Sunday, May 24, 2020

Stanley Hauerwas, Christ Church Cathedral, Nashville Feb 12, 2011

These are notes from a presentation Stanley Hauerwas gave on Sunday afternoon at Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Nashville years ago. They are my notes and may not represent Hauwerwas's exact words or intentions. I tend to make notes in the margin. These will be placed in double brackets as relevantly as I can place them.


I always get the impression, when talking to Dr. Hauerwas, that, as any good Southerner, he'd rather be talking about gardening. Christianity's Family Tree.

Somber time. War for ten years. No one has noticed. War is a moral practice. Drawing on McIntrye. McClindon on the Powers. Begin in some place other than pacifism and just war. We should clarify both of these, but neither change war. War is an economic boom. No one likes it, but no one refrains. We must find a way to tell our stories without war. We must think of a world without war. Pacifists can be as dependent on war as anyone else. Peace goes deeper than pacifism. War is a habit of our imaginations. Why is war so morally compelling--if not beautiful? Here are characteristics of war as a practice: war preserves a moral of hardihood, discipline, risk, valor and its reward. James felt we need an alternative. [[W. James "The moral equivalent of war."]] Some other thing besides was is a sacrificial system--not a sacrifice of life but of our normal unwillingness to kill. The sacrifices of war is a counter-liturgy to Christ's once-and-for-all sacrifice. [[Paul Kahn. Sacred Violence.]] War's practice instantiates the sovereignty of a people.  [[Chris Hedges. War is a force that gives life meaning.]] The battlefield is a pledge of the power of the sovereign to destroy bodies. Demonstrates sovereignty. Death is the power of the monarchy. Grotesque and dark beauty. War is hard to discuss because it has revealed our deepest evils. War dismisses trivia. It makes time noble. Chivalry depended on the sacramentalization of violence. WWI soldiers seeing their violence as participation in the Mass. The US depends on the story of our wars as the ties that bind up and unify our story. WWI made the US into the number-one nation. Violent sacrifice helps nation states endure; "a god who organizes killing" I belong to the flag :: baptism. Sacrifice to honor past sacrifice. Was is a sacrificial system that creates its own culture & justification. [[Statue of Liberty as the American cross?]] We cannot live without it. War also requires moral sacrifice. What leads soldiers to kill is the power of another form of intimacy. The military is the most impressive moral community that we have left in this world. [[Military as a social petri dish.]] Should people kill to defend a society of shoppers? Jargon of war is an attempt to blunt the moral force of murder. Survivor guilt. Were you being courageous enough? Killing creates a world of silence and isolation. No one who hasn't killed can understand. In the early church, soldiers had to perform penance before they could again take the Eucharist. We ask soldiers not to tell us about the meaninglessness of what they've done. The Religion of American Patriotism -- the worship of killing authority. What is really true in a society is what's worth killing and suffering for. We aren't ready to die for Christianity anymore. The Christian alternative to war is worship, not making war just. The church doesn't have a social ethic, it is one. It is the alternative to the sacrifice of war. God forbids sacrifice to any being other than himself. The world no longer needs to make sacrifice -- the sacrifice has already been make. We cannot leave the Eucharist to kill each other. We were created for community, not killing. We seek not to survive but to live in the light of the resurrection.

[Timothy Kimbrough gave a short follow-up talk. I only took one line of notes: "The Book of Common Prayer asks that we pray differently in times of war. That we don't commonly know this is a demonstration that this church does not live as Other."]

[the Q&A]

Is Christianity an honor code?

Democracy killed honor. It is a hierarchy that cannot acknowledge itself. Honor is what limits war. The myth is that the nation state is necessary to keep religious violence at bay. Nonviolence may make the world more violent because it does not wants its peace to be seen as the violence it is. Christians don't do capital punishment because it isn't a punishment that fits the crime but because we don't kill. Memorialization. The nation cannot hear that there is only one God. Why war is a moral necessity for Americans. Pacifists always assume the burden of proof. Nonviolence is parasitic, they say, and exists only because others are willing to kill. How the Civil War works for our understanding. In Augustine, just war is a theory about police functions. If war is a sacrificial system, how can it be limited by just war. A religiously accepted nation state must have . . . [confusion in notes] All who die for country die for humanity. The war became for both sides a ritual that both needed. Gettysburg Address makes sacred ground. Means you, as a nation, are perpetually at war. National bond overcomes the bonds of the Kingdom of God. Realism is used to dismiss pacifism. Democracy requires war. Those who actually fight have no illusions. Pacifists are realists. Christians confuse the sacrifice of war with the sacrifice of Christ. When Christians do not commit to their own sacrifice (Jesus), they abandon the world.

