Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Glory of the Earthly Body in the Union with the Eternal Godhead

First, an excerpt from John Chrysostom's "Homily on Christmas Morning":

Let that handiwork be forever glorified, which became the cloak of its own Creator. For as in the first creation of flesh, man could not be made before the clay had come into His hand, so neither could this corruptible body be glorified, until it had first become the garment of its Maker.

Chrysostom speaks here of the flesh of man, which the Eternal Son took up in His Incarnation. The Golden Mouthed preacher's words hearken to other words more famously sung on Christmas:

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the Incarnate Deity! Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel.

For all of the splendors of Eden, there remained one gift that God withheld from His stewards: their King. "For as in the first creation of flesh, man could not be made before the clay had come into His hand, so neither could this corruptible body be glorified, until it had first become the garment of its Maker."

The purity in the Garden was innocence whereas the purity of Heaven is glorification. In the Garden was the giddy and light joys of youth. In Heaven is the sober and weighty joys of maturity. In the Garden was the early plucked, sweet wine that cheers the senses with its first splash. In Heaven is the drought-tested, robust wine that satisfies only as its complexity unravels in reflection.

The Divine Author of Creation set forth so beautiful a beginning that it is difficult to imagine anything more glorious, yet in the strange, uncanny Incarnation He foreshadows to His people something of the greater glory that awaits. Society with the Son of God, Jesus Christ the Incarnate Son, was full of the wonder, joy, and potency that full humanity is destined to become--first in His birth, intermediately in His death, and finally in His resurrection and ascension we see the fullness of man unfurled from the frail immaturity, to the euchatastrophic conquest, and unto full maturity in glorified splendor. The great chiasm of history displays an exalted Adam who becomes lowly Israel who gives way to lowly Jesus who becomes the exalted Christ. And just as in one man all Fell, so in one Man all are raised--the Church, the Bride, the Body is being incorporated even now as God gathers broken vessels of clay and gives them new life, piecing them into the Incarnate Son.

There are many things to despise in the body, even as there are many delights our bodies afford to us. But we who in this age exalt the glories of the body into a grotesque anti-image of the Son of Man, Christians would do well to remember that our bodies were never what they will be, nor can the pleasures of Eden or the foretastes of the present Age comprehend what our bodies will be in their completed union with the Eternal Godhead: Father, Spirit, Son.

Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

“O Death, where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory?”

The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Intellectual Life as Intellectual Labor, Chapter 2

Sertillanges begins chapter two ("the virtues of the intellect") in Augustinian fashion, by identifying personhood with love: one is what one loves (or phenomenologically, one becomes what one loves). Intellectuals are (or ought to be) lovers of Truth, and therefore servants to Truth, and therefore submissive to Truth's commands.

Submission requires an active directing of passions and moral habits. They must be conformed to the demands that the love of Truth requires. Because of this, Virtue is necessary to the intellectual life as a purifier of the soul-in-service-to-Truth.

The particular virtues that aid intellectual pursuit include studiousness. Studiousness may be understood as diligent continuance of thought directed toward a question of truth. Temperance of mind is another virtue of the intellectual life. Temperance avoids the sloth of negligence as well as the pride of vain curiosity. Temperance aids the soul in avoiding taking up too little (malnourishment) or taking on too much (gluttony).

The vehicle of virtue is prayer. Indeed, prayer may be considered both a propaedeutic to study as well as the vessel by which the Spirit conveys the intellect to the Truth. To arrive at Truth is to arrive at God, the fount, headspring, source. The intellectual comes to the Truth through the effulgence of truths and this requires the humble acknowledgment of Truth as God's own to give, and it requires the humility to ask and receive wisely and freely.

The humility of prayer extends to the body. The body is our own unique tool and charge in the pursuit of Truth. The health and vitality of the body must be maintained to elicit the health and vitality of the mind, and it is often through the body that the mind is able to receive Truth.

For instance, think about the importance of memory for the receipt and retention of Truth. With music one must keep in the memory those notes that have passed out of hearing in order to understand, anticipate, and appreciate the notes that follow. One of the cultivators of memory is the body. Consider the difference of trying to memorize who my "riding partners" by repeating over and over again in the mind their names, as opposed to remembering them by riding with them once and then being responsible to remember them for the next time. The bodily experience of taking a trip together lends itself to the mind more potently than the abstraction of repeated names.

