an outlet of encouragement, explanation, and exhortation

Category: Quotes (Page 2 of 9)

Lactantius, on defending Christianity

Lactantius was a Christian writer in the 3rd and 4th century who wrote the Divine Institutes to explain Christianity to Roman critics, to whom it must have seemed quite foreign. Apparently, his wise words were often ignored through the centuries.

Religion is to be defended, not by putting to death, but by dying; not by cruelty, but by patient endurance; not by guilt, but by good faith: for the former belong to evils, but the latter to goods; and it is necessary for that which is good to have place in religion, and not that which is evil. For if you wish to defend religion by bloodshed, and by tortures, and by guilt, it will no longer be defended, but will be polluted and profaned.

Lactantius, Divine Institutes, book 5, chapter 20, from the 10 volume 1885 translation in The Ante-Nicene Fathers

A translation of the Divine Institutes can be found online from several sources.

The Temptation of Power and “Success”

I was listening to Lectio 365 last year and was struck by a simple statement made as a part of the devotional for the morning. I jotted down the quote in my notes. It wasn’t really a new thought; but the simple, direct phrasing has remained with me ever since. Here is what was said:

Jesus lived in an age of tyrants, governors and bureaucrats. The temptation right from the start was for the Church to adopt the attitudes, hierarchies, and power structures of every other organisation, full of ambitious people seeking to climb the ladder of success. But Jesus turned it all on its head. If you want to be great, you must be servant of all.

from Lectio 365, Morning Edition, August 25, 2022

Of course, see the Gospel of Mark, chapter 10, verses 42-46, and other passages. Jesus is very clear on this topic. This seems such an important point in light of what we see in human organizations claiming to represent the church, both today and across 2000 years. Like the humans of Genesis 3, we humans are so quick to trust what seems good it us instead of listening to God.

I am reminded of the wisdom of Micah 6.8.

The Second Coming

by William Butler Yeats (1919)

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Read more about Yeats poem The Second Coming in Wikipedia.

A Quote on Quakers and Abolition from the Empire Podcast

The current series being published on The Empire podcast covers the history of slavery. As usual, it has been quite good. I think the series is nearing conclusion; though it has not finished yet. I’ve heard quite a lot of reference to Quakers and The Society of Friends throughout the series. In a recent episode entitled Wilberforce and the Fight for Freedom, William Dalrymple asked a leading question of the guest historian, Michael Taylor, author of The Interest, a book about the resistance of the British establishment to ending slavery. He wanted Taylor to explain the connection of Quakers to abolition. Here’s what Taylor said in response.

So the Quakers probably deserve more credit than any other single group in terms of the whole sweep of the history of abolitionism. Benjamin Lay, the eccentric Philadelphian abolitionist in the early part of the 18th century… In the later part of the 18th century, it’s American Quakers and American abolitionists in the northern states, who produced some of the most persuasive and influential literature. And it’s this literature which they are sending across to their brethren in the United Kingdom that is absolutely vital to the growth of the abolitionist movement in places like Manchester. 

Dalrymple followed up asking what it is about Quakers that leads them to the conclusion that enslaving other human beings is wrong when apparently neither Anglicans nor Catholics saw it this way. Michael Taylor answers:

For the simple reason that within Quakerism, within the Society of Friends, there is no hierarchy of persons. They are no respecters of persons, so whilst there might within the Catholic and Anglican churches be a very strict hierarchy, a rigid order of things, Quakers have no such problems and they look at everybody as being on an equal plane.

Well, there it is. No hierarchy of persons. It’s just engrained in most Friends, who seem to learn Quakerism more by living among Quakers in community than through schooling – that was certainly my experience. And that’s why recent developments in some Friends groups to establish a ruling hierarchy is so troubling to me and others. It’s a fundamental shift away from Friends ways and the Friends understanding of humans in their relationship to Christ who comes to teach us Himself.

The lowest person in human society is not low in Jesus’ eyes, and can and should hear directly from Him – and speak as she or he hears. Lord Acton’s famous quote regarding the corrupting influence of power comes to mind. As power, particularly coercive power increases, morality so often lessens. Forsake power and speak the truth in love? Jesus, who had more coercive power available to Himself than any other human in history took up the cross. May we grow to be more like Him.

Edward J. Carnell on Fundamentalism

In his book The Case for Orthodox Theology, Edward J. Carnell commented on the difference between orthodox Christianity and fundamentalism, and identified tendencies of fundamentalism of any stripe. I am reminded of these characteristics of fundamentalism in the context of various contemporary political and social controversies when I listen to advocates of various positions – even positions with which I may agree! Present day discourse is so… absolutist? I’ll leave further application of that thought to the reader, however.

