Author Archives: Darryl Williams

About Darryl Williams

Skeptical Observer Looking for Permanent Fixes

Feb 19th – Advice From St. James & Faith vs. Works

Father Linsky shared thoughts and led discussion on the New Testament epistle by St. James, a letter from, “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes of the Dispersion:” The New Testament – New Catholic Version I distributed to you a year or so ago has a nice essay about the epistle of James on pages 376 and 377.

Martin Luther famously objected to the epistle. You can read his reasoning here as expressed in this screen shot of the quote found at that link.

Luther’s rhetoric seems a bit Trump-like, and he was, of course, incorrect in his conjecture about the authorship and author motivation. I guess he was still upset about that indulgences controversy.

As Father Linsky pointed out, this book is comparable to the OT wisdom literature such as Proverbs and Sirach, lots of Godly advice on how to live. As such, it is not a Gospel, proclaiming fundamental theology but is addressed to converted Jews who have suffered persecution and rejection and have scattered. They have believed and are believing, having paid a high price, and James is giving practical advice on following the instructions by Jesus to love God and neighbor and to obey his commands. That is the main piece of advice we have from Mary also: “Do whatever he tells you.” – John 2:5. And it is the example set by the Apostles.

St. Paul is often credited with claiming faith alone is adequate for salvation while James proclaimed that works are key. Neither is true and neither position was claimed by either of those men. Here is the most famous “faith alone” theological statement by St. Paul (Ephesians 2:8-10)

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God;  it is not from works, so no one may boast. For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.

And here is the wisdom of St. James (James 2:14-17):

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

It seems to me both are saying that faith and works are opposite sides of the same coin, a perfect example of the “because – therefore” principle, God, of course, being the cause.

I have always liked the James epistle because it seems clear and easy to understand. I have thought about the faith – works issue and wrote a short paper about it and about Luther and Pope Leo X while at the Lutheran seminary 18 years ago and then posted it on my blog, with some introduction, shortly after being received into the Catholic Church. If interested, you can find it here: http://www.lastofall.net/2012/02/luther-good-works-and-favorite-bible.html It’s a ten or fifteen minute read.

In case you think Luther was nothing but a grouch, the paper includes this quote from him about a book in the Bible which he valued highly:

I don’t even have Psalm 95 memorized so don’t plan to tackle Romans.

 

February 5 – King David

The name of David shows up 27 times in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The posting of the Catechism at the Vatican website enables easy generation of a list of those 27 times, and this is a screen shot of the list which has hot links to the paragraphs. The list can be generated HERE.

 

Here are four of the Catechism statements about David (and Jesus), all supported by Bible references covering the promise of Jesus, forgiveness, prayer, and the identity of Jesus.

439 – Many Jews and even certain Gentiles who shared their hope recognized in Jesus the fundamental attributes of the messianic “Son of David“, promised by God to Israel. Jesus accepted his rightful title of Messiah, though with some reserve because it was understood by some of his contemporaries in too human a sense, as essentially political.

1481 – The Byzantine Liturgy recognizes several formulas of absolution, in the form of invocation, which admirably express the mystery of forgiveness: “May the same God, who through the Prophet Nathan forgave David when he confessed his sins, who forgave Peter when he wept bitterly, the prostitute when she washed his feet with her tears, the Pharisee, and the prodigal son, through me, a sinner, forgive you both in this life and in the next and enable you to appear before his awe-inspiring tribunal without condemnation, he who is blessed for ever and ever. Amen.”

2616 – Prayer to Jesus is answered by him already during his ministry, through signs that anticipate the power of his death and Resurrection: Jesus hears the prayer of faith, expressed in words (the leper, Jairus, the Canaanite woman, the good thief) or in silence (the bearers of the paralytic, the woman with a hemorrhage who touches his clothes, the tears and ointment of the sinful woman). The urgent request of the blind men, “Have mercy on us, Son of David” or “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” has-been renewed in the traditional prayer to Jesus known as the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!”86 Healing infirmities or forgiving sins, Jesus always responds to a prayer offered in faith: “Your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

590 – Only the divine identity of Jesus’ person can justify so absolute a claim as “He who is not with me is against me”; and his saying that there was in him “something greater than Jonah,. . . greater than Solomon”, something “greater than the Temple”; his reminder that David had called the Messiah his Lord, and his affirmations, “Before Abraham was, I AM”, and even “I and the Father are one.”