Love, studiousness, temperance, prayer, and bodily care constitute the chief virtues of the Intellectual Life.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Intellectual Life as an Intellectual Labor, Chapter 1

In the first chapter of his book, The Intellectual Life, Sertillanges peers into the facets of the intellectual vocation. Three conclusions emerge: the intellectual has a sacred call, he does not stand alone, and belongs to his own time.

One cannot pursue the intellectual life who has not at least the smallest spark of desire for the discovery of Truth for its own beauty as opposed to some self-directed end. In other words, the intellectual doesn't search for truth so that he can do something with it for himself, but because the truth is worth knowing (he must do something with the truth, but that is the secondary and unselfish in nature, as will be seen below). The same Spirit that invested Bezalel and called Oholiab to design the tabernacle and carry out its construction invests men with the intellectual vocation. No Spirit, no vocation.

Sertillanges emphasizes the value of solitude for the intellectual, but he does not equate solitude with isolation. Isolation is poisonous to the intellectual life. The Spirit that fills the intellectual also fills the body of Christ, and so the intellectual who is not participating in the life of that Body is cut off from the Spirit and from a necessary constituent of the intellectual vocation. He draws from the Body as well as contributing to it.

Not only the Church, but also the City and his Time are communities in which the intellectual lives and serves. Although the intellectual touches all points of time through his study, he is uniquely set within the time and place where he lives, and must be attentive to the characteristics, needs, and opportunities his time and place afford. The intellectual looks back to draw upon history so that he may serve in the now and open an avenue for the communities of the future. There is a kind of universal horizon of koinonia among past, present, and future that the intellectual stewards by his labor.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Intellectual Life as an Intellectual Labor, Introduction

This month a book club I participate in is reading A.G. Sertillanges' book, The Intellectual Life. The book is a lengthy meditation on and preparation for the life given by the book's title. I've read it once before and was excited by many of its insights, but I've not made much conscious use of them (I do hope some profitable unconscious effects have been produced!). This time around I'm attempting to be more intentional in my approach. The remaining post is an outline of that intention.

Phase I: Tilling & Sowing

In the first phase of reading The Intellectual Life, I'll be writing meditative summaries of the book's chapters after reading each one. Sertillanges' book is very well organized and lends itself to easy summary. The ease is dangerous, however, since it would be deceptive to think that one has profited by summarizing the points of each chapter and its sections. Sertillanges' language is so simple that it gives the appearance of ease, where great difficulty is actually present. Thus, I've added the task of "meditative" to my summaries; allowing room for my thoughts to analogize, apply, question, and so forth, and put all of that into written words. I'll then type the meditative summaries on this blog, critically reviewed and potentially substantively altered.

Phase II: Watering & Weeding

If it can be done, I am hoping to draw in a couple of the other men from book club to develop some specific applications of Sertillanges' book in some aspect of our own lives, whether as part of our individual development, or as a part of our vocations (several of us are teachers, who are paid to pursue an intellectual life, in my opinion). The very first chapter of Sertillanges' book emphasizes the necessity of community both as a necessary part of the intellectual vocation as a productive art (giving it life & health), as well as a recipient of the intellectual vocation's produce (partaking of its fruit). Phase II will be harder to accomplish, but will certainly make the fruit of higher quality and of greater quantity.

Phase III: Harvesting & Feasting

Should the work reach completing, there should be some fruits to be enjoyed and shared with others. There are some vague ideas in my mind of what fruit might result (curricular changes, pedagogical changes, articles written, lectures given, seminars conducted, etc.) but there will be plenty of room for surprise, especially if some non-teachers are able to join in the labor.

