Wednesday, September 28, 2005

HFH Patristics Reading Group: Ignatius of Antioch

We should now all have finished the Epistle of St. Clement to the Corinthians. Please feel free to contribute your thoughts on "old" threads; not everybody can read at the same pace, given the competing demands on our attention.

For those who have recently joined in this reading group, both members of Holy Family Homeschoolers and other friends, our guide text is Quasten's Patrology, Vol. 1 (you don't have to buy it to follow along, but it's worth the investment). We've read the Didache and St. Clement's Epistle to the Corinthians, and are now moving on to the letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch. All readings are linked on-line; just click on the name of the writing.

Linked texts are in the public domain, usually because they're quite old, and may therefore be less easily readable than a modern translation. There are several excellent translations about, available from bookstore or library.

Now this is a discussion group, and if the number of people who have told me, privately, that they're reading along were reflected in the number of comments, the discussion would be quite lively. Remember, there are no stupid comments; there are only empty comments boxes.

Now, on with Ignatius....

Epistle to the Ephesians

As Quasten treats the Ignatian letters all at once, I will post Quasten's observations on the letters generally as well as various comments on the particular letters.

Quasten on St. Ignatius: "Ignatius, second bishop of Antioch, an inimitable personality, was sentenced during Trajan's reign (98-117) to be devoured by wild beasts. He was ordered from Syria to Rome to suffer his martyrdom. On the way to the Eternal City he composed seven epistles.... These letters are a welcome enlightenment as to internal conditions of early Christian communities. They give us a glimpse, too, into the very heart of the great bishop-martyr and breathe forth a profound religious enthusiasm that catches us up and fires us."

On the Eucharist: "The Church is called 'the place of sacrifice' (Eph. 5,2).... Ignatius calls the Eucharist, 'the medicine of immortality, the antidote against death, and everlasting life in Jesus Christ' (Eph. 20,2).

On the bishops: "[T]he bishop constantly admonishes his flock to peace and unity, which can only be attained through solidarity with the hierarchy" (see Eph. 4).

On the inhabitation of Christ: "The Pauline idea of God's immanence in the human soul is a favorite theme of St. Ignatius. The divinity of Christ dwells in the souls of Christians as in a temple (Eph. 15, 3).... Ignatius is so thoroughly permeated and inspired by the consciousness of this immanence that he coins new words in the cultural vein of his time. He calls Christians Theophoroi, Xristophoroi, naophoroi. 'And thus you all are fellow travellers, God-bearers and temple-bearers, Christ-bearers' (Eph. 9,2)."

Next (for those who like to read ahead): Epistle to the Magnesians

Update: Friend-of-this-blog Amy reminds us that there are two "versions" of the Ignatian letters: the originals ("short recension"), and interpolated versions from the fourth century ("long recension"). I'm linking us to the short recension, but if you like a bit of compare-and-contrast, you can see the long recension here.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Seeing GhostsMy dearly beloved husband and I have gotten ourselves into another on-line argument, this time on Mark Shea's blog (here and here). This one actually has a homeschooling angle.

I've often had cause to reflect how conversations about belief are more acceptable in a homeschooling context than they ever would be in schools, public or private. At home, I can say to my children--as parents, religious and areligious, would say a few decades ago without hesitation or qualification--no, there's no such thing as ghosts. No, Virginia, there are no witches. They're just in storybooks. No, there's really no such thing as magic (since you ask), but isn't it fun to pretend there is?

If I said that as a public school teacher, I'd have the ACLU after me, together with half the practicing Christians I know. I'd be a skeptic, materialist bigot. But as a homeschooler, I can say that, and I can be free from worry that my children will say such things among other homeschoolers, because in my experience homeschoolers are a tolerant lot. We have to be.