It is quite reasonable that the Catechism references to David are from the Bible because the Bible, with three minor exceptions, is our only source of information about David. The online searchable Bible linked at this website, quickly provides a list of the 57 New Testament mentions of David.

He is mentioned 944 times in the Old Testament, but that may not be surprising since most are in 1, 2 Samuel (470) and 1, 2 Kings (91), 1, 2 Chronicles (223), and Psalms (90). David was, after all, a hero, the greatest King of Israel, and a musician to boot.

But after those history books and Psalms, the song book of the people, we next find him most often in the writings of the prophets Isaiah (13) and Jeremiah (15), prophets living in the Old Covenant and foreseeing the New Covenant. The promise of the Messiah is closely linked to David.

Clearly, the belief of those inspired to write Sacred Scripture and the authors of the Catechism is that David, Son of Jesse and lover of God is an important figure in Salvation History.

Theology and the place of David in the Story of Salvation History are the focus of the Biblical accounts of the life of David. But isn’t it interesting that recorded secular history of the Middle East has nothing to say about such an important ruler and leader as David except three obscure references including one, by an 8th or 9th century king of Damascus, to the “House of David?” The three historical references are included in the King David Wikipedia article, an excellent and well-organized summary of what the Bible says about David and about how he is viewed today by Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, the three Abrahamic religions. Check out the art in the article, one example of which is the depiction of David spying Bathsheba at the top of this post.

Two personal things we clearly learn from the life of David are our need for a Savior and the importance of loving God (and behaving ourselves).

 

 

 

January 29 – Parable of the Sower; The Grace of God

Bishop Baron had a slant on Wednesday’s Gospel reading from Mark 4:1-20, the Parable of the Sower, that I had never though of as being the point of the story. He suggests that the listeners were rolling their eyes at the foolishness of a farmer who would so carelessly scatter and waste precious seed and then suggests that the point Jesus was making was that God is like the farmer, scattering his seed, the Gospel, everywhere, even on those least likely to respond. In other words, the story, he suggests, is not about us, but about the Grace of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

That made me think of the focus of a homiletics class at the Lutheran seminary fifteen or so years ago. The professor often made the point that the themes of our sermons should never be “if, then” but always “because, therefore.”

If…, then… is an Old Testament theme, and Because…therefore… is a New Testament theme. Here are two covenant statements given to the people, the first through Moses, describing the OT, if…then covenant, and the second several hundred years later through the prophet Jeremiah, promising the NT, because…therefore covenant:

Exodus 19:3-6 Moses went up the mountain to God. Then the LORD called to him and said, “Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob; tell the Israelites: You have seen for yourselves how I treated the Egyptians and how I bore you up on eagle wings and brought you here to myself. Therefore, if you hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my special possession, dearer to me than all other people, though all the earth is mine. You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. That is what you must tell the Israelites.”

Jeremiah 31:31-34 The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers the day I took them by the hand to lead them forth from the land of Egypt; for they broke my covenant and I had to show myself their master, says the LORD. But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD. I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer will they have need to teach their friends and kinsmen how to know the LORD. All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the LORD, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Jeremiah 31:31-34 is referenced four times (Paragraphs 64, 715, 762, and 1965). These are worth reading!

64 – Through the prophets, God forms his people in the hope of salvation, in the expectation of a new and everlasting Covenant intended for all, to be written on their hearts. The prophets proclaim a radical redemption of the People of God, purification from all their infidelities, a salvation which will include all the nations. Above all, the poor and humble of the Lord will bear this hope. Such holy women as Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Judith and Esther kept alive the hope of Israel’s salvation. the purest figure among them is Mary.

