Morgendämmerung, oder, Wie man mit dem Hammer theologiert.

VDMA

Verbum domini manet in aeternum. The word of the Lord endures forever.
1 Peter 1:24-25, quoting Isaiah 40:6,8. Motto of the Lutheran Reformation.


Fayth onely justifieth before God. Robert Barnes, DD The Supplication, fourth essay. London: Daye, 1572.

Lord if Thou straightly mark our iniquity, who is able to abide Thy judgement? Wherefore I trust in no work that I ever did, but only in the death of Jesus Christ. I do not doubt, but through Him to inherit the kingdom of heaven. Robert Barnes, DD, before he was burnt alive for "heresy", 30 July 1540.

What is Luther? The doctrine is not mine, nor have I been crucified for anyone. Martin Luther, Dr. theol. (1522)

For the basics of our faith right here online, or for offline short daily prayer or devotion or study, scroll down to "A Beggar's Daily Portion" on the sidebar.

14 April 2014

Maundy Thursday / Gründonnerstag 2014.

Maundy.

Now there's a word for you. Just like a lot of that liturgical stuff, doesn't seem to make any sense in the real world of ordinary spoken language, does it? Is there a maundy anything else? What is it to be maundy? As if that isn't enough, to German speakers this Green Thursday. OK, green is plain enough, but what's green about this day? Hey, maybe we should just skip the whole thing and put Jesus first, or at least call it "holy" Thursday and quit bugging people with weird words, huh?

Well, those names came about because of putting Jesus first. Here's the deal.

How This Night Is Different Than All Other Nights.

In Holy Week the church commemorates the saving acts of Jesus. Not that we don't do that all year, but this week we add to that laying them out over the days they happened as actual historical events, things which really took place, in the order they happened, not just religious or theological beliefs. In her liturgy for Maundy Thursday, the church commemorates the night before Jesus died, when Jesus gathered with his Apostles to celebrate the Passover seder, which is the memorial meal commanded in the Law celebrating the night before the exodus began out of bondage in Egypt so they could receive the Law at Sinai and go to the Promised Land.

The seder was already centuries old in Jesus' time. Early on in a traditional seder, the youngest person able to speak, noticing that there are many things different in this meal than in any other, asks "Why is to-night different than all other nights?" In our times, the person then asks four detailed questions about the differences, but in Jesus' time there were five, the fifth question being why to-night is everything roasted, but as that related to the existence of the Temple it was discontinued after its destruction in 70 A.D. To answer the questions, the Magid, which means "the telling", the 5th of the 15 parts of the seder, is done, which tells the whole story of the Exodus with explanation as to why everything is done as it is.

The Apostles didn't know it, but they were about to get not just a night different than all other nights, but a seder different than all other seders, in fact, the last seder under the Law of Moses! Imagine how astounded the Apostles must have been when Jesus, instead of the well known words of the seder they were expecting, said something entirely different at the breaking of the bread and the third of the four cups of wine.

What's up with the Four Cups? It comes from Exodus 6:6-7, where God expresses the deliverance in four ways: 1) bringing out; the first cup, at the opening Kaddish or blessing; 2) delivering; the second cup, at the Magid or Telling; 3) redeeming, the third cup, at the Birkat Hamazon or Grace After Meals, and the point at which the focus of the seder shifts from gratitude for past deliverance to hopes for future deliverance; 4) taking; the fourth cup, at the Hallel or Psalms of Praise.

OK, so how clear does he have to be, if you know the seder? At Motzi and Matzah, the 7th and 8th part of a seder, the breaking of the bread, which is already different than the usual meal, with the regular blessing at the breaking of bread followed by the blessing for the Passover bread the matzah, instead Jesus up and says "This is my Body"! And at the Third Cup, at the Grace After Meals, the Birkat Hamazon or Barekh as it is called at Passover, the 13th part of a seder, right when the focus shifts to future redemption and an extra cup is poured for Elijah who heralds the Messiah, instead Jesus up and says "This is my Blood"!

Must have blown them clean away! And ought to blow us clean away too, as here, clearly, unmistakeably, he has taken the Passover Seder and made it his body and blood, the body and blood of the Lamb of God, whose sacrifice to-morrow would take away the sins of the entire world, but to-night he passes transformed seder on to us as his last will and testament, to have until he comes again!

Why is to-night different than all other nights, indeed!

And so the church celebrates mass to-night, or Divine Service with Communion if you prefer, a mass as always yet also a mass in remembrance of that first mass ever, the mass he celebrated on the night we commemorate to-night, at once both the last seder, or last supper, of the Old Covenant and the first mass of the New. The purple vestments of Lenten penance are set aside and white is used. The Gloria, which has not been said during Lent (of course, if one follows the newer Vatican II style liturgies it isn't said anyway a good bit of the time!) is now said again -- and then, along with mass and Communion, disappears again until the Resurrection.

And to emphasise that the lamb now goes to the slaughter for our sakes, not only do mass and Communion go away until Easter, but after mass the altar is stripped bare of all its usual stuff not to return until Easter, while Psalm 22 (or 21 in some numberings), a traditional Jewish prayer of the dying, is recited -- My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?

How This Night Is "Maundy".

Then, the most amazing thing happens -- so amazing we don't do it very often, even in liturgically observant parishes, maybe we can't bring ourselves to do it much, it's just a little too stark and graphic. A wooden clapper gives the signal, the deacon sings the Gospel of the day -- which is John 13:1-15, the account of the Last Seder, but the next verses telling the Crucifixion we will not hear until to-morrow -- while the celebrant takes the action Jesus took told in John, and washes the feet of twelve people.

During this washing, a series of antiphons are done, starting with one drawn from John 13:34 -- a new commandment I give you, that you love one another as I have loved you. In Latin, this begins "mandatum novum", a new commandment; our word mandate derives from the Latin mandatum for commandment, and so does the word maundy. Hence the name -- this is the day of the new commandment, mandatum or maundy Thursday! Hard to put Jesus any more first than to name the whole day after his giving his new commandment! Than to do what he did and as he said in the Gospel for the day!

Normally a modern seder concludes with the 15th part, the Nirtzah, "Next year in Jerusalem!" or, if you are already there, "Next year in the rebuilt Jerusalem", a Messianic hope since this can only happen when the Messiah comes. But this same Jesus, who makes the Passover seder his body and blood, shall, as we see to-morrow and at Easter, himself be the Temple, destroyed and then rebuilt, as it were, in the Resurrection! We are already there, the rebuilt Jerusalem and its Temple right before us, his testament and pledge of our salvation!

How We Are.

That's our liturgy. And what of us? We're Peter. When Jesus got up during the seder and prepared to wash his disciples' feet and came first to Peter, what did Peter say? OK? Sure Lord, doesn't seem to make sense but I know this must be right if you say so? No, he questioned Jesus: Lord, dost thou wash my feet? How often is that our response to Jesus -- you really mean that Lord? To which Jesus said, What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter. Right, I'll get it later; not good enough, not to Peter, not to us. So Peter says Thou shalt never wash my feet! Just like us, imposing our ideas of what God should do even in front of God himself, in person or in Scripture.

So Jesus makes it just a little clearer for him: If I do not wash thee, thou shalt have no part with me. Peter then gets it, but, just as we do, then runs to the opposite, no less extreme than before, and still imposing his idea of what God should do and his idea of what he should do before God himself -- Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head! Do we not do the same? Run from one self willed idea of God and our interaction with him to another, from one rejection of his word to another, all disguised as an acceptance -- anything, anything at all except just what he said!

We run from the washing of the feet liturgically like we run from the new commandment itself in all aspects of our lives, wanting it to be, like Peter, after our ideas rather than God's. We can no more save ourselves than a man can wake himself from the dead, as CFW Walther said in one of his sermons. But the good news is we don't have to wake ourselves, so why don't we quit trying? He has done it for us, and this night given us his body and blood as the pledge and testament of our salvation to be ours until he comes again in glory!

Almost forgot -- about Green Thursday. Nobody really knows. It's a German thing. Some say it comes from the Latin dies viridium, Tag der Grünen in German, the Day of the Green Ones. Huh? Who are the Green Ones? Those who are now fresh and green after forty days of Lenten penance. Some say it comes from the practice of eating green vegetables this say. Some say it comes from green rather than white being the liturgical colour at one time, replacing the Lenten purple. Some say it comes from greinen, to weep. Some say other things.

But for sure, Maundy Thursday comes from the Latin name for the day, Dies Mandatum, the day of the new commandment. The liturgy shows us the new commandment in the giving of the Eucharist and the washing of the feet. May we Peters, as we stagger in our lives between No, never and Well OK then but let's do it this better way, come to just do it his way!

10 April 2014

Palmarum / Palm Sunday and Holy Week 2014.

"Who do you say that I am?"

What Is Holy Week?

Holy Week, or Great Week as it is also called, concludes the preparation for Easter. The church in her liturgy does in a particularly intense way this week what she does all year, which is, present the Gospel revealed in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The Gospel readings for this week follow the Biblical order of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, a tie between the events of the Gospel accounts and the liturgy that not even the three year Vatican II lectionary and its wannabes could break.

Palmarum or Palm Sunday offers the Passion account of Matthew. Monday in Holy Week does not have a Passion account, but rather the passage from John where Judas' unbelief, which like so many after him was disguised as a concern for the poor, is expressed six days before Passover, when Jesus was in Bethany, where Lazarus had died and and who was now at table with Jesus. Tuesday in Holy Week offers the Passion account of Mark. Wednesday offers that of Luke, and is sometimes called Spy Wednesday in reference to Judas' betrayal. Maundy Thursday (aka Green Thursday) and Good Friday (aka Lamentation Friday) both offer the Passion account of John, Thursday for the institution of the Eucharist and Friday for the Crucifixion.

In this way, the church reads through all four accounts of Jesus' suffering and death, in New Testament order, culminating in the account of St John, which is read over two days, and also commemorates the events in the order they happened. Holy Thursday has the part from St John about the Last Seder of the old covenant becoming the Divine Service of the new covenant, and the sacrament of Communion in his body and blood he instituted that night, but not yet the part about the crucifixion nor any veneration of the cross. Good Friday has the part about the crucifixion and death in which he gave his body and blood for us historically, and the veneration of the cross, but not Communion which he gave for us sacramentally the night before he suffered as the pledge of the redemption gained in his historical act the night he suffered.

Thus we have Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, the sacramental event of his body and blood, and the historical event of his body in blood, in both the readings and the services in their order.

Palmarum, or Palm Sunday.

The events we the church remember this Palmarum day ask us who do we say Jesus is, because they present one answer to this question. We already know the end of the week's story -- the man welcomed with wild cheering by the crowds this day in a few days will be executed as a criminal among criminals.