[[Peter Berger, "The Decline of Honor." Nancy Sherman. The Warrior's Ethic. Bill Kavenaugh. Torture & Eucharist and The Myth of Religious Violence. Kant, On Perpetual Peace. Stout, On the Altar of the Nation. Mark Knoll, The Civil War as Theological Crisis.]]

The Jews historically have been the community that exemplified nonviolence. We have to give up temporal power. [[Colonists that do not abandon their home country.]] There is something antithetical in the nation state vis-a-vis Christianity. "Before you are a German, you are a Christian. Stay in New York." [[Message to Bonhoeffer, which he ignored.]] If Christianity is an alternative to war, we are going to have to be as disciplined as the marines. [[Military as a social services agency.]] Who cares about your subjectivity! And how do Christians tell the story of America? I articulate challenges for which I have no response at all. There is a demonic character to war that must be named. It perverts the created order to some awful ends. The comradeship of battle can be quite demonic. You'd like to see that intimacy reproduced in marriages, but it won't happen. // The particular goods war supplies are summed up in killing. The church's "killing" is the Eucharist.

What practices can keep the church from capitulating? [[This is the community to which I will be lost.]] Christian never will their way into faithfulness. God has to make us faithful. 1 Cor 11. Better to go ill than out of boredom. Even our unfaithfulness is a witness to the gospel. "We Methodists." Sacrifice must be a gift, not a mode of control. Serious commitment to nonviolence entails conflict. Implicit assumptions are the sources of our violence. So communication has to occur to keep these assumptions out. Hospitality to the stranger. Bishops are to assure Eucharistic assemblies are hospitable to other Eucharistic assemblies. This is what the word catholic means. The Christian hears the voice of Christ in the stranger. The military is an attractive community to be part of. The church cannot be an idol. We don't offer as morally compelling a life. Think of the moral regard you get for being in the service. We are all dying for that regard. What is means to be a Christian is to have something to do. We don't have to do the same old thing. And people who have something to do are attractive. [[The Bible is not owned by conservatives. Nor is it dismissed by liberals.]] It takes a lifetime to learn how to speak well. Desperateness is you saying you aren't sure that what you are living is true. The Christian narrative is complex. The church is in no hurry. [[Bonhoeffer as martyr?]] Christians martyrs do not seek death. Atonement [theory] is a mistake. You can't isolate it [the atonement?] from the death and life of Christ. If you have a church, you don't need an atonement theory. We are to live as the forgiven in a world of the unforgiven. Moral typography of war.

Pattern Language: Obedience

PATTERN: Obedience (19)

Even as God Leads Out (81), the Son follows. The pericoretic dance requires an obedient answer. There is a "Let there be" and a "so there was." The Son willingly, lovingly obeys (Phil 2). And in his incarnation, all of creation is taken up. His obedient response becomes the model for every created thing. We are not the makers of providence, but its willing participants. And freedom is not the bondage of infinite choice but wisdom's happy response. "I hasten and no not tarry to keep your commandments (Ps 119.60).


Christology * Ethics * Natural Theology

Related Cards

God leads out (81) * Every action a reaction (82) * kenosis (4) * providence (54) * imago Dei (6) * choice (45) * freedom (53) * decently and in order (71) * faith (76) * work (77) * mission (34)

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

What does in-fraction mean?

Two people have asked me recently what in-fraction means. I'm flattered and blush to have chosen so enigmatic a title. I understood it in my gut long before it made any sense through the work. And lately I have been thinking of writing a post to define what in-fraction means. That is what this post is about.