Phase IV: Composting & Reproducing

In the wake of our feasting, I hope the leftovers will lead into future activities of like kind, whether they involve repeating The Intellectual Life, or moving on to a different book, or developing an analogous project with some other medium or means of application. This is the vaguest and least imaginable phase, since it is so dependent upon the labors that have only just begun. However, I hope to look back upon this beginning in a few months, or a year, or more, and find that it was not wholly in vain.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Writing Exercise: Controversia Example

For my rhetoric classes, one of the writing exercises we do is called a controversia, a hypothetical court case that requires students to prosecute or defend one side or the other. There are plenty of examples from the Classical period in both Seneca and Quintilian, but also Libanius and Hermogenes. These cases are often shocking and surprising to my students, and their hypothetical nature allows the writers to set up the details so as the challenge the argumentation skills of the young rhetoricians.

One modern hypothetical case has proven very interesting and helpful to the students, particularly so in examining the nature of witness testimony and physical evidence. Twelve Angry Men is a television drama written in 1954 by Reginald Rose, and made famous by the film version of 1957 where Henry Fonda plays the lead. Most of my students are unfamiliar with the film, and because the film examines the evidence of the case in some detail, it offers a great opportunity for the students to argue the case.

I write up the facts of the case in no particular order and give it to the students with instructions to write a prosecution or defense of the nineteen-year-old young man using the classical, six-part essay (introduction, statement of facts, division, confirmation, refutation, conclusion). Here is an example I've done as model to offer them after they've completed their own.

Twelve Reasonable Men
Facts speak for themselves, so it is said. The fact is, that the knife the defendant bought is the same kind found in his father’s chest. The fact is, that the defendant quarreled with his father the day he was killed. The fact is, that the defendant’s alibi is uncorroborated. The truth, however, is that the facts in this case do not speak for themselves, but are rather spoken for by the prosecution and its witnesses; witnesses whose testimony is not to be trusted, as you will soon see. But more meaningful are the twin factors of the nature of the charge and the standard of proof that justice demands for bringing conviction. The defendant is accused of murder in the first degree, and not just any premeditated murder, but patricide—the murdering of one’s own father. I need not remind you of how difficult a task it is to take a life, nor especially the life of a parent, nor especially of a parent upon whom a child depends. What I must remind you of is that you must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty—sure beyond a reasonable doubt that this nineteen-year-old boy, this Johnny Jr., not only could have killed, not only wanted to kill, but that he actually did kill his own father. I am confident that with your faithful consideration and by your powers of discernment you will find the defendant innocent of this charge of murder. You are, after all, reasonable men.

The timeline of events for the father’s murder can be put briefly. Around eight o’clock Johnny had a quarrel with his father. His father struck him twice, and Johnny, visibly upset, left the house to blow off some steam. He had promised a friend to pick up a knife to replace one he’d lost, so he stopped by the pawnshop before it closed. Johnny was still sulking from the argument, so, deciding on a place best suited to be left alone, he went to the theater to sit alone in the dark and pass the time. He didn’t care what was showing, because all he wanted was a place to be alone and think. By the time the flick was over, Johnny was confident that his father would be asleep and he could go home and go to bed without being bothered. Somewhere between buying the knife, going to the theatre, and coming home, the knife fell through a hole in Johnny’s pocket. When Johnny arrived to find the police taking out his father’s body, he went into shock. The next thing he knew he was sitting a in a jail cell and being accused of killing his own father.

There are two major issues you must consider in order make the right judgment in this case. First, although the prosecution has produced several witnesses, none of them can be consider reliable beyond a reasonable doubt. Second, there is no way to directly tie the murder weapon to the defendant. Without a credible witness to place Johnny at the scene of the crime, and without firm proof that the murder weapon was ever in Johnny’s possession, there is simply no good reason to conclude that Johnny had anything to do with the murder of his father.

Let’s consider the several witnesses, in order of importance. First, there are the two neighbors who heard Johnny’s quarrel with his father, and who saw Johnny leave the apartment upset around 8 o’clock. While the prosecution wants to use these witnesses to establish Johnny’s motive, I’d like to show you why the exact opposite is the case. Johnny’s criminal history is composed of a series of impulsive actions. Johnny is not a calculating youth, but an impetuous one. He responds immediately to stimuli: if he is attacked, he fights or flees. The two witnesses admit, that after Johnny was hit, not once, but twice, by his father, his reaction was to leave the apartment. Had Johnny truly wanted to respond with murderous violence to his father, it would have been at the very moment his father struck him. Instead, we see Johnny living out the same pattern he had known since his youngest days: a disagreement with dad turns into an argument, an argument escalates into shouting, the shouting turns into a beating of the son by the father, and the son goes away to sulk and recover. Dozens of times has this patterned occurred, with nothing particularly special about this time to “tip Johnny over the edge” as the prosecution argues. No, these witnesses show that Johnny was not going to retaliate. Not only this, but they corroborate Johnny’s story that he left the apartment—he was not seen on the premises again, until he was arrested.