But this day, such an end is not in sight -- except to Jesus. Covering a person's path is a sign of great esteem, widely practiced in the ancient near East and still a part of our mentality, as in "roll out the red carpet" from the custom of royalty. Joshua was given the same triumphal accord. Joshua -- who led the people into the Promised Land as the Lawgiver Moses could not. Joshua -- a name that is with the name Jesus a variant of the same name, who would lead the people into the eternal Promised Land as the Lawgiver Moses could not. Here, perhaps, was the Messiah! Here, perhaps, was the triumphal entry into Jerusalem of the Messiah predicted by Zechariah, to whom our Gospel account, Matthew, refers!

So how does the wild joy of seeing what is or at least may well be the Messiah come turn to a criminal's execution? It is not because Jesus turns out not to be Messiah, but because Messiah turns out not to be the Messiah we want.

Does not Zechariah speak of the removal of chariots and war horses from Jerusalem, breaking battle bows, with a reign of peace from the Jordan throughout the Earth? Yes he does, but let us not congratulate ourselves by saying that thinking of the Messiah in the political and social terms of removing the Roman occupation from the land was the failing of the Jews of Jesus' place and time, something that no Jew or Gentile in more enlightened times, oh, say us in our time, would ever do.

It wasn't a reaction to the Romans. The mainstream of the entire Prophetic tradition, from the Prophets themselves to the atmosphere in which the Apostles were raised to our own time, is that Messiah is a man, not God, not a God-Man, who will usher in a lasting era of universal peace here in this world, not a world to come, in which the light of the true God first given to a nation called out from the nations will be extended to all nations -- nothing about sin, forgiveness, justification!

Is that not the Messiah we all want -- Jew and Gentile alike, then as now? A Messiah in earthly terms, one who will straighten out the mess of things here on earth, with no reference to the mess being of our making, one who allows us to live long and prosper right here, one who asks not repentance and conversion but simply to do good works like he did, one who is about giving us a purpose driven life rather than giving us the sacrifice that takes away our sin, one who is about about giving us our best life now rather than eternal life, one whose religion is not about what he has done but what we will do to follow him? And do we not, Jew and Gentile alike, then as now, turn away from him when he turns out to be not the Messiah we wanted?

Jews typically do not believe Jesus is Messiah not because they fail to see how Jesus fulfills the Messianic prophecy, but because they do not see the Messianic prophecy as pointing to anything like Jesus. This was a persistent problem even for the Apostles. Gentiles typically do not believe Jesus is the Messiah not because they fail to see how Jesus fulfills the Messianic prophecy, in fact many of them say he does, but because they too find the Messianic prophecy to be a matter of a good man showing us the way to live as good people, to become better people, and find in Jesus such a man. That is why Scripture describes the Gospel as a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.

In the Hellenistic, which is to say Greek based, culture that surrounded Jesus' time and place, many religions existed featuring gods who had miraculous births, worked miracles, acted on behalf of man, entered the city, died and rose again, and whose followers partook of rites of bathing and eating and sacrifices, called mysteries, which the Romans termed sacraments. The Greek Dionysus, whom the Romans appropriated as Bacchus, the Persian Mithra and the Egyptian Osiris are the best examples but there are many others.

Is this Jesus too? Is he simply another failed Jewish Messiah, whose followers, when what will happen after Messiah comes didn't happen after he came, simply recast Messiah in the Hellenistic terms to fit Jesus so they could continue to say he was Messiah after all, thereby obscuring his true value as a moral teacher? Or, is he simply another Hellenistic mystery cult figure, perpetuated by those who derived power from presiding over the mysteries, obscuring the real Jesus and his true value as a moral teacher?

Who Do Men Say That I Am?

Think he didn't see that coming? That's why he asked the question "Who do you say that I am?" But note, that was not Jesus' first question. The first question was "Who do men say that I am?" And indeed, who DO we say that he is -- one of the great prophets of Hebrew Scripture come back, one of the great moral teachers in human history over whom, as with other great teachers, has been laid religious fables by those who claim to follow him but in fact falsify the historical person for a figure of faith, and in any case, a teacher, a model, an example.

Would we not cover the path of such a figure with palms, since that is the saviour we want? And would we not be just as mistaken as those who covered his path thinking here was deliverance from the Roman oppression and the start of the era of peace? And, on finding out that is not who he is, would we not shout as well, Away with him!

Who Do You Say That I Am?

That is still who men say he is. So then he asks, Who do you say that I am? Simon answered, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus told him flesh and blood had not revealed this to him, but his Father who is in heaven. Flesh and blood, that is, human wisdom, never reveals this unto us because it is beyond all human wisdom and contradicts all human wisdom. Therefore it cannot be arrived at by human wisdom nor chosen by human decision, but is the gift of the God and only the gift of God.

Human abilities even with Law and Prophecy and Writings from God could not grasp it; human wisdom apart from revelation constructs bits and pieces of it around mere fable characters who cannot deliver. Either way the natural knowledge of God written in every human heart strives for something it senses is there but cannot discern, and which can only be given by the gift of God.

The Sanhedrin had it exactly right. Jesus was not executed because he said he was the Messiah. One can claim that, and simply be wrong or right. The Messiah is a great man, but a man. He was executed because he said he was God. One cannot claim that without blaspheming God -- unless it is true. We'll take a Messiah who is a great man and leader and teacher, we'll lay palms to cover his path, we'll rejoice that what we want is at hand, but when it turns out instead he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed to be raised again on the third day, well, it shall not be like that with the Messiah we want, and thus we become an offence to him, Satan, savouring the things of Man rather than God.

Who do men say Jesus is? All kinds of things, as we have seen. Things for which we will joyfully lay palms to cover his path, or at least accord him a place in the gallery of the great teachers and moral figures to be so honoured.

And then he asks each of us, Who do YOU say that I am?

Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God!

Well somebody say Amen! And here's a little Gospel lift for your Palmarum devotion.


24 March 2014

Problem Pregnancy? The Annunciation, 25 March 2014.

The Annunciation. So what was announced? The story is related in the Gospel according to St Luke, 1:26-38. The angel Gabriel -- which means "God is my hero" in Hebrew -- announced to a Jewish girl named Miriam, better known in English as Mary, that God wanted to cause her to become pregnant with the promised Messiah, and that she should name him Joshua -- which means in Hebrew "God rescues" -- which name is better known in English as Jesus, from the Latin for the Greek for the Hebrew.

Of course, if God is causing the pregnancy, God is not the parent but the father. The complication is, Mary is engaged to a man named Joseph who presumably will be taking care of causing her pregnancies, and in their culture engagement was pretty much was marriage, just the time between the promise of marriage and holding the wedding ceremony, so if she said yes but Joseph did not believe "It's OK God did it" -- not something a guy is inclined to believe -- he would be within his rights under the Law of Moses to have her put to death. Mary knew that. How's that for a problem pregnancy?

So while it's fine to get all into the miracle of a pregnancy cause by divine intervention rather than human intercourse, it might be well to spend a little more time on this -- Mary faced a real hard decision on this pregnancy, like the risk of death, it was not at all convenient for her, but, she trusted God and said yes. Luke also records that Yes, in the famous Magnificat, Luke 1:46-55, which has become a central part of the Divine Office about which this blog recently posted, associated with Vespers or evening prayer in the Western church and Matins (which if you mistake the Catholic Church for the catholic church no longer exists) in the Eastern church.

How about that, the Messiah comes from a troubled pregnancy. Maybe we can put that in the context of troubled pregnancies as well as of the Messiah; there is only one Messiah, but we have a lot of troubled pregnancies. Far from being something shunned or ignored, Christianity and the Christian Church started with one!

And how about this, notice that the date on which the Annunciation, which would then be the date of Jesus' conception, is celebrated exactly nine months, the period of human gestation, before 25 December, the celebration of Jesus' birth. Which shows, and makes the church calendar a witness, that life begins at conception. In fact, the beginning of Jesus' earthly life on this date was such a big deal that it was New Years' Day, the beginning of the new year, until relatively recently, in Mother England (where it is also known as Lady Day) until 1752 when the Gregorian (as in Pope Gregory the Great) calendar replaced the Julian (as in Julius Caesar) calendar.

Although the Western church calendar does contain provisions for moving it should it fall in Easter, which is possible, the Eastern church moves it under no circumstances whatever, so important is the celebration of the beginning of Jesus' life, and it would be celebrated as well as, for example, Good Friday. How's that for a statement that life begins at conception?

This pro-life statement is not an accident but quite intentional. When Dionysus Exiguus (Dennis the Short) worked the calendar details out, which was meant not to just work the calendar details out but to fix a date for the observance of Easter, he assigned the beginning of the new year to the feast of the Annunciation, 25 March, since, because that is when Jesus' life began, that is when the time of grace began, and the years would be counted as before (anno domini, in the year of Our Lord) or after his conception, not after his birth.

They still are, but the world has erased much of the reference, first moving New Years Day, then, thinking life begins at birth really, calling the years, since the Gregorian calendar is in use now throughout the world in lands with a Christian history or not, the Common Era, or Before the Common Era. But when you see that AD still used, remember, it meant originally not just the year of our Lord, but the year of our Lord starting from the date of his conception.

And when you don't see the AD (anno domini, in the year of our Lord) or BC (before Christ) but instead CE (common era) or BCE (before the common era), remember it is the world's way of erasing the reference to Christ in how years are numbered in the calendar of Christian origin now in general use worldwide.

Lady Day has some echoes even in the secular world. It is the first of the four quarter days, marking the quarters of the year, when rent is due and servants are hired, and Lady Day as the first is also when landowners' contracts with farm workers began. 25 March in the old Julian calendar became 6 April in the new Gregorian calendar, and 6 April to this day begins the tax year in the UK.

To be complete, the quarter days align roughly with the solstices and equinoxes, and they are Lady Day, 25 March, Midsummer Day, 24 June, Michaelmas, 29 September, and Christmas, 25 December.

So Happy Lady Day, and especially to those ladies in troubled pregnancies with tough times ahead if you go through with it. God gets it, he chose to come into the world that way. His mother gets it too. So does his church. We're all with you, and welcome you to be with us.

18 March 2014

What's A Divine Office, And Why Bother? 2014.

Festschrift on the Feast of St Benedict, 21 March 2014.

What's a Divine Office -- where God goes to work?

The divine office and the divine service are the public worship of the church. Oh man, hey, just give me Jesus, we're free aren't we, why bother with all this set prayer stuff? One hears that a lot about liturgy these days. Well, here's why and how all this set prayer stuff is part of giving you Jesus, or rather, part of Jesus giving himself to you.