When I started in-fraction on March 17, 2005, I explained that the title is a synthesis of two dissimilar words. In liturgical use, the fraction is the point of the Eucharistic service in which the celebrant breaks the host into pieces, representing the broken body of Jesus. Though the bread is broken, communal unity is front and center (οἱ γὰρ πάντες ἐκ τοῦ ἑνὸς ἄρτου μετέχομεν; 1 Cor. 10.17). People come to the same rail and eat the one life-giving bread. No such unity attends the word infraction. That word means a rude violation. It is a broken bone that never heals right. In-fraction, I said, holds these two words together. It is about entropy's undoing in the breaking of the broken man. In-fraction has a common direction, and that is to go forward to kneel at that communion rail ad fontes. Here are several ways this has worked out in this blog over time.

So, one way that the theology of the Gospels has been characterized is to describe it as from below or from above. John's Gospel, for example, is theology from above. Jesus is so divine that he barely touches the ground. He is the incarnate Son, the second person of the Trinity, who was before all things. Contrast that with Mark's Gospel. Jesus's humanity is at the fore. Jesus is very much a Jewish prophet embedded in a people in a culture and acting at a certain moment in history. In-fraction is an exercise from below. But this should not be surprising. I am a Protestant.

Protestant theology is characteristically from below. Martin Luther's criticism of the Roman Catholic scholastic theology of his day was that it tried to climb a ladder and view the naked God (deus nudus), a tendency he called a theology of glory (theologus gloriae). A theology of glory seeks God in reason, in being moral, in private revelation. Luther said his would be a theology of the cross (theologus crucis). The Jews of Jesus's day were lost in fantasies of glory. Their "one as a son of man" was to come on the clouds without suffering, like Baal of old (Dan. 7.13). But the truth and glory of God was revealed in the death and resurrection of the Suffering Servant, a man. So, God is revealed to all in the broken body of his son on the tree as properly witnessed by the apostles and prophets. We sum this up by saying that we find God in his word and sacraments. And in-fraction attempts to be such a theology of the cross.

In his Heidelburg Disputations, Luther said, "A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is." I bundle this with the Reformation principle of "to the sources" and the Enlightenment turn to observation rather than metaphysics. The arc "from below" becomes an affirmation of the cosmos and reason in their proper spheres. The theologians of glory see "the invisible things of God in works as perceived by man" (Luther) which leads to the God of the Philosophers, to Schleiermacher, to New Thought, and to be guilty of Feuerbach's projection. But the point is not to deny matter or reason, as the fundamentalists do, but to affirm these in their proper spheres.

Our time is a child of the Enlightenment. Science governs the public square. And science has disenchanted the world. A great deal of evangelical theology ignores this. It attempts to remain in an enchanted universe by building walled gardens. This is a Gnostic move away from matter, the body, beauty, and reason and toward sentimentality, tribal community, spectacle, and emotion. Secret gardens breed private revelation and virtual worlds. Such a move is anathema to proper theology.

Beginning from below, theology confesses, with the ancient creeds, that it pleased God that the Son became incarnate as a real human man. His body is a real body. And that body assumes a kinship with the created cosmos. As science tells us, we are all made of stars. The body of Jesus demands we confess that matter is real and good. And matter can hope, for what is assumed is atoned for, paraphrasing Gregory of Nazianzus. For the Christian, science is no enemy. Not that this is a new affirmation. Theology has always confessed two sources of revelation: scripture and the created world (mirroring the two-natures of Jesus, its proper Adam). In Reformation theology, the former, through Calvin's spectacles, is for salvation and the latter for praise. Revealed and natural theology are both productions of the same God.

Now, it is true that science disenchanted the world. But that disenchantment is but an extension of the iconoclastic affect of Christianity on the pagan pantheon of Rome. I welcome the acid bath of scientific skepticism as thought welcomes new understanding. The process of seeing--of contemplation--is a process of disenchantment, of disillusionment. That is how we come to contextualize knowledge properly. And apart from disenchantment, theology cannot discover the beautiful thing: that sacraments are the world's proper re-enchantment. When lamps are extinguished, the stars do shine. Science comes forward to the altar or is no proper science.

Science, like all human things, must be properly handled. Human things are distorted by the noetic effects of sin. Unredeemed human beings make their tools into idols. And, in our day, science unbrackets it naturalism, forgets its creator, and sets up its gospel of scientism and its proponents as a priestly class. It abstracts itself away from things as they are and is lost to its own enchantment. It, too, must be disenchanted in order to properly see. Science should regain its place as a human tool working to garden a world made in God's creative providence (Gen. 1.28).