Not everyone is so sanguine about the tolerant nature of the movement. Uber-anti-homeschooler Rob Reich (see his intelligent if abhorrent views here and here--really, read them) links to this notorious NYT Magazine article, featuring what the reporter clearly found a bizarre and horrifying conversation between her and the little Christian homeschooled girl:

Is President Clinton a Christian?" Molly asked in her singsong voice.
"I think he would say so, yes."
"No. He's not. He lies. Do you have a barrette?"
The sun was beating down. A boy skateboarded by in a black T-shirt reading, "Jesus: The Force Without a Dark Side."
"I know who is always against us," Molly continued.
"Satan." Brush. Brush.
"Really? What does he do?"
"Makes us lie." Brush. Brush. "Makes us sin."
Brush. Brush. "Makes us turn our back on God. What's Play-Doh?"

Well, okay. Pretty cringeworthy. But I've heard little homeschooled kids say not dissimilar things, and it's really not all that unnerving in real life. I've heard a young homeschooled man hold forth to a group of parents about the obviousness of atheism, and the clear stupidity of religious faith. We all smiled to ourselves (most of us were believers) and gently suggested to him that there might be other points of view. But we weren't horrified or offended, because we knew his parents were atheists, and he had, innocently enough, assumed his parents' views and conversations were shared more universally. I've heard homeschooled kids ask bewildered playmates to accept Jesus into their hearts; a little neo-pagan has explained to me excitedly about her family's Samhain observance and inform me, gravely, that hers was the most ancient of faiths. But nobody takes offense. Why does the reporter find this more frightening and dangerous than a little child who still believes wholeheartedly in Santa Claus?

Contrary to Rob Reich's argument that homeschooling is bad because it denies children access to alternative viewpoints, in fact homeschooling may be one of the last ways of preserving true multiculturalism. A culture survives only when it has a context and community support, and can express itself fully. Reich would have children removed from that context, put in a community that provides no such support, and forbidden to express themselves fully. His method of assuring diversity would kill off true cultural diversity within a generation. My daughter has met children who believe that, as a Catholic, she is mistaken or deceived; but it was a public-school friend who asked her in all innocence, "What's a Catholic?" After five years of living Reich's ideal, avoiding "ethical servility" and "encounter[ing] some of the diversity of beliefs and conviction that are part and parcel of our democracy," she had never even heard of the world's largest Christian church.

We homeschoolers are self-selected to be weird, countercultural, and strongly opinionated. My blog title is a tautology. Our kids learn from their cultural context, which is, at least in their very early years, their eccentric and opinionated families. We are the reservoirs of diversity; we are the on-the-ground practitioners and teachers of tolerance. Even those homeschoolers who teach their children that other beliefs are bad and wrong are not exceptions. And my experience is that these kids don't grow up to be fanatics and bigots, as Reich and the writer of the article clearly fear: I've met enough people who grew up homeschooled in tight religious enclaves to be sure of that.

Someday, my children may reject the Catholic faith, or become convinced ghost-hunters, or move to Kazakhstan to live as persecuted hobbits. But they will have moved from a firm place to a firm place; I haven't left them to drift convictionless through the world, half-understanding, vaguely interested, and living the true intolerance of the ignorant and undistinguishing.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

St. Matthew

The story of the Magi who came to search for the newborn king; the Unjust Servant who is forgiven all and can himself forgive nothing; the ten Virgins, five of them disastrously imprudent; Peter's declaration of faith, and Jesus' blessing of Peter as the rock on whom the Church would be built. All unique to the Gospel of St. Matthew, a repentant tax collector who, tradition has it, wrote his gospel in Hebrew or Aramaic. Patron saint of stockbrokers and of the IRS.

St. Matthew the Apostle, pray for us.
Maybe I Should Name Her 'Rita'

So I'm all ready to go this weekend and pick up my sweet little manx kitty and her surviving kitten (for a friend who's a bigger sucker for a manx than I am), after weeks of waiting for the kittens to wean. And guess what? Now there's a big ol' hurricane bearing down on my poor little feline, and who knows when I can go get her, if Texas City is even there on Monday.

I toyed with throwing the kids in the car and making a mad dash for the coast, but sense prevailed (what must the freeways around Houston look like right now?) and I'm going to wait it out.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

What Label?