How the Divine Office came to be.

Pre Messiah, there were no particular set times for prayer for hundreds of years. Not that prayer wasn't prayed at set times in various places, but there was nothing normative about it. That came at the end of the Babylonian Captivity (the one that happened to the Jews, not the Church!) with the return of the Jews to the Holy Land and the reconstruction of the Temple, ie the Second Temple. As part of that restoration, Ezra and the 120 Men established set times for prayer in essentially the form they are still used in the synagogue, which was adapted and continued by the church.

Established, not originated. These were not new, but were codified into three times of prayer during the day. These times were set to correspond to the three times of sacrifice in the Temple: morning (shaharit), afternoon (minha) and evening (arvit or maariv). On top of that, in Jewish tradition they trace themselves to the times of prayer Scripture records for each of the three great Patriarchs: Abraham in the morning (Gen19:27), Isaac at dusk (Gen24:63) and Jacob in the evening (Gen28:10).

How the Church Adapted These Prayers.

This pattern was adapted by the Church in light of the Christ having come, and is the basis of the three major times of prayer in the Divine Office we know as Matins, Vespers and Compline. Just as in the Divine Service, or mass, we have essentially a Christian synagogue service followed by a Christian seder, a service of the word followed by the sacrament of the altar, so in the Divine Office we have a series of daily Christian synagogue services whose main ones are:

1. Matins, a Christian shaharit going back through the history of the New Israel the church to the pre-Messianic morning synagogue service which Jesus and the Apostles knew, and aligned with morning sacrifice in the Temple and on back to the morning prayer time of Abraham;

2. Vespers, a Christian minha going back through the church to the afternoon synagogue service known to Jesus and the Apostles, and aligned with the afternoon sacrifice in the Temple and on back to the afternoon prayer time of Isaac;

3. Compline, a Christian arvit or maariv going back through the church to the evening synagogue service Jesus and the Apostles knew, and aligned with the evening sacrifice in the Temple and on back to the evening prayer time of Jacob.

What's a Canticle and How Do Canticles Fit Into This?

Canticle, the word, comes from the Latin word canticulum, the diminutive of cantus, meaning song, so it means "little song". All but one directly quotes a song text from Scripture, and they are attached to the hours of prayer in the Divine Office.

The Te Deum is the only canticle that is not directly from Scripture. Traditionally it is said to have been spontaneously composed as St Ambrose baptised St Augustine in 387. It proclaims the Creed in the context of a heavenly liturgy and concludes with verses from the Psalms. You want some praise music -- this is it, even if the story about its composition is pious fantasy! The Te Deum is associated with Matins on days when the Gloria is said (according to Vatican II Matins no longer exists, but its replacement The Office of Readings still uses it).

The Magnificat quotes Mary's words to Elizabeth at the Visitation, Luke 1:46-55, which in turn reflects and fulfills the Song of Hannah, 1 Samuel 2:1-10, considered in Judaism the example of how to pray and as such the haftorah for Rosh Hoshannah or New Years, not to mention Mary's mother's name was Ana, or Anne, a variant of, guess what, Hannah! The Magnificat is associated with Vespers; the Eastern Church sings it at Sunday Matins. Want some more praise music -- this is it!

The Nunc dimittis quotes Simeon's words to Mary when Jesus was presented in the Temple to fulfill the Law, Luke 2:29-32. Our Common Service -- would that it were our common service -- uses it as a thanksgiving after Communion. Its main use is at Compline; the Eastern Church uses it at Vespers. Want still more praise music -- this it it!

Also worth mentioning is the Benedictus, which quotes the words of Zacharias, a Temple priest and husband of Elizabeth and father of St John the Baptist, said in praise of the coming Messiah, Luke 1:68-79. The Benedictus, the Magnificat and the Nunc dimittis are the three evangelical, because they come from Luke, canticles said every day. The Benedictus is associated with the office Lauds, meaning praise, but that fits here because originally Lauds was Matins, but as the night vigil came to be said right before Lauds, the name Matins passed to the Vigil (hence the oddity of a morning name for a night service) and the original Matins became Lauds. In the Eastern Church Lauds is still at the end of Matins, which they call Orthros.

Summary.   A complete history of this development is beyond our scope here. What is important here is its three main points:

1) community gathering for prayer, preaching and Scripture reading throughout the day continued in the church from the synagogue from Apostolic times, for example Acts chapter 20;

2) amid the great variation in details over time and place a consistent pattern is clear, a morning prayer from Abraham to Shaharit to Matins, an afternoon prayer from Isaac to Minhah to Vespers, and an evening prayer from Jacob to Maariv to Compline;

3) the three major times of prayer came to feature canticles, hymns setting parts of Scripture, usually known from their first words in Latin, the Te Deum for Matins, the Magnificat for Vespers, and the Nunc dimittis for Compline.

How Do I Find This Praise Music?

Where can you find this stuff? There's been all kinds of versions over time in both the Eastern and Western church.

More praise. Looks like we don't have to go hunting for praise stuff, the church has had it all along in the Divine Office! And you hardly have to undertake some sort of monastic regimen. All this stuff started with parishes, not monasteries! Any of the hymnals in use by our beloved synod contains material for use, sometimes combining Vespers and Compline into one. Some of our parishes hold such services, but unfortunately many don't.

Since the Divine Office, like the Divine Service, is public communal prayer, one no more really participates in the Divine Office by praying it at home than one really participates in the Divine Service by staying home and praying an order of service. But for centuries parish pastors were supposed to do just that, pray the Office apart from the community, and pious laity sometimes did too, and to this day there are books to do that.

So what is one to do, on the one hand there being this magnificent prayer of praise and on the other most of us not being monks or nuns or in parishes where it is prayed? Not to mention that, as Luther notes in the Large Catechism, we are relieved of the private "burdensome babbling of the canonical hours"? Well, one can study the Divine Office in our hymnals -- service book being a better term, since there is so much more to them than hymns -- to appreciate and gain from them, but at home or individually, one can just follow what is set out for personal or home use for just this purpose as Morning and Evening Prayer in the Little Catechism!

You can view and print these prayers right from "A Beggar's Daily Portion" on the sidebar/  From current resources, may I suggest the "whatever your devotion may suggest" part be the daily reading in Portals of Prayer and from Walther in God Grant It, both from Concordia Publishing House. One's devotion may also suggest the Canticle associated with each time of prayer, or a section from the Explanation to the Small Catechism. There's links for all that stuff too on that sidebar element.  Keep it simple, no burdensome babbling!

Absolutely, not commanded by Scripture. But we Lutherans aren't an "If it ain't in Scripture we ain't doing it" crowd. Our Confessions are explicit -- though unfortunately sometimes our parishes aren't -- that we happily accept the observances and ceremonies that those who came before us in faith brought about and hand on to us, rejecting not what isn't in Scripture but only what contradicts it that crept in here and there over time.

Why Is This Posted on 21 March?

In 2010, this discussion of the Divine Office joined my "Blogoral Calendar", a series of posts aligned with the Church Year. My original post on the Office was part of something for the O Antiphons of Advent, then posted separately, and later more fully treated re the Office itself. Revised and expanded for 2011, it now will be published on the traditional feast day of the man who more than anyone else allowed this continuous song of praise of the church to survive the fall of the Roman Empire and its wake of destruction and pass to us. That is the holy father in faith St Benedict of Nursia (now Norcia, Italy), whose feast is celebrated, as is the custom with feasts, on the date of his death, or rather birth unto eternity, which is 21 March.

Benedict was from a Roman noble family, but disgusted at the degenerate lifestyle around him, left town in search of a way to not live like that. He came to establish a celibate community, rather than just being a hermit, and based his routine for the community's daily prayer on the practice of the parishes in Rome. It was because of his conviction that prayer is not to be a retreat from work or separated from active life that the community prayer was called the office, the English word from the Latin officium, which means work or task or duty or business, and itself derives from the Latin words opus (work) and facere (to do).

St Benedict said "Orare est laborare laborare est orare", which is "To pray is to work (and) to work is to pray". In fact the motto of the whole damn Order of St Benedict is ora et labora, pray and work.

But, just as with St Gregory who was key wrt to the Divine Service, whose feast day was moved to 3 September, because St Benedict's feast too will fall in Lent, it was moved to 11 July, the day his remains were moved, or translated, as they say, to Fleury Abbey, aka Floriacum, in France, since known as Fleury-Saint-Benoit-sur-Loire, by the ecclesiastical vandals in their 1960s Sack of Rome called Vatican II that left its own wake of destruction.  3 September btw is the day Gregory was installed as bishop of Rome, aka pope.  Not sure how papal installation and transfer of relics became a Lutheran thing!

Vatican II abolished Matins too btw, for an "Office of Readings" that can be said whenever! For them. And unfortunately for some of us too, as many non Roman churches have been taken in by the liturgical vandalism of Vatican II and modified their observances accordingly. But it is hardly our path, as our Confessions state, maintaining the ceremonies previously in use, rejecting only the accretions that contradict Scripture.

Luckily, the catholic church ain't the Catholic Church.

Conclusion.

What a great gift has been handed to us! Whether simplified for home or in full in our parishes, in the Divine Office, as in the Divine Service we not only have a magnificent gift from those who came before us, but we take our place with them in the forward motion toward the final fulfillment of the promises of God, and do so in a vehicle that is itself an expression and product of the unfolding through all its points so far of the coming of salvation and leading on to that great and final Coming of the Omega drawing all Creation to its convergence in God in Jesus his Christ!!

11 March 2014

What's A Divine Service, And Why Bother? 2014.

Festschrift on the Feast of St Gregory the Great, 12 March 2014.

Hey, Christian Freedom, Adiaphora! No NT Rules About How To Worship!


The New Testament lays down no order of service for Christian worship, and neither does Christ nor anyone else in the New Testament. Therefore we are free in these matters, there being no command from God about it. And therefore, as long as it preaches Jesus, a service is good, and to take it any farther than that stomps on our Christian freedom, shows an attachment to a simply human tradition, and therefore is a barrier to preaching Jesus to all people of any tradition, right?

Well I'll be dipped if our Lutheran Confessions, though, aren't quite proud of the way our services preserve what Christian worship had been and seek only to omit any accretions along the way which contradict the Gospel, and not only that, but present the fact that our services pretty much are the same as the ceremonies previously in use as evidence that our reforms are true and not some new take on things.

Now how's that?

Here's how's that. The fact is, the idea that liturgy etc are "indifferent things", sometimes called by the Greek word for that, adiaphora, things not found in Scripture and neither commanded nor forbidden in Scripture, and that therefore worship is something we are free to do as we see fit in light of what seems to work best for us, is an idea that itself is not found in Scripture but comes from human philosophy, and, Scripture commands against it!