This from below principle suggests, where this blog approaches aesthetics, a similar approach to art. A movement from below calls the artist (the arts) away from groping around in pure subjectivity, in phantasie, in enchantment. The arts are freed to the contemplation of things as they are "in the light of Easter" (Balthasar). They are restored to their natural theology. The cross frees the arts for praise.


You haven't talked about the move from the individual
 to the community as a basic datum re: existential to
 political. Nor did you discuss narrative (synchronic;
 eschatological) over systematic (asynchronic; atemporal).
 Nor did you discuss historical-grammatical exegesis
 versus, say, the fourfold use. All of these emphases
 are woven through the blog and are part of this same,
 common direction, which I can sum up as my attempt to
 act as a theologian of the cross.

Indeed, you actually should rewrite, for the central
 symbol here is the incarnate Jesus, not a series of
 abstract arguments from historical theology.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

A method for exploring poetry

Dear friend,

You say you are interested in poetry and wonder how to get started. I have been trying to expand my own repertoire for several years. It has been much harder than expected. But here is the method I am using:

(1) Respect the genre. Poetry has a history parallel to literature. Take a moment to learn the periods. Chances are, you'll like some periods and not others. And knowing who is who in the periods you like will save you time. It will allow you to zero in on the poets you either like or need to try.

(2) Rely on the experts. Poetry is a generous discipline, meaning that people that love it are happy to talk about what they love. Get a list and start working it. You can get a list from or scan the table of contents in The Oxford Book of English or American Poetry or just google lists online or college lit syllabi until you can construct your own. But this is going to be true even on the micro level. When you find a poet you want to dig more deeply into, like Frost, for example, or Pope, you don't have time to read it all. Go find a list of the best and begin there. If you finish those and you still want to loiter--which is good--you'll be ready, then.

(3) Like theater, poetry is in the ear far more than in the eye. If you can hear a poem, hear it: on the Poetry Foundation website, YouTube, the internet, Spotify--anywhere! If you can read a poem aloud, do it. I recommend taking a look at Tracy K. Smith's the Slowdown and Pádraig Ó Tuama's Poetry Unbound for their combination of audio and selection by a master poet.

(4) You cannot nor will you swallow poetry in a lifetime. Especially in a discipline where exposure and intimacy are required for knowledge. The quicker you can lay down a general understanding, find a period and then a poet that appeals to you, and begin rooting around, the better. But you will never get it all. You will always be conscious of how much you don't know.

(5) Time. As in a museum, you are walking past items, but something catches you. Obey that. Say you are reading a list of twenty-five recommended Dickinson poems and you are just reading them and nothing is catching. But then one does; "The revery alone will do / if bees are few." Stay with that poem until it is done with you, and then move on. "Attention is the beginning of devotion" (Mary Oliver). You might keep a small notebook of the ones that do.

(6) Putting some poetry any poetry on your shelf is tremendous. Do it now. Grab some chapbook of a poet you have never heard of and tuck it in somewhere. A slim volume of verse gives such a nice, briny flavor to your library. And it will be there when you need something with coffee.

(7) Finally, poetry is the work of a people. It comes in pairs. Perhaps there are bits of verse tucked in between rocks in the Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacán or scratched into the stony roof of the Duomo di Milano. But even there, a god sees. Find someone who loves poetry. Ask them to share what they love, and you do the same. That, in the love poem of St. Paul, is the better way.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

A very short reflection on Saint Catherine of Siena

Today, April 29, is the feast of Catherine of Siena. And in Roman Catholic circles, she is an important saint: one of the doctors of that church, a patron saint of Italy and Europe and of medical workers and the sick. Her story is weird enough, speaking as a Protestant, to include invisible stigmata, visions, severe asceticism, Jesus's foreskin, and a treatise on prayer, the Dialogues, dictated while in ecstasy but edited in normal time—and there is a mini lesson on creativity there. So what is a Protestant to do?

Her time, 14th century Italy, was far worse than our own: rolling plagues (she was born during the Black Plague), people resigned to unseen death, deeply troubled and angry politics, and a church that was far more compromised than it appears today. There was little good, little hope, and little time.