Critics also brand orthodoxy as fundamentalism, but in doing so they act in bad taste. Not only is it unfair to identify a position with its worst elements, but the critics of fundamentalism often manifest the very attitudes that they are trying to expose. The mentality of fundamentalism is by no means an exclusive property of orthodoxy. Its attitudes are found in every branch of Christendom: the quest for negative status, the elevation of minor issues to a place of major importance, the use of social mores as a norm of virtue, the toleration of one’s own prejudice but not the prejudice of others, the confusion of the church with a denomination, and the avoidance of prophetic scrutiny by using the Word of God as an instrument of self-security but not self-criticism.

The mentality of fundamentalism comes into being whenever a believer is unwilling to trace the effects of original sin in his own life. And where is the believer who is wholly delivered from this habit? This is why no one understands fundamentalism until he understands the degree to which he himself is tinctured by the attitudes of fundamentalism.

The Case for Orthodox Theology by Edward J. Carnell, (c) 1959, by W. L. Jenkins, The Westminster Press, p. 141.

Tuchman’s Law

I (finally) read Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century”. I received it in hard cover decades ago as a gift from my Uncle Joseph Pike and it has been on my stack of books to read “soon” ever since! I obtained an unabridged spoken audio version and listened while gardening.

In the introduction, Tuchman amusingly names a phenomenon she observes as she studies “deplorable developments” in history. She terms it “Tuchman’s Law”, herein quoted:

Disaster is rarely as pervasive as it seems from recorded accounts. The fact of being on the record makes it appear continuous and ubiquitous whereas it is more likely to have been sporadic both in time and place. Besides, persistence of the normal is usually greater than the effect of the disturbance, as we know from our own times. After absorbing the news of today, one expects to face a world consisting entirely of strikes, crimes, power failures, broken water mains, stalled trains, school shutdowns, muggers, drug addicts, neo-Nazis, and rapists. The fact is that one can come home in the evening—on a lucky day—without having encountered more than one or two of these phenomena. This has led me to formulate Tuchman’s Law, as follows: “The fact of being reported multiplies the apparent extent of any deplorable development by five- to tenfold” (or any figure the reader would care to supply).

Tuchman, Barbara. A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978; p. xviii.

It took me a moment to identify the spirit of the comment. Then I laughed out loud. The time it took me to identify her intentions with the comment one might consider a deplorable development in my history. I think this was the highlight of the entire book for me. One can extend her observation to social media and the 24-hour news cycle of our time. People have to talk about something. All the time. Amplifying the deplorable is par.

Overall, let’s just say that the 14th century was a time in which the kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of Jesus were rarely, if ever, in spiritual alignment. But what’s unexpected about that? I did gain in my appreciation for how pre-modern folk used numbers as generic amplifying adjectives rather than precise mathematical quantities. I suppose that’s a valuable talent for reading ancient texts.

As for recommending the book? I appreciated it, but had expected somewhat more scholarly depth from a famous scholar. I suppose she wrote for a more popular audience. I found it somewhat repetitive; however, I suppose that is an observation of the human condition and the times more than her writing about it. It is a worthwhile investment of casual reading time.

What is Thy only comfort in life and death?

That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ…

from the Heidelberg Catechism, Day 1

I found those words at the beginning of the catechetical response to be encouraging. Of course, there is more detail to the complete answer in the catechism. Catechisms tend to be wordy! (Not that I object to the rest of the response…)

Q. What is Thy only comfort in life and death?

A. That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, hath fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.

I recorded a message related to this thought for January 15, 2023, after returning from a family trip to Ireland.

For an historical Quaker catechism, check out Barclay’s Catechism here (Quaker Heritage Press) or here (Google Books) or here (Wikisource).

Can you find it in Jesus?

I saw a comment by Brian Zahnd the other day on Jesus’ disciples in the Gospel of Luke that bears repeating. So I’m repeating it!

The “Sons of Thunder” wanted to call fire down from heaven on a Samaritan village who refused to welcome Jesus. In their petition they were able to cite Scripture because Elijah had done this. But Jesus rebuked them, saying, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.”

The question isn’t can we find it in the Bible, but can we find it in Jesus. If we weaponize the Bible to hurt other people, we do not have the Spirit of the Lord.

Raymond Chang on Christianity

Christianity is intended to be a faith that is generous in a world that promotes scarcity, kind in a world that is harsh, generative where there is decay, healing where there is hurt, reconciling where there is division, and merciful and loving where there is hate.

-Raymond Chang

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