The Original Adiaphora.

For starters, "adiaphora" is not Greek for "doesn't matter" or "who cares". It actually isn't even a Christian concept. It comes from the Stoic philosophers of ancient Greece. "Stoic" itself has come to mean "indifferent" in popular usage, but that isn't what either stoic or indifferent is at all. The Stoics' main concern was how to live so that your inner life is not dictated by what happens to you in the external world. They saw the world as a matter of reason, physics and ethics. These were the main things in life. They saw the study of them as the way to avoid the errors in reason which lead to disruptive and destructive emotions that make you miserable over what happens in life when in fact it may only be what you think is happening in life.

This is not anti-emotion; rather, it was to free one from destructive emotions based on incorrect judgements so one could enjoy emotions associated with well-being and peace of mind, having corrected one's judgements by reason and brought them into alignment with reality, the totality of which is God.

Even the word for peace of mind has gotten all twisted around on this "indifferent" thing! The word for peace of mind was apatheia, yup, the ancestor of our word "apathy" and didn't mean apathy in our sense at all, but rather being free of pathos (plural pathe), the destructive emotions resulting from incorrect perceptions, and also propathos or pure instinctual reactions, to enjoy the eupathos (plural eupatheia) emotions that come from perceptions that align with reality. A-pathetic is not indifference but being free of destructive emotions whose opposite is eu-pathetic or constructive emotions.

So what was adiaphora? Those things that are not part of reason, physics and ethics and are not in and of themselves destructive or constructive but could go either way depending on how you're doing with what is part of reason, physics and ethics in getting free of pathos and enjoying eupathos. Like getting rich for example, neither good nor bad in itself, but can go bad in a person who is, well, pathetic, literally, or go for good in a person who is a-pathetic in the literal sense above.

How The Idea Of Christian Adiaphora Started.

It's easy to see how all this could be used by Christians. The term "logos" itself is the biggest thing, starting from Heraclitus (whom Nietzsche, the only philosopher worth reading, btw regarded as the only philosopher worth reading) who used it to denote the fundamental order of the universe, then became the root of our word logic as the idea of rational speaking in the Sophists and Aristotle, but with the Stoics became the divine that is immanent, present throughout the whole universe, which Philo took into Jewish thought, then become theos, God, himself and Jesus as the Word (logos) of God in St John and early Christian apologists.

Both Stoicism and Christianity too emphasised a progress from the passions of the world to something not clouded by those passions (God as creator and an afterlife are not Stoic ideas, lest it be thought I am saying Christianity is just Stoicism with Jesus; for that matter the logos thing does not mean that either; Arius got carried away with the idea that it did, and the church had to define how it didn't at Nicea).

Christian concern about adiaphora is often held to begin with St Paul's answer in First Corinthians chapter 8 to the question of whether one can or cannot eat meat that had been sacrificed to pagan idols. However, in that passage, while stating that one is no better or worse for eating or not eating such meat per se, he is far from saying "doesn't matter" or "who cares" but also states that those who eat it do not use their freedom to do so in a way that becomes a problem for others who do not eat it. It does matter, we are to care, and the criterion is not that eating or not eating is forbidden or commanded, but what we Lutherans typically call good order in the church.

How Adiaphora Became A Big Deal In The Reformation.

This whole adiaphora thing really got rolling with the Reformation. Poor old Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, he to whom the Augsburg Confession was originally presented, tried to keep the same lid over both Lutherans and Protestants by a series of measures, the first being the Augsburg Interim -- the "interim" being until a church council could be called to settle the matters -- which allowed for priests to marry and Communion to be given in both kinds (being bread AND the fruit of the vine, not just bread) but otherwise restoring Roman practice. Since that compromises the justification by faith alone thing, although Melancthon was willing to go along with it pretty much everybody else wasn't, unwilling to compromise an essential, THE essential, teaching for a therefore false unity.

That lead to the Leipzig Interim, which Melancthon also pursued, wherein Lutheran churches could hold their beliefs but would hold the Roman line in worship, which ticked everybody Catholic and Lutheran alike right off, Catholics seeing the measure as usurping the church's authority and Lutherans split between those who supported it (the Phillipists, after Melancthon's first name) and the "real Lutherans" (Gnesio-Lutherans) who didn't. The whole thing resulting in a war whose conclusion was the principle cuius regio eius religio, whose the rule his the religion, meaning the local ruler decided what was to be followed, and Lutherans resolving it among themselves with the "second Martin", Chemnitz, in the Formula of Concord of 1577, wherein the adiaphora were identified as things like church ritual, which is neither commanded not forbidden in Scripture, but again not in a "doesn't matter" or "who cares" sense but as distinguished from the doctrine of justification by faith alone which we believe IS laid down by Scripture.

So, if we think this adiaphora worship wars stuff is bad now, well, it is, but it's been a hell of a lot worse.

Hey, Isn't This A Post About The Divine Service?

The only reason I bring all this old stuff up is the only reason I ever bring up old stuff -- not for its own sake but for the contribution it makes to understanding what we are even talking about, where we are and how we got there, toward where we ought to go. To me, the old stuff has no other "sake" than that, which is a huge one.

Be it the example of getting rich with the Stoics, eating meat sacrificed to idols with St Paul, or church rites in the Reformation, the common thing is that these are things that can go either way, for good or bad, not essentials in themselves but completely dependent as to whether they go good or bad on the essentials, and if they go bad are a source of great harm to those essentials, therefore, they are hardly, though not essential, a who cares or doesn't matter kind of thing. In the sense of who cares or doesn't matter, there are no "indifferent" things.

Our Lutheran principle is not "if it ain't in Scripture we ain't doing it", but rather, if it contradicts Scripture we ain't doing it. Being commanded or forbidden in Scripture is not the only source of a good idea, it is rather the only source of a good idea that is divine. The care and concern that we take about ideas that are not divine is entirely based on their effect of being for good or bad on the ideas that are divine. And this care and concern, as we said before, we typically call good order in the church.

This whole business about rites and ceremonies in the church is all about good order in the church. God commanded in the Law rites and ceremonies in the Temple. He hasn't commanded bupkis about rites and ceremonies since. But he does command care and concern for our fellows, he does speak against doing things that may be OK in and of themselves but are not helpful to the common good, good order in the church, the touchstone always being what he has commanded or forbidden.

So in and of itself, there is no rite, lectionary or calendar that is essential and any number of them that are legitimately possible. The thing is, that does not mean any rite, lectionary or calendar is fine, nor that any possible one is a good idea or even OK. For about 1500 years, three fourths of its elapsed history to date, the Western church has used a lectionary and calendar that goes back to the influence of St Jerome, a rite for the Divine Service that goes back to the influence of St Gregory, and an order for the Divine Office that goes back to St Benedict, not once delivered unchangeable for all time, but in a continuous and organic development over many places and times with many variations. The Eastern church has a similar story.

And that development did not just fall out of the sky or start about 1500 years ago, but itself was a continuous and organic development from what came before it in the Jewish synagogue, something Jesus and the Apostles knew very well.

What Did Jesus And The Apostles Do?

The thing is, Jesus and the Apostles and the people around them were Jews. The NT does speak of them as participating in regular normal Jewish worship. About which it supplies no details. And why would it, everybody knew. Kind of like a birthday party invitation isn't going to include music and lyrics to "Happy Birthday", you know that stuff already. Except when it comes to what they knew already, we don't. The point of this post is to lay them out so you do.

And that's important because that is what they did, and if we don't know what they did we'll read the NT like people coming across a birthday invitation with no idea that singing "Happy Birthday" will be part of it. And that, in turn, is important because that is what the Christian communities in the NT and on from there did, worship within the forms they knew yet adapted them to what they also knew, the Gospel.

Where The Idea Of A Divine Service Comes From.

OK, there's three times of prayer traditionally in Judaism, Ma'ariv which happens right after sundown, the start of the day in Judaism, Shacharit which is in the morning, and Minchah which is in the afternoon. Now, this is also where the community Christian prayer of other than our Sunday services, the Divine Office, comes from, but we'll get into that in the next post. Right now our focus is on what happens for the Sabbath service, the ancestor of our Sunday service.

Sabbath is not on Sunday. It's Saturday, which if you're lucky enough to speak Spanish you can see in the word for Saturday, sabado, and, remembering when the day starts in Judaism, actually starts in what to us is the night before, Friday after sundown. Ma'ariv, the evening prayer, like our liturgy has a lot of variation over times and places, but also like our liturgy has a basic format underneath all that variation which is always there. Shacharit, the morning prayer, has the same basic format.

Here is that basic format. There's four parts. First are some introductory prayers, then a call to worship and the Shema and the Blessings, then a prayer called the Amidah (aka Shemona Esrei) and on Sabbath readings from Jewish Bible with some explanation, and then concluding prayers.

You know what, this is the way the first part of the Divine Service is laid out too! And that's because right from the start Jesus, the Apostles and the early Christians worshipped this way too, with Christian prayers over time replacing the Jewish ones but in the same format.

The Synagogue Sabbath Service Morphs Into The Service Of The Word.

Let's look at specifics.

First and Second Parts. First are some introductory prayers, then a call to worship and the Shema and the Blessings. In Christian usage this pattern remains, with an opening hymn, a welcome and dedication in the name of each person of the Trinity, in many places the antiphon "I will go unto the altar of God", sometimes the recitation of Psalm 43 (or 42 as numbered in the Greek Septuagint) then in the West instead of the Shema and its Blessings a confession of sin and an announcement of the blessing of forgiveness, followed by an Entrance Prayer of praise, called the Introit, and then a prayer of petition, which in the West somewhere along the line lost the petitions but kept the response, Lord have mercy (Kyrie eleison).

Third Part. Then comes the Amidah, which means "standing" because it is said standing, and is also called the Shemoneh Esrei, which means "eighteen" because it is a prayer of eighteen short prayers written by the 120 men of the Great Assembly, as in Ezra in the Bible, after the return from the Babylonian Captivity and the resumption of religious life at home. A later 19th blessing was added but the name remains. The full Amidah, said on weekdays, has a section of three blessings of praise, thirteen of petitions, and three of thanks.

But on the Sabbath one enjoys a foretaste of eternity and the fullness of God in which no petition is needed, so the Amidah for Sabbath and the great festivals is the first three of praise, one special one for the day replacing the thirteen petitions, and the last three of thanks; all praise and thanks for Sabbath. The church evolved an exact image of this, which starts with the words of the angels at the birth of Christ in Luke 2:14, Glory to God in the highest. It began in Greek, was translated into Latin (said to be by St Hilary of Poitiers about 360), and guess what, has seven sections, a middle reference to his being the one who gave his body and blood to take away our sins, framed by three on either side of praise and thanks.