Using the tools she had, which was mostly her own body in ascetic devotion, she argued for and practiced peace-seeking, compassion, and actually doing something for other people.[1] Mother Teresa didn’t get her model in Calcutta from nowhere. Catherine wrote letters to people in power. She did medical work with deeply sick people. She ministered to condemned prisoners. And it goes on.

In other words, she resolved to begin addressing her world’s problems with herself. And, in so doing, she became "a fragrant flower in the mystic body of the holy church."[2]

But hers wasn’t a bootstraps thing. She, in her weird medieval way, got her vision and hope in prayer and acted accordingly. She acted in love for Jesus and, consequently, loved what Jesus loves: the church and cast-aside kinds of people. She didn’t see her circumstances, she reinterpreted them in the light of the resurrection.[3] Not a bad idea. But this is no eighties-movie montage: she also worked very hard and suffered a great deal physically and socially.

So, yes, with Catherine of Siena, a Protestant has to wade through a great deal of difficult material. But what comes out is something very recognizable: a Christian intent on personal and social reform through personal holiness, social compassion, and political advocacy. In our own day, that is a figure our time could use more of.


[1] Catherine appears at a time after the anchorites and before the Italian Renaissance, which would inevitably lead to greater and greater lay-leadership in the church. Also, not to be tautologous, she is woman. These two facts, put together, make her solution quite innovative. She practiced her ministry outside of the convent, though as part of a religious community. She lived at home, but in a cell. And her ascesis was such (read more-than-severe by modern standards), that she transformed her body from that of a woman to that of an icon. This allowed her to write popes and other powerful people; to do papal business; and to minister in contexts, such as prisons, where a woman may not have been as welcome. I'm sure there is a good deal of work in feminist or queer theology about this sort of thing, e.g. "the queering of her body."

[2] Quoting her description of priests working in the Italian churches.

[3] from her Dialogues, in the Treatise on Prayer (20):

"When therefore the soul has arrived at seeing, knowing, and tasting, in its full sweetness, this light, she runs, as one enamored and inflamed with love, to the table of holy desire; she does not see herself in herself, seeking her own consolation either spiritual or temporal, but, like one who has placed his all in this light and knowledge, and has destroyed his own will, she shuns no labor from whatever source it comes, but rather enduring the troubles, the insults, the temptations of the Devil, and the murmurings of men, eats at the table of the most holy Cross, the food of the honor of Me, the Eternal God, and of the salvation of souls; seeking no reward, either from Me or from creatures, because she is stripped of mercenary love, that is of love for Me based on interested motives, and is clothed in perfect light, loving Me in perfect purity, with no other regard than for the praise and glory of My Name, serving neither Me for her own delight, nor her neighbor for her own profit, but purely through love alone."

Friday, April 03, 2020

Theologians in Blogs Getting Coffee: Theologie der Hoffnung

Good morning, friends. Today, I get to talk to you about a fundamental idea in one of those most important books in my life, Jurgen Moltmann's Theology of Hope. Moltmann wrote Theologie der Hoffnung in the mid sixties. He himself is a biographical theologian because he has an interesting biography. He was conscripted into the German army at 15. Surrendered eagerly to the American army soon after. And he spent the next few years in various POW. He was converted in camp. Became a pastor after the war. And, from his work as a pastor, started thinking a lot about a subject we think about a lot: hope.

It was, oddly enough, during his honeymoon that he read a book called the Principle of Hope (Prinzip Hoffnung) by a neo-Marxist philosopher named Ernst Bloch. The book gripped his imagination. And he often said to his new bride: "Christians have more reason to hope than anyone. Why aren't we thinking like this?" Moltmann decided to begin thinking about the category of Christian hope. By then, he had begun lecturing at university, and he began using his lectures as a method to work through these questions.

Let me give you a taste of what Moltmann sounds like. This is from the preface in his paperback edition. Recall that Western theology in the sixties is trying to come to terms with the aftermath of WW2 + Auschwitz, and people are asking, "What now?" The Existentialism of Sartre and Marxist atheism were attempting to answer people's questions. So, Moltmann says,

"Why has Christian theology allowed [the category of] hope to escape it, when this is its very own special theme? . . . What has happened to the early Christian spirit of active hope today? . . . For [Marxists], atheism was the presupposition of active hope; for Jean-Paul Sartre, atheism was the presupposition of human freedom. But for me, the God of promise and exodus, the God who has raised Christ and who lets the power of the resurrection dwell in us, is the ground for active and for passive hope."
Moltmann quickly realized that the category of hope falls under the theological category of eschatology, which is the doctrine of last things: the end of the world, the coming of Jesus, the judgment, etc.

