pale brow forever:
Stripped of pow’r, no more he reigns;
An empty form alone remains;
   His sting is lost forever.

Then let us feast this Easter Day
   On Christ, the bread of heaven;
The Word of grace has purged away
   The old and evil leaven.
Christ alone our souls will feed;
He is our meat and drink indeed;
   Faith lives upon no other!

It was a strange and dreadful strife
   When life and death contended;
The victory remained with life,
   The reign of death was ended.
Holy Scripture plainly saith
That death is swallowed up by death,
   Its sting is lost forever.
Martin Luther, 1524

Risen indeed!

'Tis the spring of souls today; Christ has burst His prison,
And from three days’ sleep in death as a sun hath risen;
All the winter of our sins, long and dark, is flying
From His light, to Whom we give laud and praise undying.

“Alleluia!” now we cry to our King immortal,
Who, triumphant, burst the bars of the tomb’s dark portal;
“Alleluia!” with the Son, God the Father praising,
“Alleluia!” yet again to the Spirit raising.

John of Damascus, 8th Century
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. .... And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. .... And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. .... If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead....
I Corinthians 15 [ESV]
O GOD, who for our redemption didst give Thine only-begotten Son to the death of the Cross, and by His glorious resurrection hast delivered us from the power of our enemy; Grant us so to die daily from sin, that we may evermore live with Him in the joy of His resurrection; through the same Thy Son Christ our Lord. Amen. [BCP]
First posted here in 2011.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

A Saturday kind of faith


.... Martin Luther said himself that Saturday was the day that God himself lay cold in the grave. Friday was death, Sunday was hope, but Saturday was that seemingly ignored middle day between them when God occupied a dirty grave in a little garden outside Jerusalem. Saturday is about waiting, about uncertainty, about not knowing what’ll happen. ....

So much of Christian faith is Saturday faith. ....

A medieval theologian, Anselm, once described the kind of faith that comes with Saturday—fides quaerens intellectum: “faith seeking understanding.” By that, he meant that faith isn’t something that arises after moments of understanding. Rather, faith is something that you cling to when understanding and reason lay dead. We don’t believe once we understand it—we believe in order to understand it. Saturday’s like that: offering a day of waiting, a day of ambiguity, a day when God is sovereign even if our ideas and theologies and expectations about him are not. It is the day that our ignorance is our witness and our proclamation. Truth is, our intellect will always be one step behind in our love of God. We don’t love God once we understand him; we love God in order to understand him. ....

At times, we are all like the two disciples on their way to Emmaus who were really close to Jesus but didn’t always know it. In Luke 24, two disciples walked away from Jerusalem, where they’d just seen their Lord and Master die on the cross. Leaving, dejected, upset, hopeless, and broken, to find the next stage in their lives and careers. Unbeknownst to them, Jesus had been resurrected and was actually walking alongside them on their way to Emmaus. The hope of Sunday hadn’t dawned on them yet. The Gospels tell us that, on their way to Emmaus, the disciples were “downcast.”

That experience is the kind of experience Saturday is all about. .... [more]
A.J. Swoboda is a pastor in Portland, Oregon. This is from his A Glorious Dark: Finding Hope in the Tension between Belief and Experience, excerpted in Christianity Today.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Wondrous love

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.
Alexander Means, c. 1830
GRANT, O Lord, that as we are baptized into the death of Thy blessed Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, so by continual mortifying our corrupt affections we may be buried with Him; and that through the grave, and gate of death, we may pass to our joyful resurrection; for His merits, who died, and was buried, and rose again for us, the same Thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [BCP]

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

On Good Friday

And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. And it was the third hour when they crucified him. And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” [Mark 15:22-26, ESV]
Justin Taylor:
Written over 20 years ago and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, this article goes into graphic detail about the physical pain that Jesus would have endured in his beatings and crucifixion....
Here is an excerpt from that article, "On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ" by William D. Edwards, Wesley J. Gabel, and Floyd E. Hosmer. The original article is substantially longer and detailed, with diagrams and ample citation. Our Lord's manner of execution was like that suffered by a great many others in the Roman world:
…. It was customary for the condemned man to carry his own cross from the flogging post to the site of crucifixion outside the city walls. He was usually naked, unless this was prohibited by local customs. Since the weight of the entire cross was probably well over 300 lb (136 kg), only the crossbar was carried. The patibulum, weighing 75 to 125 lb. (34 to 57 kg), was placed across the nape of the victim’s neck and balanced along both shoulders. Usually, the outstretched arms then were tied to the crossbar. The processional to the site of crucifixion was led by a complete Roman military guard, headed by a centurion. One of the soldiers carried a sign (titulus) on which the condemned man’s name and crime were displayed. Later, the titulus would be attached to the top of the cross. The Roman guard would not leave the victim until they were sure of his death. Outside the city walls was permanently located the heavy upright wooden stipes, on which the patibulum would be secured. In the case of the Tau cross, this was accomplished by means of a mortise and tenon joint, with or without reinforcement by ropes. To prolong the crucifixion process, a horizontal wooden block or plank, serving as a crude seat (sedile or sedulum), often was attached midway down the stipes. Only very rarely, and probably later than the time of Christ, was an additional block (suppedaneum) employed for transfixion of the feet.