This is the prayer commonly still called from its first word in Latin, the Gloria, unmistakeably Christian and unmistakeably a Sabbath Amidah, and yeah, said standing! Accept no substitute, insist on the real thing! After the Gloria, there is a prayer called the Collect. What does the Collect collect? The theme of the particular Sunday, whose readings we are about to hear.

Then comes the readings from Scripture and explanations of them. These too follow a clear pattern, which is, to read through the entire Law (aka the Torah, the Books of Moses, the first five books of the Bible) by sections in a year, and with each Sabbath's portion, also read a related section from the Prophets or the Other Writings of the Bible. (The Hebrew Bible has three distinct sections, just as Jesus called them, the Law, the Prophets, and the Other Writings; Christian Bibles use the Hebrew Bible as the "Old Testament" but mix the Prophets and Other Writings to-gether.)

Jesus of course fulfilled the Law, and gave us the Gospel. So, in place of reading through the entire Law in a year, Christians began to read through the entire Gospel in a year. But wait a minute, there's four Gospel accounts in the Bible, how do you do that? Well, the New Testament has exactly the same structure as the Old Testament in its Hebrew order: the Gospel accounts first where the Law was first, next the letters, often called by the older word for letters, epistles, of St Paul where the Prophets were next, and last some Other Writings from other Apostles. Within the Gospels, Matthew's was put first, because while of the Greek texts we have Mark was the earliest, the Greek Matthew is a translation of the earliest Gospel, in Aramaic, the Jewish dialect Jesus spoke, which is now lost in that version. So Matthew became the primary Gospel account used in going through the Gospel, with the others here and there. with passages related to the reading for the day from primarily the epistles of St Paul with the writings of the other Apostles here and there.

The list of readings varies over time and place, but the pattern in the Western church was established by St Jerome about 400 or so, in what is called the Comes (Pronounced KO-mays) which in Latin means "to go with" literally, a companion, here a list of readings to go with the service.

This remains to this day the basic pattern of the readings for divine service, except where modern revisionists at or following the lead of Vatican II have cast it aside after about a millennium and a half and come up with a three-year cycle drawing from all the Gospel accounts and epistles generally, adding OT readings and Psalms.

They also cast aside the fact that this supposed improvement was tried centuries ago in the synagogue, where those outside Palestine came up with a three year cycle too, but as it corresponds to no human cycle of anything and flies in the face of the annual rhythm of things, vanished in favour of the one that was there into the dustbin of history, as our current misguided alternative to the historic lectionary will one day do too, and not a minute too soon so it deprives as few as possible of being connected to the centuries, even millenia, long unfolding of the worship of God.

It also casts aside the idea that a lectionary, any lectionary, Jewish or Christian, is not a Bible study to expose people to as much Scripture as possible, but a selection from Scripture to expose people to the events celebrated in worship throughout the year.

And they also cast aside the whole guiding principle of Lutheran liturgical reformation, that ceremonies be retained as they have developed except where it expresses something that contradicts Scripture, for a Romantic, 19th century idea of some sort of lost noble past age to be recaptured in its greater purity, which at the hands of the "liturgical movement" became the idea of making the "early church" or the patristic era the ideal to be recaptured in its supposed purity by scholarship and new rites supposedly closer to theirs, rather than the Lutheran idea of retention of the organic forward development of the church but tested against the norm of not some "early church" or "the Fathers" but of whether it contradicts Scripture or not assisted by the earlier witness of the early church and the Fathers to this same ideal in their own day. The purity sought is not a Romantic fiction of some idealised lost age, but of concordance with Scripture.

Then comes an explanation of what was just read, called the D'var Torah, which is, can you see it coming, the Sermon! Among Germanic Jews, the Ashkenazi, this is also called the Drasha. So your sermon is your drash on the readings. And as in the synagogue, prayers for the sick and other needs or announcements of various kinds may be made after this.

Fourth Part. Finally the concluding prayers, which is the synagogue include the aleinu, the kaddish and a hymn. The aleinu prays for a time when the vain pursuits of Man are replaced by the universal recognition of the true God; the word aleinu means "ours", what it is ours to profess. The kaddish, while best known in the form for mourners, is not essentially about mourning at all. The word comes from the Aramaic, a Hebrew dialect, for "holy" and expresses the belief in what the aleinu prays for, the holy future for living and dead alike and to-gether. All of which is stated in its Christian version in the Creed, which is said, yup, right here, same pattern as before, along with a hymn of the day.

So there you have it, a Christian synagogue service for the Christian Sabbath, point for point, nothing more, and nothing less, there from the start, and present throughout the history of the Christian church, except in the last few centuries with those who ignore all this and worship like going to a birthday party with no clue about "Happy Birthday".

This first part of Christian Sabbath worship has had a number of names over time, and the one that really captures best what it is all about is Service of the Word. Why, because in it, God serves us his Word in Scripture and in explanation of it. It's not really something we do, it's something he does; it's not called service because we serve him but because he serves us.

The Passover Seder Morphs Into The Service Of The Sacrament.

But wait, if that's all of the original Sabbath service, why is it the first part of the Christian service? What is the second part, where did it come from, and why is it there? Here's the answer. The calendar or Jewish worship had weekly things, the Sabbath services, and big things that happened once a year which in fact God did set out in some detail, the biggest of which are three major festivals and the biggest of those are the things relating to Passover.

The night before Jesus was to become our Passover in his Crucifixion, he gathered with his Apostles to celebrate what would be the last Passover meal, called a seder. At the Last Seder, sometimes called the Last Supper but it wasn't just any supper it was the Passover seder, Jesus in what must have blown the Apostles clean away changed the age-old blessings over the bread and the fruit of the vine, saying "Take and eat, this is my body" over the bread and "Take and drink, this is my blood" over the fruit of the vine. Unmistakeable if you came for a seder; he was making himself the Passover and serving it to them.

This then is nothing less than him serving us the Good News itself, his body and blood given for the sins of the world, the passing-over from bondage to sin and death to life with God here and for eternity! And, as he was about to die, and once risen shortly return to the Father, he told them to do this as his memorial. That does not mean we are just remembering Jesus real good. He did not say here is my memorial, he said do THIS, do what he had just done, offer his body and blood, a memorial unlike any the world can offer just as he offers what the world cannot.

This second part of Christian Sabbath worship has had a number of names over time, and the one that really captures best what it is all about is Service of the Sacrament. Why, because in it, God serves us his body and blood given for our salvation. It's not really something we do, it's something he does; it's not called service because we serve him but because he serves us.

Which is totally connected to his resurrection from the dead. If that happened, that being a massive suspension of the ordinary operation of matter, then, while only lately we understand that matter and energy are related across the speed of light, such a suspension in the ordinary operation of matter also must involve a temporal one too, the mass has understood that all along, saying the Risen Christ's Body and Blood were truly present here and now, in, with, and under the appearance of bread and the fruit of the vine, the very same energy, literally and not figuratively given by him the testator to us as the heirs of his testament in the mass. We do and bring nothing, he does and gives everything.

Luther spoke of it this way, in Babylonian Captivity: Who would not shed tears of gladness, indeed, almost faint for joy in Christ, if he believed with unshaken faith that this inestimable promise of Christ belonged to him? How could he help loving so great a benefactor, who of his own accord offers, promises, and grants such great riches and this eternal inheritance to one who is unworthy and deserving of something far different.

Conclusion -- What's A Divine Service And Why Bother?

"Divine Service" is the service of the divine, God, to us of first his Word and then his Sacrament of his Body and Blood. A Christian Sabbath service followed by a Christian Seder, that's it. "Seeker sensitive" doesn't even get right who is the seeker. We ain't the seekers, though we think we are, but we are not, apart from him who seeks us we are lost and no more able to come to faith in him that a dead man can wake himself from the dead, as Walther put it. It is he who is seeking us, and it is in our liturgy that we are sensitive to that.

Even the word liturgy shows that. What kind of a word is that, another churchy thing from the musty past that gets in the way of preaching Jesus? The word is the English form of an ancient Greek word that had nothing to do with church, it described the obligation that a wealthy Athenian had toward the people of Athens to do something big for their benefit at his own expense. If Christian worship were not exactly what our Lutheran Confessions say it is, there would have been no reason for the early Greek speaking Christians to appropriate this word -- here, the wealthy Athenian, God, undertakes something for the people at his own expense, the sacrifice of the body and blood of God Made Man Jesus for our salvation from sin and its wages death!!

And that is exactly what a Divine Service is, and why we bother.

PS. Why post this for 12 March? Because it's the feast of St Gregory the Great, that's why, who for centuries was regarded as the "Father of Christian Worship". While maybe not that, his liturgical reforms were hugely influential in Western Christian worship being as it is. Gregory was bishop of Rome from 3 September 590 to 12 March 604, the day he died. It is the custom of the Christian church to commemorate its saints on the day they died, in this life, and were born as it were to eternal life. He was considered a saint immediately by popular acclaim -- the way it used to be done, and even John Calvin, who took the Reformation well beyond what the Lutheran Reformation was all about, thought Gregory was the last good pope and speaks well of him in his Institutes  -- and his memorial feast was celebrated on his day of death. Until Vatican II that is, tinkered with it too, and thinking since the day will always fall in Lent moved it for the Roman church to the day he was installed as bishop of Rome, 3 September (in 590).

The Eastern Church sees no problem at all with his feast being during Lent and continues to celebrate his feast on his feast day, and the Western Church didn't either until the 1960s in Rome, and neither do Western Christians not under the influence of the toxic waste that is the revisionist nonsense of Vatican II and stick to the historic calendar, and the historic everything else for that matter.

04 March 2014

What's A Quadragesima? Lent 2014. A 40 Days Of Purpose.

Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris.
Remember, man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.

Pulverise. The root of that English word is the Latin word for dust. To pulverise literally means to be turned into dust. Which is exactly what death does. It's going to pulverise me, you, and everyone and everything else.

Howzat for some good news?

And that's not only living stuff, it's everything. Everything decays, everything loses its value over time. Go look at your car. Then look at its service record. Look at what you paid for it and what it's worth now. Or, speaking of paying for stuff, look at the money in your wallet or your bank statement. Both the money itself and the value given it are decaying.

Such is life. Such is even non-life. It's even measurable scientifically. That's called a half-life, which is the time it takes something to lose half its original value.

And such are the famous words from the Imposition of Ashes on Ash Wednesday, or on Aschermittwoch, as they say in the original language of our beloved synod. We are dust, and unto dust we and everything else will return. Observable fact, no belief required, and we start right there.