It was a category that presented some problems. From the perspective of a table of contents, eschatology always comes last. (Oh, I apologize: eschatology = eschatos (last) + logos (Eng. suffix: -ology) = word about x or study of last things.) Whenever theologians wrote theology or address catechetical lectures, eschatology was simply stuck to the end. It was the runt. Not only, but eschatology is often treated as an escape category irrelevant to the lived world. Moltmann saw from Ernst Bloch's book, Prinzip Hoffnung, that this didn't have to be the case. The future, he saw, may just have everything to do with the present (and even more than you'd expect). So, as I say, he got to thinking about it in his lectures, and they became his book Theologie der Hoffnung in 1965.

I can't help but mention that eschatology wasn't limited to Bloch. New Testament theology had been in an argument for a hundred years about aspects of Jesus's person and teaching. The Jesus that emerged was a teacher who was a thoroughgoing eschatological prophet and who cannot be understood apart from eschatological categories.

Last thing today. I know this is taking some time. I'm putting a little here and there so you guys can kind of touch in. Let me leave you with a bit from Moltmann, from his introduction. He is talking about how eschatology has been denigrated as being irrelevant etc. So he says--and the big moves he is making are there to see in this:

"In actual fact, eschatology means the doctrine of the Christian hope, which embraces both the object hoped for and also the hope inspired by it. From first to last, and not merely in the epilogue, Christianity is eschatology, is hope, forward looking and forward moving, and therefore also revolutionizing and transforming the present. . . . For Christian faith lives from the raising of the crucified Christ, and strains after the promises of the universal future of Christ. . . . Hence eschatology cannot be only a part of Christian doctrine. Rather, the eschatological outlook is characteristic of all Christian proclamation, of every Christian existence and of the whole Church. . . [God] encounters us in his promises of the future. [Therefore] eschatology should not be [the end of theology], but its beginning."
Tomorrow I will talk about how he takes Luther's simil anthropology and makes eschatology its context, now that eschatology is the very bath in which theology bathes and not some forgotten chapter or wishful thought.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Finally getting around to the Lord's Prayer in Matthew

A respected teacher of mine summarizes the catechetical task around three poles: the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, and the Apostle's Creed. Each one provides in microcosm an important section of what can become a Christian mind. The Ten Commandments become a catalyst for ethical thinking. The Apostle's Creed lays down a foundation for theological development. And the Lord's Prayer is the compass of Christian practice. I refrain from using the phrase "devotional life" or "spirituality." Both of these are dipped too deeply into the facts-versus-feelings / outer-versus-inner / numbers-versus-language / science-versus-history / matter-versus-spirit dichotomy that is modernity. So I call it the "compass of Christian practice" because a compass guides a wayfaring. A compass assumes a kind of action. There is the wild one goes through and the destination one bushcrafts one's way to. That's it, really: the Lord's Prayer is the beginning of Christian bushcraft.

Back in 2005, I preached a sermon on Matthew's version of the Lord's Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13; the prayer also appears in Luke's gospel). In that sermon, I spent a great deal of time contextualizing the prayer. I didn't want to read the prayer as a spiritual tool disconnected from history (asynchronously is how I think the technical language would call it). The prayer is, I said, the prayer of a people who long to belong in a new home, in this case the Kingdom of God. Jesus as the new Moses is, Deuteronomy style, fitting the people out for the new land they are about to possess. And the Kingdom is God's work for them, not their working their way into it. It is the Father's good pleasure to give the people the Kingdom. And, finally, I reword Jesus's introduction "This, then, is how you should pray," to "This, then, is how you disciples should pray for the Kingdom come." All of that is great, but I never got to the meat of the bone. It took so long to set it up, that I never went on into a close reading of the prayer itself. That is what I want to do here.

Divisions of the Prayer

The prayer divides into two halves.

