All posts tagged: New Testament

Why Is Faith Dead Without Works?

14What is the profit, my brothers, if someone claims to have faith but does not have works? Is faith able to save him? 15If a brother or a sister are [sic] naked or lacking in daily food, 16And one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warm and sated,” but you do not give them the body’s necessities, what is the profit? 17So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18Yet someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” You show me your faith without the works, and I will show you faith by my works. 19You have faith that God is one? You are doing well. Even the daemonic beings have that faith, and they tremble. 20But are you willing to recognize, O you inane man, that faith without works yields nothing? 21Was not our father Abraham made righteous [or: proved righteous] by works, offering up his own son Isaac on the sacrificial altar? 22You see that faith cooperated with his works, and by the …

The Roman Church as Casta Meretrix

You (=Jerusalem) committed fornication because of your renown, and you lavished your fornication on every passer-by. —Ezekiel 16:15 We should realize that everything said about Jerusalem applies to . . . the Church. —Origen, Homilies on Ezekiel Origen is speaking of the members of the church. . . The more “ecclesiastical” they are, the more he has them in mind. Above all, he is thinking of those who are the Church’s official leaders and preachers. He spares them as little as the prophet spares the whore Jerusalem. —Hans Urs von Balthasar, “Casta Meretrix” As the current wave of the clerical abuse crisis began to rush over us, I could not help but think of Hans Urs von Balthasar’s essay “Casta Meretrix [The Chaste Whore].” He opens that essay with Luther’s fiery denunciation of the Roman Church as the whore of Babylon. But then, in a surprising turn, he shows that such an identification preceded Luther by over a millennium. For nearly a hundred pages, he lays out text after text from dozens upon dozens of …

The Spiritual Was More Substantial Than the Material for the Ancients

I f I seem to take N.T. Wright as an antagonist in what follows, he functions here only as emblematic of a larger historical tendency in New Testament scholarship. I can think of no other popular writer on the early church these days whose picture of Judaism in the Roman Hellenistic world seems better to exemplify what I regard as a dangerous triumph of theological predispositions over historical fact in biblical studies—one that occasionally so distorts the picture of the intellectual and spiritual environment of the apostolic church as effectively to create an entirely fictional early Christianity. Naturally, this also entails the simultaneous creation of an equally fictional late antique Judaism, of the sort that once dominated Protestant biblical scholarship: a fantastic “pure” Judaism situated outside cultural history, purged of every Hellenistic and Persian “alloy,” stripped of those shining hierarchies of spirits and powers and morally ambiguous angels and demi-angelic nefilim that had been incubated in the intertestamental literature, largely ignorant even of those Septuagintal books that were omitted from the Masoretic text of the Jewish …

The Charge of Blasphemy and Pope Rihanna

As the dust of controversy settled in the weeks following the Met Gala opening for the Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination exhibition, one image crystallized the event’s exploration of fashion and the “Catholic imagination” and inspired the most divergent reactions to it: Rihanna in a low-cut, jewel-encrusted mini-dress, matching coat, stilettos, and a mitre. In most photos from the gala, she does not lean into the sexiness of her papal-inspired attire, nor its playfulness. Her expression is imperious; her stance, authoritative. She evokes power. Representing one type of reaction to this image, Cardinal Dolan, who also attended the gala, said that he lent Rihanna his own mitre for the event. It was a joke, but the Vatican did lend many artifacts for the exhibit the gala celebrated. Officially, the Catholic Church collaborated with the museum to help create the exhibit. But other reactions were not so sanguine. A People magazine article ran with the headline, “The Met Gala’s ‘Catholic Imagination’ Theme Called ‘Blasphemous’ and ‘Sacrilegious’ by Critics”. It went on to chronicle Twitter …

A Prayer for the Poor

David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5000 Years (2011) is a strange, brilliant, frustrating, and perhaps indispensable book. It remains controversial among economists, of course, if only out of the resentment some of them feel at the very notion that an anthropologist might presume to intrude on their putative area of expertise, and to do so on so vast a historical scale. It continues, moreover, to strain the credulity of those who cannot imagine how anyone could express such doubts regarding the practical inevitability of a monetary economic system, or could seriously propose anarchism as a real alternative to the injustices of capitalism. And, of course, there are those who not unreasonably accuse Graeber of offering a grandly buoyant critique of the contradictions and cruelties of capitalist culture without the ballast of a few proposed solutions. But, exotic as Graeber’s book was as an intervention in economic analysis, at its heart lay a rather ordinary observation, one that was made just as grandly a couple years later by Thomas Piketty in his magisterial treatise Capital in …

Further Reflections on Capital Punishment (and on Edward Feser)

According to Edward Feser, I seem “to think that the moral demands of the Gospel apply in exactly the same way to both the private sphere and the public sphere.” And this, he goes on to say, “is not only not the Catholic position, it is not even the Eastern Orthodox position. It is merely David Bentley Hart’s personal theological position, and he simply asserts it without argument.” Ah. Except that I don’t, and never have (though neither would I necessarily reject the proposition, since it seems a claim more dangerous to deny than to affirm; I would need to know precisely what “in exactly the same way” means in Feser’s mind.) I can see the cause of the confusion, however. The issue is capital punishment, and Feser’s angry expostulation comes near the end of his rancorous reply to two extremely bad reviews—one by me, one by Paul Griffiths—of the “Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment” that he and Joseph Bessette recently published under the title By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed. Now, in fact, nowhere in …

Jesus and the Old Testament

The Word of God grows its roots in the heart the more one shares it with others. That is why one of the surest ways of growing in knowledge and love for the Scriptures is to teach them to others, an opportunity I had for the first time (at least, as a theology professor) this semester in a course on the Old Testament. Some bright undergraduates, our diocese’s deacon candidates and their spouses, and I set out to gain a deeper understanding of the sacred texts that are foundational for both Jews and Christians. First, however, we had to tackle the issue of how one should read and interpret them. It is well-known that the divide between historical and theological study of the Bible has been a mainstay in higher education for decades. The predominance of the historical-critical method has separated biblical studies from theology in many seminaries and theological schools.[1] One need only look at the major figures in 20th century theology—Rahner and von Balthasar among them—to see that very few were thoroughly biblical …