And go where? Is that all there is? So, we can resign ourselves to that, without illusion and without asking it to be more? So we go for the gusto we can get while we can go for anything? So we create such meaning as we can in between the inevitable finish we don't like to a start for which we did not ask? What meaning or purpose can something that is dust to dust have anyway?

In Lent we begin with the most unflinching fact of our existence, death, and are asked to be quite clear on that -- you will die, and everything and everyone else dies or decays or passes too. Ashes signify that. Ashes are that. Ashes are in your face about that. Ashes are ON your face about that.

And ashes are also something else. Ashes are a sign of repentance. Repentance from what? Is it not God who needs to repent, if there is one, for supposedly creating such an inescapable joke whose only meaning is what we provide it? So you come up with a service where you mark stuff on our faces and read a Gospel passage saying not to go around looking like you're being all religious by marking stuff on your faces?

Hey, it's Lent. This is not going to be pretty. Or very nice either. It gets a little rough. And on Ash Wednesday the two most basic facts of Man come to-gether in a jarring way. One is the fact that you came from nothing and you're going back there. The other is, God doesn't want it that way, didn't set it up that way, and if it's that way now, guess whose doing that is?

From the Introit echoed in the Collect through the prophecy of Joel to the words of Jesus, which are all read at mass, also known as divine service, on Ash Wednesday, the double message of the ashes is clear: turn to God and you will be delivered, stick to ashes and you will be, well, ashes.

Rick Warren says, whenever God wants to prepare someone for something, he takes forty days. His Forty Days for either churches or individuals has the same basis, two passages from Matthew, the one the Great Commandment in Matthew 22, and the other the Great Commission in Matthew 28. From that he abstracts five principles, or purposes for Man.

Love the Lord with all your heart … (Worship)
Love your neighbour as yourself. (Ministry)
Go and make disciples … (Mission)
Baptising them … (Fellowship)
Teaching them … (Discipleship)

Guess what? The church in its liturgy -- supposedly the dismal domain of those who only care about maintaining the musty museum of such things -- for most of its two millennia existence has been offering a five-point forty days of purpose to prepare for God's answer to Man's problem, the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, the Christian Passover. The period of preparation for it in both the Eastern and Western Church is a period of forty days in imitation of Christ’s forty days in the desert before he began his way to the cross.

The Eastern church's forty days starts on a Monday called Clean Monday and runs forty consecutive days until Friday of the sixth week, then celebrates Lazarus Saturday as a pointing toward Jesus' Resurrection, then proceeds with Holy Week where his way to the cross is told.

The Western church starts on a Wednesday and does not include Sundays in the count, each Sunday being a "little Easter", and concludes with Holy Saturday, which is also the end of Holy Week.

Same idea, different ways of setting it up.

For the five Sundays in Lent before Holy Week, the Western Church offers the five point plan of preparation. Lent, or Quadragesima, will start with the starkest facts of human existence, right from looking like there is no meaning or purpose to it, in your face, ON your face, then see why that is and what God has done about it, and end actually inviting, welcoming, not fearing, the judgement of God.

At one time in English, Lent itself was called Quadragesima, meaning forty days, the duration of Lent, and it's also the name of the first Sunday in Lent. This still survives in other languages, for example in Spanish the word Cuaresma for Lent. "Lent" in English originally just meant Spring. The word lent derives from a Germanic root meaning long, applied then to Spring as the daylight gets longer, then applied to Quadragesima which happens in Spring.

Here's how it works. The church has a definite pattern it uses to take us through the life of Christ and our life in Christ. It's an annual (not a three year) cycle. It arranges the readings from the book it says you can rely on, the Bible, and a sermon based on these reading in the same pattern every day.

Here's the pattern.

The church begins its liturgy with an introductory verse called the Introit that sets the tone for the day, usually from the Psalms, with a verse response to it. In fact, the Sunday often takes its name from the first word or two of this introductory verse, the Introit. Then, the church has a prayer before the Scripture readings each Sunday that collects the thoughts of the day, called, oddly enough, the Collect. Then, for Scripture readings, the church continues the synagogue practice, replacing the Torah, or Law, readings with Gospel ones, and replacing the related haftorah, usually from the Prophets, readings with ones usually from the Epistles.

Let’s see how that lays out for Ash Wednesday and the Sundays in Lent. (We'll get to Holy Week in later posts.)

Ash Wednesday / Aschermittwoch.  5 March 2014.

Introit. Wisdom 11:24,25,27. Thou has mercy upon all, O Lord, and hatest none of the things which Thou hast made, overlooking the sins of men for the sake of repentance and sparing them, because Thou art the Lord our God. Verse, Psalm 56:2.
Collect. Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that Thou hast made and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitient, create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of Thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness.
Epistle. Joel 2:12-19.
Gospel. Matthew 6:16-21.

Invocavit -- He shall call to Me.  9 March 2014.

Introit. Psalm 91:15,16. He shall cry to Me, and I shall hear him; I will deliver him and I will glorify him; I will fill him with length of days. Verse, Psalm 91:1.
Collect. O Lord, mercifully hear our prayer and stretch forth the right hand of the majesty to defend us from them that rise up against us.
Epistle. 2 Cor 6:1-10 Not to receive grace in vain. Now is the acceptable time, now it the day of salvation.
Gospel. Matthew 4:1-11 Jesus' forty days and nights, tempted to be a false Messiah.

Reminiscere – Remember, O Lord.  16 March 2014.

Introit. Psalm 25:6,3,22. Remember, O Lord, Thy compassions, and Thy mercies that are from the beginning of the world, lest at any time our enemies rule over us: deliver us, O God of Israel, from all our tribulations. Verse, Psalm 25:1,2.
Collect. O God, who seest that of ourselves we have no strength, keep us both outwardly and inwardly that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul.
Epistle. 1 Thess 4:1-7 Progress in sanctification, holiness.
Gospel. Matthew 15:21-28 Jesus heals the Canaanite woman’s daughter. Great is thy faith, let it be done.

Oculi -- My eyes are ever toward the Lord.  23 March 2014.

Introit. Psalm 25:15-16. My eyes are ever toward the Lord: for He shall pluck my feet out of the snare; look Thou upon me, and have mercy on me, for I am alone and poor. Verse, Psalm 25:1,2.
Collect. We beseech Thee, almighty God, look upon the hearty desires of Thy humble servants and stretch forth the right hand of Thy majesty to be our defence against all our enemies.
Epistle. Eph 5:1-9 Walk, then, as children of light.
Gospel. Luke 11:14-28 Jesus’ lesson after casting out a demon. Blessed are they that hear the Word and keep it.

Laetare – Rejoice, O Jerusalem.  30 March 2014.

Introit. Isaiah 66:10,11. Rejoice, O Jerusalem, and come to-gether all you who love her: rejoice with joy, you who have been in sorrow: that you may exult, and be filled from the breasts of your consolation. Verse, Psalm 122:1.
Collect. Grant, we beseech Thee, almighty God, that we, who for our evil deeds do worthily deserve to be punished, by the comfort of Thy grace may mercifully be relieved.
Epistle. Gal 4:22-31 Children of Agar, bondage, slave, Sinai; children of Sarah, promise, free, Jerusalem.
Gospel. John 6:1-15 The loaves and fishes. Passover is near, the bread king.

Judica -- Judge me, O God.  6 April 2014.

Introit. Psalm 43:1,2. Judge me, O God, and distinguish my cause from the nation that is not holy: deliver me from the unjust and deceitful man: for Thou are my God and my strength. Verse, Psalm 43:3.
Collect. We beseech Thee, almighty God, mercifully to look upon Thy people, that by Thy great goodness they may be governed and preserved evermore in body and soul.
Epistle. Heb 9:11-15 Christ the High Priest, blood of the new covenant blots out sins under the old covenant.
Gospel. John 8:46-59 If anyone keep my word, he will never see death. Before Abraham came to be, I am.

25 February 2014

Readin', Writin', and Absolute Multitude. Academics 2014.

What's up with that? Don't I mean 'Rithmetic?

Festschrift on the Anniversary of the University of Iowa, 25 February 1847.
Or, Back To School -- Oy!

When it's almost back-to-school time, along with all the sales in the stores there's also all the usual stuff "for sale" too about the value of education. Trouble is, there's about as much of that stuff, as many ideas of what is an education, not to mention of what is its value, as there are kinds of pens, notebooks and clothes in the stores.

So let's start with the good old liberal arts education. We'll look at:

I. How and Where It Started
II. What the Seven Liberal Arts Actually Are
III. The Modern University
IV. How It Fell Apart
V. Where We Are Now
VI. Where We Could Be
and a little concluding note you might enjoy.

I. How and Where It Started.

These days, you may or may not hear that the ideas of liberal arts education, like those of democracy, originated in Greek antiquity.  What you really don't hear these days is that those ideas were not at all what we mean by them now.  In those societies, democracy didn't mean everyone participates, it meant that to participate in democracy, and to have such an education adequate to do that, one must not be burdened by having to "work"; that was done by a slave class. Leisure, not work, is the basis of culture and society; "liberal" comes from the Latin for free.  So:  a liberal art originally meant not what we think of now, but learning appropriate to the free and non-working class, not the slave class.

"Academy", "academic" and like words come from the school Plato founded in a sacred grove dedicated to Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, called the Akademia. Hekademia originally, actually. It lasted from about 387 BC to 83 BC. Its most famous graduate is a guy named Aristotle.

The Academy was refounded on Platonic philosophy in 410 AD and lasted until closed by the Roman Emperor Justinian I in 529. Well, Eastern Roman Emperor, but the Western Empire was gone, having collapsed in 476. Justinian was out to stamp out anything in the Empire but the state religion, the Catholic Church, defined and established by the Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius and the Western Gratian and Valentinian II in the Edict of Thessalonica on 27 February 380. Which he pretty much did, the Second Council of Constantinople in 553 saying nothing happens in the church without the emperor. For which reason the 529 closing of the refounded Academy is often called the End of Antiquity.

The scholars of The Academy sought haven in the Persian Sassanid Empire, then when the Persian and Byzantine empires made peace in 532, some of the scholars removed to Harran in what is now southeast Turkey. After the Sassanids lost to the Arabs, by then Islamic, in 651, Harran became the first great centre of Islamic learning as the knowledge of classical antiquity was translated from Greek to Syriac to Arabic.  Meanwhile Europe, where all this stuff came from, was a complete mess. Helluva guy that Justinian, huh. The Eastern Orthodox think he's a saint, which I suppose makes sense for his old state church, but unfortunately so do some of us Lutherans.