The first half begins humbly at the very source of discipleship itself, which is the purpose of the triune God, the missio Dei, God's gracious desire to redeem his people and the very cosmos. (I wonder if there are parallels here to the first tablet of the law or to Jesus's greatest commandment, his summary of the Torah.) God is addressed or named in two ways: as father and as the one in heaven. Afterward, God is humbly petitioned to do three things in a rhetorical tricolon: to hallow his name, to bring in his kingdom, and to bring his will to fruition on earth as in heaven. I cannot tell if these necessarily add anything different from each other or whether they trump the same note in different keys. It is helpful to see them together.

ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου | hallow your name
ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου | bring in your kingdom
γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου | beget your will
[In this section, parse the Greek Text]

[And now, some random notes stuck here for later]

"God's name" is a distinctive Hellenistic Judaistic periphrasis employed to avoid pronouncing the tetragrammaton. the fulfillment of this petition requires the interaction of God and creation.

NET Bible on "your kingdom come" -> "the fulfillment of this petition requires the interaction of God and creation"

Note Jesus's identification with us in need of forgiveness, anticipating his bearing upon himself the sin of all mankind at the cross, as did his baptism at the beginning of his public ministry). Jesus himself would become the answer for his prayer

The Lord's prayer presents not only a model prayer, but a summary of Jesus' priorities embodied in a pattern for all true prayer
The order of appeal repeats the order of revelation given to Moses: first God's name and nature, then his deliverance.
God's prophetic will, so often spurned and mocked on earth (which, incidentally, is the theme of much intertestamental literature), is already being carried out in the heavenlies. The implied argument is therefore from greater to lesser; fulfillment is just a matter of time.
The "as in heaven, so on earth" section invites the rule or kingdship of God, which is another way of talking about what God's redemptive plan is up to: to usher in the Kingdom until all things are put under his feet. Praying that is a priestly act that puts one in the correct orientation to the missio Dei. This is a prayer of warfare, because hostile powers that deny God's rule are exercising dominion on the earth. It also hearkens back to the creation of human beings as imago. Human beings are the imagers that bring God's will to fruition on earth. That is what humans were made to do.
The basic need for survival strikes at the heart of Israel's desert wanderings and Jesus' own temptations in the Judean wilderness
Since the time of Tertullian, interpreters have distinguished these two broad areas of concern as the "heavenly" and "terrestrial."
Ethics is all about imaging God's action. Human righteousness finds it pattern in God's character and acts. I'm thinking of Exodus 24 where you rest because God rested.
Is there a way that the position of the Lord's Prayer in the Sermon on the Mount parallels Moses's ascent in Exodus 24. This, by tradition, might connect to Gregory of Nyssa's mystical treatise, The Ascent of Moses or even the entire tradition of ascent, from Climacus to Cruz
To say "Father" assumes one is in the family. (Provide a short response to the erroneous and maudlin notion that Jesus's is saying "Daddy" when the novelty is not the possible meaning of the term but its use. Jesus uses Abba as an heir would use it. Abba is unique to Jesus's prayer from other prayers of his time.) To say "Father" is not to self-assume. It is the result of God's invitation, God's choosing of a people for himself. Father orients one to God's redemptive economy or, rather, inside that economy.

[end of random notes stuck here for later]

These are the foundations of discipleship itself. Discipleship is a participation with the divine in hallowing his name, in bringing his kingdom into being, in exacting the divine will here and now in this praying soul, in this one who would be a disciple of Jesus, in this one who hears him say "follow me" and follows after.

Augustine highlights the existential nature of these first three three petitions in his Letter to Proba (130.11.21):

When, therefore, we say: Hallowed be Your name, we admonish ourselves to desire that His name, which is always holy, may be also among men esteemed holy, that is to say, not despised; which is an advantage not to God, but to men. When we say: Your kingdom come, which shall certainly come whether we wish it or not, we do by these words stir up our own desires for that kingdom, that it may come to us, and that we may be found worthy to reign in it. When we say: Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, we pray for ourselves that He would give us the grace of obedience, that His will may be done by us in the same way as it is done in heavenly places by His angels.
Finally, the first half closes in an important way. The Greek of the last line, "On earth as it is in heaven," flips the order of the English translation. The Greek line begins not with "earth" but ends with it: ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς (note also the German: wie im Himmel, so auch auf Erden). Thus ending the first half, the action moves from God's transcendent heaven to the rude earth. To this patch of creation, the disciple in his or her Sitz im Leben, the way of prayer has come. It is unmistakable that grace alone, God's gracious missionary act, is the sole foundation of the journey. And now the disciple may begin the prayer's second half.