But, you may ask, what about the man downstairs, who supposedly saw Johnny running from the scene of the crime immediately after his father’s body hit the floor? Let’s think about this man’s testimony more carefully, shall we. This kind old man was lying in bed, two rooms and fifty-five feet away from the door from which he testifies he saw the defendant. Fifty-five feet in fifteen seconds, gentlemen: that is the time this old man gives for getting out of his bed, grabbing his two canes, and making his way across two rooms to see—beyond a reasonable doubt—Johnny running down the stairs. The distance from where Johnny’s father fell to the door and past the old man’s door is about the same distance as the old man’s fifty-five feet. Are we to believe that a nineteen-year-old boy, fleeing from a murderous crime, would pace himself equal to an elderly man with two canes rising from bed in the middle of the night to investigate shouts and noises from upstairs?

Ah, you say, but even if he only saw the back of the killer, he heard his voice and could put that voice with that fleeing body with confidence. Could he now? In bed, asleep or nearly so, he hears someone shout, “I’m gonna kill you!” Through a ceiling and across a room (as the father’s body was not found directly above the old man’s bedroom) this old man is supposed to have distinguished Johnny’s voice? Doubtful. Even if Johnny had been in the room with his father, could the man rightly be believed to have distinguished whether the voice was not the father’s!? I’m sure some of you have had the experience of calling a friend on the phone and think you’re talking to him, only to realize that it is his son, or his father, or his brother. If a telephone conversation can be mistaken, could not a shout through a ceiling whilst sleeping be mistaken for someone it is not? It could have been the father crying out against his assailant, for all we know. But that’s not the real kicker. We have the woman across the street who testifies that there was an elevated train passing by in the very moment when the father is being stabbed! Could this old man have truly heard clearly the voice through the ceiling and over the roar of the elevated train? Surely there is good reason to doubt this possibility, gentlemen.

But wait, you say, what about the woman across the street. She saw the defendant strike his father with the knife, and she’s known the family for years and years. But wait a moment. Let’s not be so hasty. This woman, like the old man, was lying in her bed, and while she was not asleep, is it very common for someone who is wishing to sleep to wear her bifocal glasses to bed with her? Would she not leave them on the nightstand? If she was not wearing them, it would be impossible for her to distinguish clearly who was in the apartment. Having known the father and son for years, she would naturally assume that two figures, one perhaps somewhat taller than the other, were father and son. But supposing the assailant was not the son, though shorter than the father? Could she be trusted to tell the difference in the dead of night without her glasses, not expecting to need to identify anyone later? But let us suppose she had her glasses on. Even someone with perfect eyesight would have trouble distinguishing the identity of someone across the street, in the night, through the windows of the passing elevated train, even if you were concentrating on trying to find something, rather than simply happening to look and see activity somewhere off in the distance beyond. Gentlemen, what we have here are two very kind people, who are no doubt very sympathetic to the victim, and who want to see justice served and feel that their neighborhood is safe once more. But all the good intentions in the world can’t make error into truth, nor clear away a great fog of doubt by wishful pleading. You are reasonable men, and reasonable men must reasonably doubt the accuracy of these witnesses’ testimonies.