So The Academy. Its best graduate Aristotle in turn founded the Lyceum in Athens in 335 BC, right beside the temple of Apollo of Light, Apollo Lykeios, hence the name. The Romans trashed it in 86 BC, and at an unknown point thereafter it ceased to be. Its location was rediscovered in 1996, just east of modern downtown Athens. The word Lyceum survives in modern European languages for roughly what we call high school in the US.

Here's how these ideas passed from the end of the ancient world with the fall of the Western Roman Empire to later times in the West. First was a guy named Martianus Capella, who sometime after Alaric, King of the Visigoths (Germanic types), trashed Rome in 410 wrote a book called De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii et de septem Artibus liberalibus libri novem, which means "On the Wedding of Philology and Mercury, and the Seven Liberal Arts, in Nine Books". The first two books are an allegorical love story about how Mercury, the pursuit of learning, actually learns by way of Philology, communicated information, and the remaining seven are textbooks in each of the seven arts we will detail below. The books were largely based on existing ancient works, and the whole thing was pretty much an encyclopaedia of its time, but later, when that knowledge began to show itself lacking, the whole thing started to appear lacking, and scholars now routinely diss him, when what is needed then as now is separating the system itself from its content at any given time.

Which is pretty much what the rest of this post is trying to establish.

Second was a guy named Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, who lived shortly thereafter. His best known work is On the Consolation of Philosophy (De consolatione philosophiae), written while awaiting execution by the Arian Western Roman Emperor Theodoric for supposed treason with the Catholic Eastern Roman Emperor Justin. Boethius translated a bunch of ancient Greek works into Latin. In his rather free translation of Nicomachus' book on arithmetic he also set out the liberal arts, giving them the trivium and quadrivium names. In his On Music set out the three-fold division of music we shall detail below. His books remained standard authorities in universities for hundreds of years, and the Consolation is one of the most influential books ever written. While not part of the church's general calendar, in some places he is commemorated as a saint, St Severinus, with feast day 23 October.

You might hear that the liberal arts were originally seven, the first three being grammar, rhetoric and logic, also known as dialectic, a three-part way known in Latin and consequently to the West as the Trivium (from which our word trivial comes, trivial matters originally being not minor details but what you learn in order to get on to the heavy lifting of reality itself), and the last four being arithmetic, music, geometry and astronomy, the four-part way called the Quadrivium.

Nice to know, but doesn't tell you a damn thing about what this was all about, though it looks like it does, which is most of the problem understanding this stuff.

II. What the Seven Liberal Arts Actually Are.

Here is the structure of the Seven Liberal Arts.

The Three Part Way, the Trivium.
1. Grammar.
2. Rhetoric.
3. Logic (dialectic).

The Four Part Way, the Quadrivium.
4. Arithmetic. (Absolute Multitude)
5. Music. (Related Multitude)
6. Geometry. (Stationary Magnitude)
7. Astronomy. (Mobile Magnitude)

Again nice to know, but again doesn't tell you a damn thing about what this was all about, though again it looks like it does.The Trivium was not grammar, rhetoric and logic exactly as we mean them now, nor even something learned for its own sake. Rather, it was learning the tools by which one learns anything at all, just as a tradesman learns the tools of his trade before learning how to use them in the trade itself. Basically, Grammar was the study of how thought is written down in symbols (language), Rhetoric was the study of how thought is communicated from one person to another, and Logic was the study of how to think to reach supportable conclusions. Thus a person will be able to write down or speak his own thoughts rather than just let them rattle around in his head (Grammar), evaluate whether the written or spoken thoughts of others are well written down or written to hide or disguise things (Rhetoric), and evaluate his and others thoughts as to whether the content is supportable or based on unsupportable assertions and/or hidden assumptions which are deceptive (Logic).

Here's what the names of the liberal arts in the Quadrivium mean. Once you learned how to study anything at all, the stuff to be studied was divided into two big categories, things that are what they are as combinations of units, and things that are what they are as units that divide into further units. The former were called Multitudes, and further divided into those that are not applied to anything but abstract, which was called Arithmetic, and those that are applied to something, and that is called Music. The latter were called Magnitudes, and further divided into those that do not move, called Geometry, and those that do, called Astronomy.

Arithmetic then simply meant the study of number in the abstract, not applied to anything, just how numbers can be combined and used -- what is generally called math to-day. Music was using numbers to understand a phenomenon, and was further grouped into three areas: musica mundana, using number to quantify and understand the world outside ourselves, thus including what we generally call to-day physics, chemistry, and the like; musica humana, using number to quantify and understand the world inside ourselves, thus including what we generally call to-day biochenistry, psychology and the like; and finally and at the lowest level, musica instrumentalis, using number to understand the tones and combinations of tones produced by the instruments that produce them, including the human voice, which is what we generally now only mean by music -- except, it includes only the understanding part, the actual making of this kind of music being simply a skill and not included for its own sake but left to the uneducated. Ironic: from a skill left to the uneducated, these days, being able to strum a few chords on a guitar and belt out a few words seems to immediately confer that status of prophet, revelator, visionary, and authority on whatever one belts out about.

Education had nothing whatever to do with earning a living. When the idea began, work did not ennoble, it debased, it was done by a class that, precisely because it had to work, could not possibly have time to learn what one needed to know to participate in democracy or high positions. Later, trades, something learned for the purpose of making a living, were learned in guilds, not universities, with the interesting twist that guilds formed first and universities began by borowing their ideas of how to organise from them! So show a little respect to the repairman that shows up next time you need one.

So, it's a system, first for learning how to learn, then for classifying what is to be learned, in order to be educated to fulfill the responsibilites of democracy and high office.

III. The Modern University.

In the original universities, a person who had completed a course of studies in the Seven Liberal Arts, and passed final examinations by his masters (teachers), was awarded the degree Bachelor of Arts.
What does this mean? Not what you would think based on the ordinary current meanings of these words -- the same problem again. "Arts" does not mean painting or sculpture or whatever, but the Seven Liberal Arts. "Bachelor" does not mean an unmarried male, but comes from the Latin baccalaureus, and originally referred to the lowest class of knight, a squire, or apprentice, to a knight, or a knight in the service of another knight. The word itself seems to have come from baccalaris, a man employed on a dairy farm. Bacca was a variant of late Latin vacca, which still survives in Spanish as vaca -- cow. The progress is similar to that of a guild learning a trade.

A Bachelor could then go on to further study, and then participating in and moderating disputations (disputationes). These were highly formalised debates on the truth of specific propositions, usually based on arguments from appropriate authorities (argumentum ad verecundiam), which are inappropiate to syllogistic logic, in which the syllogism is true or false based on its on its correct process and not who does it, but are common in informal logic, where, since no-one can be an expert on everything one relies on those who supposedly are experts on this or that thing, and which is the origin of the ad hominum (against the man), which refutes a statement on the basis that the authority cited is no authority at all. On such further study and activity, a person would be awarded the degree Master of Arts, the Arts being the Seven Liberal Arts, and "master" deriving from the Latin magister, which looks like master but actually means teacher; one may now teach the Arts.

Luther's so-called "95 Theses" were an invitation to exactly such a Disputation.

A degree was simply a step, in Latin gradus, to becoming a teacher or master, hence the term "graduate", a progression again similar to the trade guilds and still seen in the apprentice, journeyman and master structure of qualification in the trades. Since the masters were teachers, they were also called doctors, from the Latin for "to teach". Over time, since the three higher fields of study were Law, Medicine and Philosophy, masters who went into these fields earned a a final doctor degree in them, and the doctoral degree in these higher faculties came to be regarded higher than the master teachers/doctors, eventually becoming the present Bachelor, Master, Doctor hierarchy, with later fields coming under the division of philosophy along with philosophy itself.

The story of the modern universities begins with the schools attached to monasteries, generally Benedictine, real monking monks, not just monked over, preserving some light against the darkness of the times, which times are known as the Dark Ages. Karl der Grosse, known to some as Charlemagne, who forged the first more or less unified state in Europe since the Roman Empire, was crowned Imperator Augustus by Pope Leo III on Christmas Day 800 at St Peter's Basilica (the old one; the current one is on the same site) to re-establish a Western entity against the still standing Eastern Roman Empire, and thus is considered the Father of Europe. Among his many accomplishments, he encouraged education. With the reforms of Pope St Gregory (died 12 March 604) for learning to include more than liturgy but also theology and canon law, bishops began to establish schools in their cathedral parishes to teach things beyond the monastery schools. Then, with demand far in excess of supply, plus the original town and gown tensions between students and townspeople, which were not pretty with rape and murder not uncommon and often protected by clerical immunity, schools gravitated to big cities.

The word university comes from the Latin phrase "universitas magistrorum et scholarium" which described and denoted these institutions, associations of students and teachers chartered by civil and/or ecclesiastical powers that be in their cities, with degrees granted by the institution itself, at bachelor, master and doctor levels. rather than licences or certificates from individual teachers as before, which adapted from the trade guilds the advancement stages of apprentice, journeyman and master onto a model drawn from the madrasahs of the Islamic world. (Notice how all this stuff, from Plato's Academy to the modern university, begins with schools attached to houses of worship? Hmm.)

The first of the modern degree-granting universities, growing out of existing centres of higher education, was established in Bologna (1088), followed by Paris (1160), Oxford (1167) and Cambridge (1209). The final step was recognition by papal bull of a university's autonomy from the city, the church, and each other, meaning non-interference from the state and/or the church (this is what "academic freedom" means) and also that a graduate from one could teach anywhere jus ubique docendi, with no further examination.

In Bologna, the students ran things, hiring the teachers; in Paris, the church hired and paid the teachers who ran things, and in Oxford, the crown did. These differences had major consequences.  All four are still around, but in different ways.  Bologna was not a comfortable place for teachers and fell into decline; Paris became the leading university and really the great granddaddy of the modern university but was abolished as such in the French Revolution centuries later though parts survive with historical ties; government sponsorship of Oxford and the later Cambridge (1209) allowed them to survive the replacement of the church with the state Church of England.

A student entered the university at about age 15, and after a six year curriculum in the Liberal Arts, usually with an emphasis on logic, if they passed they graduated a Bachelor of Arts. Courses were not by subject so much as by the authoritative book studied, often from Aristotle, the Bible, or the Thoughts (often called the Sentences, from the Latin title Quattuor libri sententiarum, or Four Books of Thoughts, still reflected in the idea that a "sentence" should express a complete thought) of Peter the Lombard, who taught in the cathedral school at Paris. Having graduated from the Faculty of the (Seven Liberal) Arts one could go into the world, or continue in one of the three other, further, fields of Law, Medicine or Theology, which would take another 12 years or so.