A friend asked recently what kind of Catholic I consider myself. We have all different kinds of Catholics, don't we? Protestants have their own divisions, which so often seem to fall into convenient pairs: liberal and conservative, mainline and evangelical, high church and low. Once, Catholics were classified either as Good Catholics (go to mass, get married in the Church, don't commit mortal sins in full view of the press--think Spencer Tracy, before Katharine Hepburn) or Bad Catholics (think Charlie Sheen before Denise Richards); there wasn't much else. Today we have liberal Catholics (Sen. Kennedy), traditional Catholics (Rick Santorum), traditionalIST Catholics (Mel Gibson--and how long did it take the media to figure out what every Catholic on the internet knew for years, that Gibson isn't actually a Catholic?), social justice Catholics, lapsed Catholics, Buddhist Catholics.

But the Great Divide in the Church is between those now in their forties, fifties, and sixties, who are all either Pre-Vatican II Catholics or Post-Vatican II Catholics. This is the faultline that will continue to be the normative division until Fr. Andrew Greeley keels over at his word processor, whether the rest of us like it or not.

I don't know what kind of Catholic I am. Post-post-V2 Catholic, I guess. Am I the only Catholic under forty or over seventy who is glad that at last the Boomers and all others who are determined to fight the Vatican II wars are starting to retire out of the system?

Not making this up: When taking the mandatory baptism class before getting Offspring #1 baptized, the nun teaching it started going on about how the Church's understanding of baptism had changed since we were all kids, before Vatican II. We were all looking around the room at each other, silently noticing that we were all in our 20's and not a soul of us born before around 1970. We didn't say anything.

Six years later, sitting equally bored through a mandatory parents' meeting before Offspring #1 could have her First Communion (notice a theme here? the Church is careful to help you expiate your sins before sacraments by forcing you to sit through interminable lectures on stuff you already know), the DRE launched into a philippic against the evils of the Baltimore Catechism which we all (according to her) were forced to memorize by meaningless rote as children. Again, there was the silent glance-around-Are-you-hearing-this-too? around the table; I doubt that any of us had ever even seen a Baltimore Catechism. The DRE, like the nun, had a Catholic identity so wrapped up in the Great Leap Forward of the '60's Church that it had completely overwhelmed any sense that she was addressing a set of Catholics who had no such identity.

We don't want to fight the Vatican II wars. We like the mass in English; and we like pretty churches with statues and stained glass and paint. We like women being able to come to mass without searching their purses for something to cover their heads; and we appreciate nuns in their habits and priests in their priestly outfits rather than mufti. We like having it emphasized to our kids that the faith involves service and social justice; and we want them to have to learn the Ten Commandments and the Works of Mercy by heart. We don't want to go back to the "bad old days" of pre-V2; and we're sick and tired of hearing how bad and old they were, because first we suspect that the same people who brought us the Me Generation and the Decade of Greed are not in fact the best judges of a healthy culture and aesthetics, and second because we Just Don't Care. It's like listening to John Kerry go on about Vietnam, or Tom Brokaw opine about the Greatest Generation. Can we get on with being Just Catholic, already?

Just Catholic.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Epistle to the Corinthians: First Main Part

Onward to the second main part of St. Clement's Epistle to the Corinthians, consisting of chapters 37 through 61.

Quasten: "The second main part deals more immediately with the quarrel among the Christians in Corinth. God, the Creator of order in nature, requires order and obedience from his creatures. This necessity for discipline and subjection is proved by pointing to the rigorous training of the Roman army and to the existence of a hierarchy in the Old Testament. So, too, Christ called the Apostles and they in turn appointed bishops and deacons. Love should take the place of discord and charity should prompt forgiveness. The instigators of contention are exhorted to do penance and to be submissive."

I love Clement's appeal to the Roman army model. "All are not prefects, nor commanders of a thousand, nor of a hundred, nor of fifty, nor the like, but each one in his own rank performs the things commanded by the king and the generals." It reminds me of the centurion of faith--"For I too am a man subject to authority, and have soldiers subject to me"--whose words of confidence in humility (Lord, I am not worthy...) we repeat at each mass before receiving the Eucharist.

Anyway, more Quasten, on the Epistle in general, by topic:

Church history: "Very important is the first chapter. It bears reliable testimony to St. Peter's sojourn in rome, St. Paul's journey to Spain and the martyrdom of the two Princes of the Apostles.... Again the sixth chapter gives us information about Nero's persecution of the Christians, speaks of a multitude of martyrs and mentions that many of them were women."

