The last two months have been overwhelming: some things good, some bad, and some downright GREAT!!!!
On the good side, I finally finished my part of fixing our back deck, which meant covering it with composite decking. I had done the first level last year, and this year was the second two levels. I spent about six days on it, some of them that were pretty hot too. I had an assist from my friend Ed – - in town from Green Bay – - for two of those days. Ed has heart problems (though working fine now), a really bad back, and is not used to physical activity, but he insisted on helping, and it’s amazing what an extra pair of hands can do. Also on the good side my parish hosted the annual Parish Life Conference for our diocese (Charleston and Oakland under his Grace Bishop THOMAS) and the adjoining diocese of New York and New Jersey, which is under Metropolitan PHILIP (and administered by Bishop NICHOLAS, who was at the conference). It was a lot of work by the parish, especially by the two chairs, Dr. Maria Minielly and Mr. Joe Allen, and also by Fr. Andrew. I helped with the book table.
All of this was going on while I was getting ready to leave for a week of fishing in Canada (why my buddy Ed was in town). This is part of the GREAT. But on Friday before I left I was received into the Order of St. Ignatius of Antioch, our archdiocese’s very active charitable Order. The usual reception is done following the Liturgy on Sunday, but I was in Canada, so I was inducted on Friday evening following Vespers. It’s pretty daunting standing in front of two bishops while they give read the office. Then off to Canada, joined by Chris Butynskyi, Doug Cornelius, and my brother Jim. Jim brought a nice boat with him, and also eight loaves of banana bread and about 10 dozen cookies: we have formally nominated Jim’s wife Carol as cook of the year (another GREAT). The fishing was fantastic, and the company was far better. Conversations went everywhere, and it is really why I love going up there.
On the down side, my family said farewell to our foster-son, Matt. He was here a little over a year, and I pray he will soon be joined to his sister’s family, who live in Tampa. She was adopted some years ago, and once they knew that we would not adopt Matt (the reasons were myriad) they asked if he wanted them to adopt him. He is very excited, and I am very happy for him.
And finally one other GREAT thing, is that I won’t be returning to Eastern in the Fall: I am on Sabbatical. I will be going to Oxford for September and October, and will probably spend at least a week in France, first at Noyon, and then, perhaps, to Geneva. I had thought about going to Rome to sack the archives of The Venerable English College in Rome, but having failed to obtain the one grant I wanted, I am waiting. My main project is a book that is a survey of Calvin’s antagonists, duly titled Enemies of Calvin. I hope to get the proposal off by the end of next week, as one publisher has expressed eager interest in it. It won’t be a book against Calvin, but really is about the rise of the notion of toleration. A lot of people like to see Voltaire as the fons et origo of this, but in fact it was a number of people, including the humanist Castellio and the philosopher/Christian Pyrrhonist Michel de Montaigne who are its real sources. The book will look largely at the Servetus affair, and track how those who responded to it, often bitterly against Calvin, were at the start of the modern notions of toleration. I will also be looking at those whose animus to Calvin was sparked by doctrinal disagreements (applying adjectives to it that are only found in R-rated movies).
I am also copy editing a volume of essays on the Christian “traditions” and the liberal arts (Calvinist, Baptist, Mennonite, Lutheran, Anglican, Catholic and then Orthodox). Talk about a harrowing job. The very first two essays, even though addressing the same subject, were written in such wildly different ways as to seem almost suited for two different books. I shall try to be as liberal an editor as possible.
But, I have at last cleared a lot of my deck, and am now ready for action on the main project, the Calvin volume. This also means, that having cleared for action, I can now also start back to the blog. It is not without reason I used the old naval idiom of clearing for action, for I will, in a couple weeks, have an entry on the Patrick O’Brien novels (Master and Commander). I have not read them all, but what I have read has made me a devotee of the man, may he rest in peace (I’ve gotten through about 2800 pages so far). There is much to write about.
But also, there are all sorts of items otherwise to address, and the one here comes via my beloved Carol, who was leading a study for her women’s group and asked me to look at a bit from a book entitled Covenantal Apologetics by someone named Oliphint. She asked me if I had ever heard of a guy named Oliphint and I replied “You mean the lead actor on Justified?” Anyway, the snippet (and I only had that) is largely a quod asseritur gratis, gratis negatur type item: What you assert without evidence I can deny without evidence. All he says is that Jesus’ suffering was his path to exaltation, and that His suffering shows His sovereignty, for it was the path to His having the Name above every name. His suffering vindicates all suffering, and thus is a proof that God exists, and suffering is not some moral problem for the existence of God. He may have a point, but the snippet in no way made it. For was Jesus not Lord of Heaven and earth prior to this? Did he not have sovereignty over land and sea, and over both the demonic and angelic hosts? The point of the Philippians passage, moreover, is not so much the suffering, but the end of the suffering, namely the obedient death of our Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ. If there is a theodicy to be had here, it is this: we suffer because we have chosen death (we in and along with Adam) and thus we should not marvel that instead of the lords of heaven and earth, who have dominion over the cattle and over the world, they have dominion over us. When Adam fell we read that God made for our first parents garments of skin. The holy Fathers saw these in various ways, but all of them concur that these were given us for our new form of existence, that is, the existence tending to death and dominated by decay and death. As created, materially out of nothing, we did not have life in ourselves but only in so far as we contemplated the Divine Logos. But Adam, looking to the world not as sacrament bringing life from God, but as something as an end in itself, turned from the Word and embraced death. Prior to the fall Adam’s body was analogous to the body of our risen Lord, not bound by place or physical barriers (or probably even time). Thus, what could have killed Adam, had he not killed himself?
As this is so, Adam has now turned God’s good gifts against himself and us, and thus he and we became subject to them. The winds and waves are our enemies, and we call the mountains to fall on us and the hills to cover us, to hide us from reality. The story of St. Peter on the sea is instructive. Our Lord, of course, even in His corrupt body (as it had not yet conquered death) could still master the elements, and so too could Peter, had he kept his eye upon Christ, i.e., upon the Divine Logos, as opposed to losing faith and seeing the wind and waves as the master. By turning from Christ St. Peter succumbed once again to the world of death, to the world of the hurly-burly, the world of chaos and mayhem, one ordered by the void and not by the Logos and Logoi of God.
That evils should befall us as they befell St. Peter should not surprise us, and in fact, they should be the expected norm. When people opine that were God good evils would not happen to good people, they miss the fact that the reason such evils do happen is because we are blinded to God working in the world, and we somehow, like Elijah, think that God always works in the loud and boisterous, that he will always come down on Tabor in fire, and should be in the whirlwind and the fire on Horeb.
But this is not how God works, but instead through the still, small voice, and in the remnant who had not bowed the knee to Baal. Are Christians then immune to earthquake, fire, and sword, to plague and pestilence? No. But, we can transcend them (and I do believe that as St. Paul shook the viper off his hand we too can move mountains had we faith), and we can become more than conquerors through our Lord. Evils and calamities? These are only such when we fail to see them as nothing other than the world acting as it should in light of our separation from God.