715 – The prophetic texts that directly concern the sending of the Holy Spirit are oracles by which God speaks to the heart of his people in the language of the promise, with the accents of “love and fidelity.” St. Peter will proclaim their fulfillment on the morning of Pentecost. According to these promises, at the “end time” the Lord’s Spirit will renew the hearts of men, engraving a new law in them. He will gather and reconcile the scattered and divided peoples; he will transform the first creation, and God will dwell there with men in peace.

762 – The remote preparation for this gathering together of the People of God begins when he calls Abraham and promises that he will become the father of a great people. Its immediate preparation begins with Israel’s election as the People of God. By this election, Israel is to be the sign of the future gathering of All nations. But the prophets accuse Israel of breaking the covenant and behaving like a prostitute. They announce a new and eternal covenant. “Christ instituted this New Covenant.”

1965 – The New Law or the Law of the Gospel is the perfection here on earth of the divine law, natural and revealed. It is the work of Christ and is expressed particularly in the Sermon on the Mount. It is also the work of the Holy Spirit and through him it becomes the interior law of charity: “I will establish a New Covenant with the house of Israel. . . . I will put my laws into their hands, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

St. Marks Parable of the Sower gets no references in the Catechism, but the Matthew 13:3-23 version of the same parable is referenced in Paragraph 1724 about Life in Christ. The footnote for Paragraph 1724 is on the phrase about slowly bearing fruit in the Church to the glory of God.

1724 – The Decalogue, the Sermon on the Mount, and the apostolic catechesis describe for us the paths that lead to the Kingdom of heaven. Sustained by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we tread them, step by step, by everyday acts. By the working of the Word of Christ, we slowly bear fruit in the Church to the glory of God.

Thanks be to God for that gift of Grace which gives us the desire and enables us to continually grow in our faithfulness to Christ and his commandments, “slowly bearing fruit in the Church to the glory of God.” God has prepared the soil and sown the seed. We are called and enabled to cooperate. Even that shows up in The Catechism.

323 – Divine providence works also through the actions of creatures. To human beings God grants the ability to co-operate freely with his plans.

Jan 22 -David and Goliath, and the Four Senses of Scripture

david-goliath-82604-gallery

Nice picture from LDS Website.

On a website called Integrated Catholic Life, there is a post about using the four senses of Scripture to find the full meaning, to us 21st century beings, of the ancient story of David and Goliath, a story probably committed, in ancient Hebrew, to animal skin, about 500 years before Christ describing something that had happened about 500 years earlier.

Here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say about the four senses of Scripture, literal, allegorical, moral, and anagogical:

four senses

The story of David and Goliath is a favorite and tells us something about the earthly ancestry of Jesus. Beyond the simple story, it includes a shepherd tending and defending his sheep, a 40-day challenge from a follower of Baal, and an army of “chosen people” fearful and reluctant to step forward. Then a lad, an underdog, steps forward quickly in faith with the only skills and tools he has and confronts the enemy. And, finally, there is victory of good over evil.

The blog post by Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg on application of the “Four Senses” Bible study principles to the story of David and Goliath seems clear and helpful and not too long, an excellent followup to and reinforcement of Father Linsky’s discussion on Wednesday. It is available for reading HERE.

 

January 8, 2020 – Faith, Hope, and ????

The January 8th discussion centered on the Gospel Reading, 1 John 4:11-18, which begins, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another,” and goes on to say, “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.” That sounds like Mystical Union!” It seems to be a pretty heavy theological burden to be borne by a word we use to explain how we feel about popcorn, chocolate, fishing, baseball, and various other unimportant and non-productive indulgences.

Depending on the Bible translation used, that simple word, “love,” may be listed, with faith and hope, as one of the three theological virtues which

  • adapt man’s faculties for participation in the divine nature,
  • relate directly to God,
  • dispose Christians to live in a relationship with the Holy Trinity, and
  • have the One and Triune God for their origin, motive, and object.