At the site of execution, by law, the victim was given a bitter drink of wine mixed with myrrh (gall) as a mild analgesic. The criminal was then thrown to the ground on his back, with his arms outstretched along the patibulum. The hands could be nailed or tied to the crossbar, but nailing apparently was preferred by the Romans. The archaeological remains of a crucified body, found in an ossuary near Jerusalem and dating from the time of Christ, indicate that the nails were tapered iron spikes approximately 5 to 7 in (13 to 18 cm) long with a square shaft 3/8 in (1 cm) across. Furthermore, ossuary findings and the Shroud of Turin have documented that the nails commonly were driven through the wrists rather than the palms.

After both arms were fixed to the crossbar, the patibulum and the victim, together, were lifted onto the stipes. On the low cross, four soldiers could accomplish this relatively easily. However, on the tall cross, the soldiers used either wooden forks or ladders.

Next, the feet were fixed to the cross, either by nails or ropes. Ossuary findings and the Shroud of Turin suggest that nailing was the preferred Roman practice. Although the feet could be fixed to the sides of the stipes or to a wooden footrest (suppedaneum), they usually were nailed directly to the front of the stipes. To accomplish this, flexion of the knees may have been quite prominent, and the bent legs may have been rotated laterally.

When the nailing was completed, the titulus was attached to the cross, by nails or cords, just above the victim’s head. The soldiers and the civilian crowd often taunted and jeered the condemned man, and the soldiers customarily divided up his clothes among themselves. The length of survival generally ranged from three or four hours to three or four days and appears to have been inversely related to the severity of the scourging. However, even if the scourging had been relatively mild, the Roman soldiers could hasten death by breaking the legs below the knees (crurifragium or skelokopia). …. [the article pdf]
It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. [Luke 23:44-46, ESV]
Dorothy L. Sayers on at least part of the meaning:
For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is — limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death — he had the honesty and courage to take his own medicine. Whatever game he is playing with his creation, he has kept his own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that he has not exacted from himself. He has himself gone through the whole human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death. When he was a man, he played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worthwhile. (from Dorothy L. Sayers, The Man Born to be King)
And suffered far, far, more than we do or ever will.

(I have posted this material previously on Good Fridays.)

The Inklings: Good Friday, Between Two Worlds: On the Physical Death of Jesus

On the third day...

In "The Day of Jesus' Resurrection According to Matthew," Paul Manuel takes up the question of the chronology of Easter. His conclusions:
.... Buried on Friday, before the Sabbath had begun, when did Jesus rise from the dead? The most common belief is that he rose early Sunday morning, but that does not seem to agree with his prediction of spending "three days and three nights" (72 hours?) in the grave. An examination of the different statements about the time of the resurrection, though, reveals considerable variation, forcing the reader to view them either as a host of contradictions or as simple approximations referring to parts of a three-day period. ....

How are we to understand such disparate statements about the time of Jesus' resurrection? These are all approximate references and, therefore, not contradictory. Their purpose is to direct attention to the third day, which is when Jesus rose from the dead. If there is any uncertainty which day of the week that momentous event occurred, Luke resolves the matter, for he identifies "the third day" with "the first day of the week" (i.e., Sunday). ....

The chronological markers in the gospel accounts enable modern readers to establish the day of Jesus' crucifixion and the day of his resurrection. According to those markers, Jesus died on Friday, the preparation day for the weekly Sabbath, and he rose on the third day, which was Sunday, the first day of the week. [more]
The argument, with end notes, is here.


Sunday, April 9, 2017

John 14:15

More Tallis:

If ye love Me, keep My commandments,
And I will pray the Father,
And He shall give you another Comforter,
That He may 'bide with you forever,
E’en the spirit of truth.