History of dogma: "Here for the first time we find a clear and explicit declaration of the doctrine of apostolic succession. The fact is stressed that the presbyters cannot be deposed by the members of the community because authority is not bestowed by them.... [T]he very existence of the epistle is in itself a testimony of great moment to the authority of the Roman bishop. the Church of Rome speaks to the Church of corinth as a superior speaks to a subject.... [T]he Bishop of Rome regards it as a duty to take the matter in hand and he considers it sinful on their part if they do not render obedience to him."

Liturgy: "The Epistle points to a clear distinction between hierarchy and laity. After explaining the various divisions of the Old Testament hierarchy the author adds: 'the layman is bound by the rules laid down for the laity' (40, 5).... The members of the Christian hierarchy are called episkopoi kai diakonoi [bishops and deacons]. In other passages they are called cumulatively presbyteroi. Their most important function is the celebration of the liturgy: to offer the gifts or to present the offerings."

So I was noticing that both the Presbyterian editors of the ANF translation (the one I've been linking to) and the Catholic Jurgens (The Faith of the Early Fathers) consistently use "presbyters" to translate presbyteroi, while Kirsopp, in the scholarly and secular Loeb edition, translates the word literally as "older." In the first chapter, I really find Kirsopp's translation more likely: "obedient to your rulers, and paying all fitting honour to the older among you" is contrasted in the next sentence to the treatment of the young: "On the young, too, you enjoined temperate and seemly thoughts." In chapter 57, Kirsopp uses "presbyters," since an ordained class is clearly being referred to.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Epistle to the Corinthians: Introduction

Bumping this up to the top (is it a violation of the 8th commandment to alter the dates on blog entries? I can't figure out another way to move them to the top...).

Here's a little intro to get us all launched on our reading of Clement's Epistle to the Corinthians.

From Quasten:
"It is among the most important documents of subapostolic times, the earliest piece of Christian literature outside the New Testament for which the name, position and date of the author are historically attested.

"The outbreak of disputes within the Church of Corinth during the reign of Domitian impelled the author to intervene. Factions, so severely reprimanded on occasion by St. Paul, raged anew. Some arrogant and impudent individuals had rebelled against ecclesiastical authority and driven the incumbents from office. Only a very small minority of the community remained loyal to the deposed presbyters. Clement's intention was to settle the differences and to repair the scandal given to the pagans."

Quasten divides the letter into an introduction (chapters 1-3), a first main part (4-36), a second main part (37-61), and a recapitulation (62-65). Let's tackle the introduction and the first main part. The chapters are short, but there's a lot of them.

Quasten again:

"The introduction calls attention to the flourishing state of the Christian community of Corinth before the quarrel.... The third chapter, by way of contrast, points to the entirely changed condition of the community.

"The first main part is of a rather general character. It deprecates discord and envy ... exhorts to penance, hospitality, piety and humility ... then expatiates upon the goodness of God, the harmony existing in his creation, his omnipotence, the resurrection and the judgment; humility, temperance, faith and good works lead to reward, to Christ."

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Not a lot of blogging going on, I know; I've probably gone a long way to reducing my regular readership down from two or three (depending on whether my parents read this...) to even less. Lots of stuff going on in the world lately. And I keep having trivial things to blog, but it seems somehow ... unreverential, given the circumstances.

But then I came to think that in any crisis, there are Things To Be Said and Things To Be Done. And since this crisis has happened sufficiently close to home that there's a lot of Things To Be Done, I will take a pass on being one of those who says what needs to be said. I'll save that for the next round of elections.

I do want to put in cheers and thumbs-up for the mayor of Houston, though, and his great speech on the topic of "Why we're going to put the evacuees anywhere we possibly can put them, and if you don't like that go ahead and sue the city, just stand in line amigo." What a refreshing change from incompetence and whining and hand-wringing and blame-shifting.

Oh wait, I wasn't going to say anything. Anyway, despite the human misery of it all, this has been one of those weeks I just feel so damn proud to be a Texan. Let's keep it up; we're in it for the long haul.