But there is one more witness with whom we must deal, and he is tied up with the second issue you must consider carefully; the identity of the murder weapon. There is no disputing the fact that the shopkeeper sold Johnny a knife. There is no disputing that the knife the shopkeeper sold was of the same kind as the one found in the victim’s body. There is no cause to bring shame upon this honest shopkeeper for his honest testimony. But what does his testimony amount to, in the end? This honest shopkeeper has admitted that he does not recall seeing any gloves on Johnny’s hands when he bought the knife. Johnny must have held the knife to put it into his pocket. His fingerprints would have been on the knife somewhere. Yet the murder weapon had no fingerprints on it. “But he could have wiped them off!” you say. Perhaps, but the time it would take to wipe the knife and make it down the stairs in the time testified to by the old man does not match well with what the prosecution would have you believe. Either the assailant didn’t have time to wipe the knife, or the old man isn’t to be trusted. Besides, if the killer had forethought enough to wipe the knife, why wouldn’t he have simply taken it with him!? It is more plausible to believe that the actual killer wore gloves. The witnesses who saw Johnny leave the apartment at 8 o’clock didn’t mention gloves on Johnny. The shopkeeper said nothing about Johnny wearing gloves. No gloves were found on Johnny when the police took him into custody. No gloves were discovered in the apartment. Without gloves and without fingerprints, there is no good reason to doubt Johnny’s testimony that he lost the knife he bought between the time he bought it and the time he came home. The clothes he wore that day have a hole in them large enough for the knife to have fallen through. There is reasonable doubt—in fact, it would be unreasonable not to doubt—that Johnny ever possessed the knife that was used to kill his father. As a poor boy he couldn’t afford the sort of knife that is rare, but only those that are a dime a dozen and can be purchased from any local pawn shop for miles around. We must not let any prejudice against Johnny cover the enormous holes in the prosecution’s case.

Before closing, let me address one argument that the prosecution has raised against my client’s testimony, which I’ve not yet covered. The prosecution seems terribly bothered that no witnesses could place Johnny at the movie theatre and that Johnny couldn’t remember the movie he watched. But let’s put ourselves in that movie theatre for a moment. How often do you go to a movie theatre to memorize the people who happen to also be there? Yeah, you might recall someone who looked out of place, but a normal looking kid like Johnny? Would he leave any impression on your mind? Would you be able to pick him out of the rest of the teenage boys that happened to be at the same flick in the darkness of a theatre in the dark of night? And why should Johnny be expected to recall the movie he saw? He didn’t go to the movie because he had been anticipating going out all week. He’d just got beaten (again) by his abusive father and needed to find some release. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had my pop hit me a time or two and you can bet I wasn’t thinking about what else was going on around me. I was fuming and sulking and wondering why I deserved to be knocked around. I couldn’t tell you what day it was I got hit, much less what I did or who I saw. All I knew was raw emotion, and my dad wasn’t the kind of guy to take it out on me day after day like Johnny’s dad. My weeks weren’t endlessly strung together with multiple shouting matches punctuated by punches to the face.

Gentlemen, the bottom line is that this boy, this poverty-stricken, broken-down, and too-often abused boy, has been dragged into this courtroom with nothing left to him but his innocence. He lost his mother and his good name when he was just a little kid. He may not have loved his dad very much, but all they had was each other, and now Johnny doesn’t even have that to his credit. All Johnny has is his innocence. Only you can ensure that Johnny keeps that. Only you can ensure that Johnny has a chance to live out what life he has with some scrap of dignity left, some lingering hope that there is a God in Heaven who isn’t just out to crush him like his own dad did day after day. No one is here today asking you to call Johnny a saint, to think him an upstanding citizen, to call him your friend. You aren’t being asked to judge whether or not you’d like your daughter to hang with Johnny, or whether you’d like him to show up at your church social. No one is asking you to believe that should you let Johnny walk out of here that he won’t someday wind up in trouble again. You aren’t here to judge Johnny’s past crimes or his future ones. All you need to decide is whether you are willing to take a man’s innocence away on testimony and supposition that would cause you outrage if someone brought it against you. All you need to decide is whether or not you can be twelve reasonable men.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Ethics of Rhetoric in Rhetorica Ad Herennium

Yesterday I joined a group of seniors in a jaunt through a portion of the Rhetorica Ad Herennium, an anonymous treatise on rhetoric originally attributed to Cicero. As we strode leisurely through Book III, the part where Anon. tells Herennius the strategies for deliberative speaking, I paused to ask the students a question. Here is the section:

We shall use Proof and Refutation when we establish in our favour the topics explained above, and refute contrary topics. The rules for developing an argument artistically will be found in Book II. But if it happens in a deliberation the counsel of one side is based on the consideration of security and that of the other on honour, as in the case of those who, surrounded by Carthaginians, deliberate on a course of action, then the speaker who advocates security will use the following topics: Nothing is more useful than safety; no one can make use of his virtues if he has not based his plans upon safety; not even the gods help those who thoughtlessly commit themselves to danger; nothing ought to be deemed honourable which does no produce safety. One who prefers the considerations of honour to security will use the following topics: Virtue ought never to be renounced; either pain, if that is feared, or death, if that is dreaded, is more tolerable than disgrace and infamy; one must consider the shame which will ensue--indeed neither immortality nor a life everlasting is achieved, nor is it proved that, once this peril is avoided, another will not be encountered; virtue finds it noble to go even beyond death; fortune too, habitually shows favours the brave; not he who is safe in the present, but he who lives honourably, lives safely--whereas he who lives shamefully cannot be secure for ever.

My question, which took me awhile to formulate well, asked whether or not the general strategy of opposing security to honor (and vice versa) had ethical import, or if it was just skillful strategy. In other words, does it matter whether one ought to argue for security over honor, or honor over security, or is it simply the appropriate strategy to oppose them?

The students struggled to understand the question until I took them back to Socrates. Would Socrates ever argue that seeking one's own security should be preferred to seeking what is honorable? Did he choose to protect his own life or did he maintain his honor, though he suspected it would lead to his death?

Once they had considered Socrates, the ethical nature of choosing a strategy seemed apparent to the students. One certainly could argue that preserving one's life is better than maintaining one's honor, and doing so would provide opposing arguments, many of which might be persuasive. However, Socrates would argue that the security of the body is far less important than the honor of the soul, therefore the only question would be whether or not the decision is truly honorable, not whether one should prefer security over honor.

The question provided the perfect opportunity to revisit the ethics of rhetoric, a topic I introduce to students in their sophomore year when they read and discuss the Dissoi Logoi, the Encomium of Helen, and Plato's Gorgias and Phaedrus. It is often argued that rhetoric is a tool that can be used for good or for ill, but is itself neutral. Aristotle defines rhetoric as a tool and Augustine makes a similar claim in book four of the De Doctrina Christiana. While it may be true in general that rhetoric is a neutral tool, there are times when the strategies recommended in treatises on the art of rhetoric touch upon choices in ways that are presented innocuously, but are charged with ethical import.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Writing Exercise: Description

I try to give good examples for my rhetoric students to imitate. When I cannot find something the right length, or if my impoverished reading has simply left me dry, I will write something of my own for them to imitate. For my tenth graders, I wrote a very short description of one of my sons as a model for them to imitate; as they were asked to write a description of one of their family members. While it isn't a complete Progymnasmata exercise, it follows some of its basic principles. Below is the assignment, and my example.

In the space below, describe the physical appearance of a family member. Start at the head and move down. Use an economy of words, preferring the concrete image to the abstract adjective. You want brevity (saying much with few words), clarity (using words that “show” what you are talking about), and plausibility (what you say is “imaginable”). I’ve given you an example on the back.

Example: A Description of Ezra

Golden wisps shooting forth, dance upon his crown until they fall upon his snowy brow. Two seas sparkle on either side of his tiny foothill of a nose, begging to be climbed by fingertips and puckered lips. Plump cheeks, like ripe grapes are fit to burst as his smile pushes them aside to reveal his ivory treasures. His squat and slender neck plants itself between two pendulums in perpetual motion around a belly that rivals a corpulent Buddha. Unsteady pillars carry his ambling carriage through tumbles unnumbered, yet ever rising (or squatting); propelled on by some new adventure. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

What Makes the Resurrection Unique?

Last year one of the eighth graders in my theology class wanted to quibble with me about the Resurrection. Like many eighth grade boys, he was eager to demonstrate that he could handle himself  in an argument and show the teacher and everyone else how smart he was.

What got him rolling was when I said the Resurrection of Jesus was unique and unparalleled, and nothing like it would be witnessed again until the general resurrection when Jesus returns to deliver His Kingdom to the Father, having raised up His people from the dead, conquering it as the final enemy.