Thomas Tallis (1505-1585)

Fullness of joy

From Psalm 16:
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
Indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
In the night also my heart instructs me.
I have set the Lord always before me;
Because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
My flesh also dwells secure.
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
Or let your holy one see corruption.
You make known to me the path of life;
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
At your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
[Psalm 16: 6-11, ESV]


Oh Lord in Thee is all my trust.
Give ear unto my woeful cries.
Refuse me not, that am unjust,
But bowing down Thy heav'nly eyes,
Behold how I do still lament
My sins wherein I do offend.
O Lord, for them shall I be shent,
Sith Thee to please I do intend?
No, no, not so! Thy will is bent
To deal with sinners in Thine ire:
But when in heart they shall repent
Thou grant'st with speed their just desire.
To Thee therefore still shall I cry,
To wash away my sinful crime.
Thy blood, O Lord, is not yet dry,
But that it may help me in time.
Haste Thee, O Lord, haste Thee, I say,
To pour on me Thy gifts of grace
That when this life must flit away
In Heav'n with Thee I may have place
Where Thou dost reign eternally
With God which once did down Thee send,
Where angels sing continually.
To Thee be praise, world without end. Amen.

Thomas Tallis "Oh Lord In Thee Is All My Trust," 1565


.... I woke thinking of an event in my life that still brings regret. I can go months or longer in happy, effortless forgetfulness – then, like mushrooms after spring rain, it emerges ripe and complete.... I’ve learned a lesson articulated by Dr. Johnson in The Idler #72:
Regret is indeed useful and virtuous, and not only allowable but necessary, when it tends to the amendment of life, or to admonition of error which we may be again in danger of committing. But a very small part of the moments spent in meditation on the past, produce any reasonable caution or salutary sorrow.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

On April 6 a century ago

James Bowman on an anniversary:
Today is the one-hundredth anniversary of America’s declaration of war against Germany, and thus of her joining the British, French, and Russian empires in their tremendous struggle against the German, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman empires—a struggle that was known at the time as the Great War. ....

...[C]ontrast President Wilson’s message to Congress requesting the declaration of war with the famous speech to Parliament by the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, of two and a half years earlier. In 1914, Britain’s entrance into the war was seen by Sir Edward to depend upon honor, and specifically the honor involved in Britain’s treaty obligation to guarantee the Belgian neutrality that was being violated during the opening days of the war. Britain, thought Sir Edward, would be dishonored and any subsequent treaty obligations rendered worthless if she failed to enter the war on the Franco-Belgian side in response to such a provocation.

By contrast, President Wilson never mentioned honor in connection with America’s entry into the war, even though Germany’s resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare against neutral shipping, the ostensible reason for the declaration, gave him good reason to do so. To Wilson, America had to be going to war for something much bigger and much more universal than mere honor or patriotism, let alone German violation of American neutrality. He was doing it, as he famously said, because “the world must be made safe for democracy.” Not our democracy, but just plain Democracy, with a capital “D.” And safe also for “the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free.”

I sometimes wonder how many people, even how many naive progressives, believed then that we had determined on joining in this mass slaughter on the European continent for peace and safety and a universal dominion of right. I’m sure that not many believe it now. If we were going to war for abstract ideals of Democracy and Freedom, many people then and later must have reflected, when would we ever not be going to war? For Wilson’s high-principled language has returned periodically ever since to plague his presidential successors....

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Asking the right question

.... What would help is separating (1) the question of when the life of a human organism begins from (2) the question of what follows from the answer to the first question. And we don’t need any religious tradition to answer that first question. A human embryo is a living human organism once conceived. It’s not a “potential life,” as a theologian tells Strauss: It’s not an inanimate object that is somehow going to start living. It’s not a functional part of a different organism, like a skin cell, that somehow becomes an organism in its own right. It’s not a potential human, either: It’s not going to switch species. We would have no difficulty reaching the right answer to the first question if we did not have powerful motives for getting it wrong.

We don’t need to know anything more than we already know about the embryo to answer that first question. Science has long since dissolved any mystery about it. Science cannot, of course, tell us whether we should protect living human organisms or license the killing of them. But it can’t possibly be a sound procedure for thinking through that question to start with the premise that “whether these admittedly living human organisms deserve to be protected from being killed is a deep mystery” and end with “so let’s just let assume the answer is no.” ....

Saturday, April 1, 2017

I do love this hymn

Our final hymn in worship today:

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and power.
Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all. Refrain
I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.

Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him. Refrain

Come, ye thirsty, come, and welcome,
God’s free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance,
Every grace that brings you nigh.