IV. How It Fell Apart.

So what's the point of all this -- I'm into old stuff that isn't the way it is any more and think you should be too? No, and hell no. For as much "old stuff" as I post on this blog, I wouldn't consider any of it worth a ginger snap if it didn't do two things for us now: make where we are a little clearer and more understandable by seeing how we got here, and make where we are a little clearer and more understandable by seeing what was the idea of where we were supposed to be going in the first place.

Here's what happened. New knowledge did not replace invalidated knowledge in the system as it should have, but was confused with the system itself and brought the system down, and thus we have the start of our fragmented knowledge and view of learning to-day. This began when difficulties in reconciling Aristotle with Christian doctrine became more and more apparent, and the bishops of Paris issued a series of formal Condemnations, most notably those of 1277 by bishop Etienne Tempier, which had the effect of allowing scientific investigation to proceed without reference to Aristotle the great authority.

Which was great for science, also great for Aristotle since he never thought he wrote the last word on everything, but, it also had the effect of making everything previously held now seem possibly wrong or soon to be found out to be wrong.

A new direction in thought arose, best summed up in the maxim of the English Franciscan William of Occam, entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem, or no more things should be thought to exist than necessary. This was a lex parsimoniae or law of parsimony that brought about a new way of thinking that was skeptical to agnostic.  This new way consciously saw itself as a new way and called itself such, the via moderna or modern way, as opposed to the trivium and quadrivium which became by default the via antinqua or old way. This turned up in every field, in music (as we use the term now) it was called the Ars nova, a term first used by the theorist Phillippe de Vitry in a book by the same name of in 1322.

Music that was not monophonic chant but polyphonic, with secular themes being placed over a base of a piece of chant, music in duple time rather than triple reflecting the perfection of the Trinity, music written this way for religious purposes -- such things were utterly revolutionary, and part of the shift in the times that was happening from the arts to theology itself. What a modern irony that some to-day will perform the motets of Machaut, the greatest of ars nova composers, and be thought to be real fuddy duddys, but Machaut himself in his day was thought of as an affront to everything right and proper for worship!

It was into this world turned upside down and inside out that Martin Luther, having graduated from schools that focussed on the trivium, enrolled at 17 in University of Erfurt in the first year of the 16th century, 1501, graduated with a Master degree in 1505, and went on to the Law school following his father's wishes and the usual pattern. He soon dropped out. Questioning everything, positing as little as possible, and so on was all fine, but at what point did it yield reliable results, also known as answers, which is particularly upsetting regarding the claims of Christian doctrine which have some pretty extreme claims of salvation and damnation.

There being no answers, he sought one in what was available, the rigours of the actions of monastic life, to the extent that his superior, Johann von Staupitz, Vicar General of the Augustinian Order in Germany, had him continue an academic career in theology to take his mind off his own salvation, and also spoke to him about the Means of Grace and salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ, which, though Staupitz was no Lutheran and lamented the breaking of visible church unity, got him put on Rome's Index of Forbidden Books!

V. Where We Are Now.

Seems long ago and far away, but it is into exactly this same world turned upside down and inside out than we are born now, just with better means of communication. Each age along the way seems to think it has started a new age, a new way, a modern way, an Age of Aquarius, an Enlightenment, or whatever, all just simply repeating the confusion of the via moderna with better technology. Likewise our supposedly enlightened modern world, where graduates can't count back change in their minimum wage jobs, or reliably point on the map to where the people came from toward which they have been taught warm inclusive fuzzies, or hear a news report with an ear to whether or not it contains unexamined assumptions from which supposed conclusions are drawn.

Three of the four first universities are still around right now. US News & World Report puts out school rankings annually, one for the US, but one world-wide based in turn on the Times Higher Education-QS World University Rankings. This would be then a list of the top universities in the world, 400 in all. In these rankings, the very first university in the modern sense, University of Bologna, founded 1088, is still among the best in the world, coming in at #194 or thereabouts in recent years. Oxford even better at #5 or thereabouts, and Cambridge even better yet, coming in at #2 or #1 in the world! And their American offspring are also consistently in the top ten of the 400; Harvard, named for its original benefactor, Cambridge alumnus John Harvard, is #3 or so, and Yale, founded by Harvard alumni, is #7 or so. The University of Paris, the fourth of the original universities. though it was abolished per se by the French Revolution, has a number of institutions with historical links to it, some of them using the locational name Sorbonne, and several of them are ranked.

For that matter, if one wants to look beyond the modern degree-granting university to institutions of higher education generally, arguably the oldest degree-granting institution is one of those madrasahs, now the University of Al-Karaouine, in Morocco, dating from 859, when Europe was a bloody mess barely held to-gether educationally by the grand and glorious hard working and uproarious Benedictines. Along the lines of universities not originally universities in the modern sense, the line goes back much further, to Nanjing University, which is now a modern university but was founded in China in 258, and after a ton of bumps along the way you know what, STILL hangs in ranked #168 or so in the world!

Recent decades have seen an astounding increase in the ability of thoughts and information to be communicated, starting with mass printing some time ago but exploding first with the coming of radio, then TV, and now the Internet and other forms of digital media; and at the same time have seen an alarming decrease in the apparent ability of people to form, communicate and evaluate thoughts and information. Where the ability to smarten up exists to an unprecedented extent, the fact of dumbing down is seen everywhere.

Amid an unprecedented ability to communicate information, people seem to have less information and less ability to critically evaluate information than ever. And this largely not because people are any more smart or stupid than before, but because educators themselves have nearly totally lost sight of this, that the magnificent increase in the media of communication does not invalidate but in fact makes more needed than ever the basic tools for forming, setting forth, and understanding what is communicated.

This general dumbing down of society is not new, it was noticed decades ago, but it has assumed warp speed as the very means of communication develop at warp speed too. One of the earliest, and still best, more applicable to-day to the means that did not exist when it was written than ever, is an essay called "The Lost Tools of Learning" by Dorothy L Sayers in 1947. She was best known for her detective novels, a genre generally considered "low brow", and that such a magnificent and magnificently educated mind as hers should equally well write best selling detective novels exemplfies what this is all about.

Her essay is online now. You can read it here.

Another, and more recent, modern exposition of these tools of learning is by Sister Miriam Joseph of the Sisters of the Holy Cross at St Mary's College in Notre Dame, Indiana, called, guess what, "The Trivium". Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2002. Available through Amazon easily.

VI. Conclusion. Where We Could Be.

So, again, the Liberal Arts are a system for first learning how to learn, the Trivium, then for classifying what is to be learned in order to be educated to fulfill the responsibilities of democracy and high office, the Quadrivium. This is not at all about going back to the "Music of the spheres", in which the mathematical ratios in tones and in the orbits of the sun and planets around the earth were though to be the same, or about reading Aristotle, learning Latin, and things like that -- though there's good reason to read Aristotle and learn Latin -- or about going back to earlier social structures. What happened was, as some of the knowledge taught within the system was later found to be either incomplete or just false, like what orbits around what, the system itself, and more importantly the overall unity of things which it expressed, also came into question.

In religion, the point of the Lutheran Reformation was not to create a new church or even split the one there was, but to bring back to front and centre the Means of Grace through which salvation is communicated and the message of salvation through the blood of Christ itself -- to paraphrase Luther, making the most clear things about the church what had become the most obscure amid the Roman confusion. The direction in which the later more general Reformation went, which began even in Luther's lifetime, was as opposed by Luther and Lutherans as the errors of Rome.

In education, perhaps another reformation is needed, not a religious but an educational one.  One where besides what one learns to earn whatever living one earns and has whatever career one has, that in order for society to function, ESPECIALLY in one where all and not just some classes participate, there is a skillset and a basic body of knowledge needed by all, where the tools of learning are actually taught (there's the trivium), where a person is then taught how to handle abstact operations, operations applied to things as they add up, how complicated things break down and how that is applied to things (there's the quadrivium). That would be education, the basics for participating in our society, open to all now, rather than the latest theories of what is "enlightened" this week, which are handed down as so modern, but amount to no more than secular articles of faith handed down "ex cathedra" from an authority which, when it takes itself to be such, violates the very parsimony and science it thinks it passes on, as it neither guarantess a correct conclusion nor prevents a false one and may not even be applicable to a particular field, and if applied to all fields as a universal principle, violates its very definition!

Oh Yeah, an Addendum.

There was this second cousin of Martianus Capella, with a variant spelling of the last name, Antonius Cappella, who wrote thousands of pieces of music, in a wide array of styles but all vocal, that are still performed to this day. You can spot them easily. They are all identified by the way he signed his name, A Cappella.

OK, I'm just jacking around now. A cappella actually means "from the chapel" and was used to designate purely vocal Renaissance polyphony generally for the church from the later Baroque concertato style which featured alternating vocal and instrumental parts in a piece of music. Oddly enough, we now know those "vocal" motets were often doubled on instruments, but the first modern "musicologists" didn't know that, so singing "a cappella" has come to mean pretty much any music that is singing only, no instruments.

Except for a small school of hard cores, in a city named for its big reeds, Acapulco de Juarez in Mexico, who wouldn't use the reeds for instruments, so the style is also called singing Acapulco. OK I'm jacking around there too.

But for real, I'm happy to say my alma mater, the University of Iowa, from which I got my MA and PhD degrees, ranks #199 or so worldwide, about in the middle of the world's top universities, not too shabby for a relative newcomer only organised 25 February 1847 in what had just become a state only 59 days before! It is also listed among the "Public Ivies", a list of 30 public US institutions considered to offer an educational level comparable to the "Ivy League" schools. And I'm also happy to say that Luther thought the plays of Terence, after whom I was named IRL, were excellent for children's learning.

And what's an "alma mater"? Hoo boy. It's Latin for "nourishing mother". In the Roman Empire it meant the Mother Goddess, Venus, the Roman version of Aphrodite, who was called Venus genetrix, Mother Venus. In the Roman Church this morphed into Mary, Jesus' mother, Mater dei genitrix. As an academic reference it comes from the phrase "alma mater studiorum", which means nourishing mother of studies. In 2000 it was adopted as the motto of, guess who, the oldest modern university, the University of Bologna, right on the heels of the 1999 signing of the Bologna Declaration signed there by the ministers of education of 29 European countries, which while aiming at a greater standardisation of European higher education, seems to do so from the standpoint of corporations and the World Trade Organisation (WTO)-- cutting costs, getting a job. getting competitive -- read, winning against or at least getting your slice of the pie with other players -- etc.

Oy.

(Textual Note: This post is a complete revision of my original similarly titled one, incorporating additional material from 2009 and new material in 2010, and slightly revised for 2011, 2013 and 2014.)