My eighth grade friend asserted that Jesus was not the first, or the only, person to have been raised from the dead. He mentioned one of the well-known stories, perhaps it was Lazarus, I don't recall. I told him that while there are a number of examples of people being raised from the dead in both Testaments (my favorite is the man who is revived after being buried with the bones of Elisha!), those are not the same thing as the Resurrection.

I suspect that my eighth grader, if you took away his lack of experience and immaturity, and set just his claims next to mine, would be more likely to gain the assent of a wide swath of Evangelical Christians than would I. In other words, it would not surprise me if many Evangelical Christians (and perhaps other groups too, though I cannot speak as well for them) believed that Jesus' Resurrection from the dead fits into the same category as other people who were raised from the dead. Perhaps I am overly cynical. I'd be happy to be wrong. Quite relieved, actually.

But even if I were wrong, I do wonder what most Christians would say is unique about the Resurrection. I'm sure many would point to Jesus's body and what he was able to do in it--able to walk through walls as he did in the locked upper room to see his disciples for instance. However, the ability to pass through a wall (an example I have myself used before) seems less conclusive a difference when you consider other inhuman feats that figures in Scripture are able to accomplish without a resurrected body--Samson's great acts of strength, Elijah's outrunning of Ahab's chariot, Phillip's sudden disappearance from the Ethiopian Eunuch, and other such feats defy normal human capacity. Jesus's passing through a wall does not seem to depend upon his body having been resurrected, at least, it is not a necessary condition (though it might be sufficient!).

Others might point to the fact that Jesus will never die again, indeed, he could not die again in his resurrection body, since it is raised "incorruptible." This makes for a better argument, since other persons raised from the dead, it is safe to assume, died later.

I haven't given enough thought or investigation to the matter to distinguish all of the relevant Scriptures, arguments, and theological commentary to unpack anything significant here. It is only come to mind because of reconsidering the fact that Jesus passing through a wall is not particularly unique, and so an argument I once thought had some merit in explaining the difference between Jesus's Resurrection Body and our bodies was discovered to be rather weak.

Perhaps a reader out there who happens upon this post will point to some theologian or church father, or some passage of Scripture that I have not considered carefully enough. Until then, not having a knock down argument for the uniqueness of the Resurrection hardly makes its claim to uniqueness doubtful in comparison to other examples of persons being raised from the dead. After all, Scripture affirms that Jesus's Resurrection is the first-fruits, and so there aren't any of those same fruits before he begins it!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Lady Rhetoric, a description

As part of a class assignment to have my students practice brevity, clarity, and plausibility in narration, I wrote up a description of Lady Rhetoric, which would be classed (I think) as a "legendary" narration of a person (though her really just focusing upon a description of appearance). It is probably too fanciful, but was also a lot of fun to write.

Her hair dyed by Helios’ dew-drop rays, Lady Rhetoric’s locks descend from her crown, down slender shoulders, dancing upon the small of her back. Just so, her golden bands frame the mantle of her ivory brow, below which, resting upon lofty cheeks, opaline pools transfix all gazers who linger there. An aquiline peak leads one down toward her chamber hall, sounds from which resound in intoxicating rhythms, enfolded by rose-petal pillows, soft as goose down; honey sweet swells upon her powdery snowdrifts, pricked with crimson.

Beyond slender chin a tender flask houses her nightingale throat and rests upon a torso fitted for orations: bosom small, but full of virtues the naked eye cannot spy, though blind eye may weep at what hearing ears cannot but bide; bidden or forbidden one can but obey her hidden power, revealed. Her lithesome limbs enfold and unfurl to whirl her words along the wind, sending forth sweet music and musings; festooned by her fingertips.

Her cresting figure is firm set upon two pedestals of adamant, standing there and spread to withstand and, yea weather, any storm. Her lower form lends power to that promontory no warrior has yet conquered, nor wise man wizened, nor heretic unhouseled. Her house is built of such as these and set upon two feet of stone no craftman has clean cut, nor mason modeled in his image; though any child may climb upon and be moved along by her Hermein wings.