Companions on the way

I meant to link earlier to Jeremy’s helpful post on Elizabeth Johnson’s book on the saints, Friends of God and Prophets. Johnson argues for a reformed, “companion” model of the communion of saints, as contrasted with the more traditional “patronage” model.

According to Johnson (per Jeremy’s summary; I haven’t read the book), just this kind of change was set in motion by Vatican II, bringing the Catholic understanding more in line with the critique made by the Reformation. Of course, whatever the Reformers’ revised understanding of the communion of the saints, actual practice in most Protestant churches has probably been to neglect the idea altogether. (Although, I do think that for a lot of Protestants, Old Testament figures actually function in a way similar to the saints.) In any event, Jeremy’s post made me want to read the book, which I think I’ll try and get from the library.

Pre-Christmas odds and ends

The ATR household is off to visit family for the better part of the next week, so blogging will be light–well, even lighter than usual.

Here’s a sampling of what I’ve been reading ’round the Web lately:

Christopher has several posts on l’affaire Rick Warren that are, as usual, very much worth your time. (See here, here, and here.)

Congrats to John Schwenkler, whose blog Upturned Earth has been absorbed into the ever-expanding conservative media empire that is Culture 11.

Lynn reflects on the movie Milk and how different the atmosphere for gay rights in California has changed since the 70’s (n.b.: a couple of f-bombs).

I thought this article on St. Joseph at Slate was neat.

Jennifer reminds us that it’s T-minus one month till the Lost season premiere! (And don’t forget Battlestar Galactica on January 18th!)

Alan Jacobs and Noah Millman discuss intereligious dialogue at the American Scene. This is something I haven’t given as much thought to as I’d like. (See here, here, and here.)

Tom Engelhardt writes on publishing and reading during a downturn. Also see this: “The Tyranny of the ‘To-Read’ Pile”

George Monbiot on peak oil.

This is interesting: Meat Consumption and CO2 Emissions

Not surprisingly, beef has the highest CO2 emissions per pound, but surprisingly high also are cheese and shrimp. I wonder if transportation was included in the figuring.

This talk
from the E.F. Schumahcer Institute was delivered in May, but it still seems entirely relevant to our current predicament.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring you Christmas wishes from Ronnie James Dio (along with the rest of the Dio-era Black Sabbath line-up).

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

 Conrad von Soest, Nativity (1404)
Conrad von Soest, Nativity (1404)

Blogs of Christmas past

Since content will likely be light this coming week, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to offer up some representative posts from the previous four Decembers since I started blogging, as a kind of retrospective.

(Note: some of these originally appeared on my first blog, “Verbum Ipsum,” but have been imported to WP; consequently, there may be some broken links here and there.)


“A Final Word…on the Great Sectarian Debate”

Part of an ongoing discussion with Jennifer of Scandal of Particularity about Christian social ethics

“What Makes a Christian?”
I propose a definition

“How to think about the Bible” and “Revelation, inspiration, and interpretation”
Thoughts on the authority and inspiration of the Bible


“Critique of Pure (Jedi) Reason”

Excessively geeky analysis of the ethical philosophy of Star Wars

“Jesus – New and Improved”
The quest for new, heretofore “hidden” Jesuses as a way of avoiding the challenge of the Jesus we already know

“The Land Question”
A discussion of land reform by way of Tolstoy, Henry George, and Catholicism


“Barack Obama: Where’s the Beef?”
Some skepticism about all the hype surrounding some Senator from Illinois

“Jesus the Jew and Christian Practice”
A post that led to me being called out by Jason Byassee of the Christian Century as a crypto-Marcionite (Follow up post here)

“Animal Cloning and ‘Granting things their space'”
Against animal cloning

“Stephen R.L. Clark’s ‘anarcho-conservatism'”
A discussion of Clark’s political philosophy


A review of Bill McKibben’s Deep Economy

“The Virgin Birth: Does it matter?”
“A further argument for the Virgin Birth,” and
“Faith and factuality”
A series on the Virgin Birth and the broader question of the relation between faith and history

“Paul Zahl’s Theology of Grace”
A review of Paul Zahl’s Grace in Practice

“The Case for McCain”
I maintain that McCain is the least bad of the Republican candidates

Disappearing act

Apparently there was some controversy about the remains of John Henry Newman. The Catholic Church wanted to exhume the remains of the soon-to-be-sainted cardinal (and famous convert from Anglicanism) and display them for veneration. But Newman had explicitly requested burial next to his longtime friend Father Ambrose St John, which is further complicated by the fact that many people think that Newman was gay and that he and Fr. Ambrose were in love (though probably celibate).

Whatever the truth, Cardinal Newman seems to have taken matters into his own hands by disappearing from the grave altogether!

“Our hearts are restless until they rest in You”: St. Augustine

Today is St. Augustine’s feast day. He remains one of the most influential, as well as controversial, figures in the history of Christianity. Some blame him for all that’s wrong with “Western” Christianity: its alleged obsession with sin, legalism, hangups about sex, the frightful predestinarian picture of God, etc. Some of these charges are caricatures, others have (IMO) some truth to them.