But, according to the Catechism, source of the four descriptors above, the three theological virtues are not faith, hope, and love but rather faith, hope, and charity! (See Catechism)

Those three theological virtues are found in the Bible in three primary texts, all words of St. Paul, inspired by The Holy Spirit. They are:

  • 1 Thessalonians 1:2-4  We give thanks to God always for all of you, remembering you in our prayers, unceasingly calling to mind your work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ, before our God and Father, knowing, brothers loved by God, how you were chosen.
  • 1 Corinthians 13:13  So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
  • Colossians 1:3-5  We always give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love that you have for all the holy ones because of the hope reserved for you in heaven.

For now, ignore faith and hope and focus on the deep scriptural meaning of the greatest of the three, love. Agape is the Greek word translated love in these three passages. Here is what Strong’s Concordance says about the meaning of agape. Read more HERE.

strongs agape

That definition seems a bit weak given the importance of the word in the New Testament. So, how have Bible translators dealt with that Greek word agape? Bible Gateway, which is linked at this website, will generate a list of all English translations of a verse. Here is that list for 1 Corinthians 13:13. Of 59 English translations listed, agape is translated as love in 52 and as charity, consistent with wording of the three theological virtues, in the other seven.

So, why is charity the chosen translation for four King James Versions including the BRG Bible, plus the Jubilee Bible, the Wycliff Bible, and the Douay-Rheims Bible? I think the answer to that question is that those are all old translations, hundreds of years old, and were most certainly influenced by use of the Latin word caritas to translate agape in St. Jerome’s 4th century  Latin Vulgate, the Latin Bible of the Catholic Church. The Douay-Rheims is not just influenced by but is an English translation of the Vulgate rather than of the original languages. The English translation of caritas is, of course, charity. So, now we know why the Catholic theological virtues are faith, hope, and charity rather than faith, hope, and love, and we can ask what that translation from agape to caritas reveals about the 1st century meaning of agape.

At this link is a good discussion of the reason for translating as caritas. It references a quote from the Latin writings of St. Augustine:  I mean by charity (caritas) that affection of the mind which aims at the enjoyment of God for His own sake, and the enjoyment of one’s self and one’s neighbor in subordination to God;” That makes a pretty good case for the Greek to Latin switch but, in 21st century American English, charity means as little as sending a check for $20 or so to Oliver Gospel or The Salvation Army around Christmas or slipping a couple of bucks to a homeless person on the streets of Columbia, nothing like the deep meaning St. Augustine expressed. At this link is a definition and several example sentences which illustrate the full meaning of caritas.

Since our theology and salvation history begin in the ancient Hebrew Old Testament, and since the Vulgate and Septuagint were translations from Hebrew, we should pay attention to what the Old Testament teaches about the love of God. Here is a beautiful OT proclamation about God and his Love. It shows up a dozen or so times with minor wording variations:

Joel

The single Hebrew word translated steadfast love in this verse is chesed which has a suggested meaning of lovingkindness or devotion. It can be translated as gracious, chesedmerciful, kind, good, or to bend or bow oneself, but is translated in the King James Version 26 times as lovingkindness, a strong word that covers motive and action, love followed by corporal or spiritual acts of mercy. I’m going to extrapolate and suggest that since the time and culture of the early Christian Jews was the same as that of the early non-Christian Jews, agape had a similar meaning, making the translation to caritas reasonable and logical.

Does all this mean that anyone who doesn’t use an English bible that translates agape as charity in 1 Corinthians 13 misses the boat on understanding the theological meaning of love? No, there is plenty of evidence of that meaning in the fact that “God so loved (agape) the world that he gave his only Son…” That is a perfect example of love-driven action. John could have written, “God so loved the world that he hoped everybody would do OK,” but that would have been a false statement. (See James 2:14-17)

There is one potential problem with using an English Bible that translates agape as charity. If it is read from the KJV at a wedding, “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity,” the guests might think they are at a fund-raiser instead of a wedding and start asking how their donation checks should be made out. At least that would mean they were taking the word seriously, if incorrectly.

Extra Credit: Why is love(charity) the greatest of faith, hope, and love(charity)?

And one final thought: Some have reversed the order of “God is love” to read “Love is god.” Not so!