But, despite his mixed legacy, Augustine made more lasting contributions to the church than virtually any other single theologian. He formulated a truly Christian metaphysics that made the distinction between created and uncreated being (rather than, say, spirit and matter) the fundamental ontological distinction, while insisting that creation is fundamentally good. He struggled for the priority of grace over Donatist legalism and Pelagian moralism. He accepted some of the best insights of Platonism and other pagan learning, but more thoroughly Christianized them than many of his predecessors. He worked out a comprehensive (for its time) Christian vision of history. And he set the template for much “Latin” theorizing about the Trinity.

Here’s the collect for the day:

O Lord God, the light of the minds that know you, the Life of the souls that love you, and the strength of the hearts that serve you: Help us, following the example of your servant Augustine of Hippo, so to know you that we may truly love you, and so to love you that we may fully serve you, whom to serve is perfect freedom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

I did a series on Augustine’s Enchiridion early this year.

Doubt and atheism aren’t the same thing

Thomas has an excellent riposte to some of the truly insipid things being said about Mother Teresa in light of some recently publicized letters that make it clear that she (like many, many other saints) struggled with doubt and a feeling of God’s absence.

Of course, this won’t be news to anyone who read Carol Zaleski’s “The Dark Night of Mother Teresa,” published in that notorious skeptic rag First Things over four years ago. What is surprising is that some atheists have such a shallow understanding of religious faith that they can’t fathom how it can coexist with doubt. Indeed, you might think that someone who could persist in the kind of ministry Mother Teresa was engaged in, even in the absence of the kind of experiential awareness of God she had experienced earlier, was displaying even greater faith.

Our fellow travelers

Calvinist Richard Mouw reflects on our communion with the saints.

A Marian witness

As today is the (transferred) Feast of the Annunciation of Our Lord, I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts on the talk given by Bishop Steven Charleston on Marian devotion at our parish adult education forum yesterday.

First of all, Bp. Charleston seemed like a really interesting person. He’s a Choctaw Indian who was born in rural Oklahoma and raised a Southern Baptist. In his teens he joined the Episcopal Church, later becoming a priest and then Bishop of Alaska. He’s been very involved in Native American ministry among other things, and currently serves as dean and president of the Episcopal Divinity School in nearby Cambridge, MA. He came across as a very down-to-earth guy who wore his position lightly, and had a rather quiet but direct demeanor. (He was also yesterday’s guest preacher and preached a very straightforward – and short! – sermon).

Anyway, I guess I had originally been expecting a kind of theological disquisition on Marian devotion, but Bp. Charleston’s talk was much more along the lines of an evangelical-style testimony or witness! He spoke of his own very vivid experience of the comforting presence and intercession of Mary and how he’s become something of an “evangelist” for devotion to the BVM in the Episcopal Church. I guess that’s what happens when you mix a Southern Baptist upbringing with Anglo-Catholic theology and piety!

He also spoke movingly of Mary as a kind of salt-of-the-earth working woman, not as the rather frail figure we see in some representations, of seeing her in the faces of Mexican women working in market stalls, or of careworn mothers on the subway. He talked about his efforts to introduce Marian devotion into the very low-church ethos of his Alaskan diocese, and said that, by the time he left several parishes had installed statues of Mary.

I actually liked this talk better than I probably would’ve if it’d been the kind of theological discussion I was expecting. Like I wrote a while ago, as important as the theology is, there’s something uniquely compelling aobut lived experience (again, assuming that it’s consistent with sound theology). So I found Bp. Charleston’s witness to be very powerful. Proudly brandishing his Rosary, he encouraged us all to mediate on how we might make room for Mary in our own spiritual lives and to share that with others.

During the brief Q&A period I asked him what he says to people who contend that devotion to Mary risks overshadowing devotion to the Trinity. He said that, first and foremost, Mary only finds her proper place in the story of Christ; she’s not some sort of goddess figure who stands on her own. She prays with us and for us, but this is always oriented toward God. Secondly, he said that God allows us to approach him in a variety of ways, depending on our particular needs at the time. He mentioned asking for St. Francis’s prayers in his work on environmental issues as an example.

I can see how one might interpret this as setting up “mediators” between us and God in addition to Christ, and it seems clear that, in practice, devotion to the saints has sometimes taken that form. But maybe a better way of thinking about it is that each saint, in his or her uniqueness, shows forth a part or aspect of God in a unique way, like a prisim which refracts white light into a rainbow of colors. Maybe, in asking a particular saint to pray for us, we’re trying to “plug in” to that aspect of God that they refract particuarly clearly.

Saintly miscellania

I don’t think that I linked to LutherPunk’s good discussion of invoking the saints. Here it is.

Also, coinciding with the Feast of the Assumption Annunciation (duh!), Steven Charleston, former bishop of Alaska and Dean and President of the Episcopal Divinity School, is going to be speaking at our parish’s adult education forum this Sunday on Anglican spirituality and devotion to the Blessed Virgin. I’m planning on attending and may post some more thoughts on the subject next week.