The second half addresses the life of the disciple. (And, again, I wonder if there isn't some distant correspondence to either the second tablet of the law or Jesus's second greatest commandment, which is the love of neighbor.) As in the first half, the second contains three requests. But these do not build upon each other. Instead, they address a disciple's different needs: the need for the necessities of life, the ethical primacy of living in forgiveness, and the dependence of the disciple upon God in the face of trial and demonic attack.

The first line can be spiritualized; daily bread (τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον) can easily refer to the manna that sustained Israel in its wilderness sojourn. And the last line also has interpretive subtleties. It can be read in three ways. Either trials and the evil one (The Greek text is plain that evil should be substantival--the evil one--not metaphorical due to the articular τοῦ πονηροῦ. The hermeneutical difference is a thunderbolt.) describe the buffets of disciple in the compass of a day's living. Or, they speak of the disciple's entire pilgrimage and the malevolent charges of the adversary on the last day. Or, they speak of both, which to my mind captures best the already-but-not-yet nature of a discipleship in this age.

There is not only the ethical side of the Prayer but also the spiritual warfare portion of the prayer. God comes as a warrior. This is a warrior's prayer. Here is where Michael Heiser's insights come to bear.

The Prayer is unique and cannot be unique. It is unique in one aspect: that Yahweh is called Father. [By the way, how should the careful removal of gender from such language done by the church fathers be read into this term -- or should it be?] But it cannot be unique in that it has, behind it, the entire devotional history of the Old Testament.

[more random thoughts]

Note Psalm 41:11-12: "By this I know you are pleased with me, / that my enemy does not triumph over me. / In my integrity you hold me fast, / and shall set me before your face forever." (BCP)

Note also this article by D. B. Hart:

I'm willing to bet that th is an ark which assumes the floodwaters of the psalms. The evil one, for example, is that figure or figures that come up again and again, such as in Psalm 71.4 "Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the clutches of the evildoer and the oppressor." The evil one is like a stock character from Commedia dell'arte. And perhaps the entire Prayer is a kind of play with the praying disciple as a kind of protagonist.

I've been wondering how the Lord's Prayer fits into the framework of Jewish piety. It doesn't erupt from nowhere. (One might even wonder why it was needed, given that a longstanding tradition of Jewish spiritual practice was already in place. Jesus and the disciples were synagogue-attenders.) The obvious place to begin is the psalms; how do the psalms inform the Lord's Prayer. Bonhoeffer's framing of the psalms as the prayerbook of Jesus informs this direction.

The devotional life of Israel exists along a continuum from lament/supplication and praise, and you can hear the one always in the other. So, if a psalm is a supplicatory psalm, there is a praise psalm for God's deliverance already in the can. At times, the two ends step on each other in the same psalm. So the genre of the prayer is a lament and supplication "bring your kingdom in!" (another way of saying "How long, O Lord?") "save us from the trial" (the psalms area always full of please for Israel to be saved from plague or the hand of the fowler). But we should not ignore the eschatological undertone of eventual praise and thanksgiving just waiting in the wings. There is a jubilation burning in the heart of the disciple, and that is why he prays for deliverance. In this case, then, that little bit about forgiveness is sort of akin to those psalms that say things like "I have kept my hands from evil" or "I have kept your law." Also, read this for some relationship between the prayer and pentecost.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

a community of concentric circles

In this age, the community of the messiah exists in concentric circles. The outer circle (circulus ad extra) is porous and visible to the world. The inner circle (circulus ad intra) is nonporous and impenetrable. The outer circle is the visible people of the messiah "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets," the Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church. The inner circle is the elect "chosen in him before the foundations of the world." And, as in Jesus's parable of the wheat and the tares (Matt. 13.24-30), "both of them grow together until the harvest."

It is easy to enter the outer circle. No one can forbid it. One is born into it or one bids for membership out of personal desire or in response to an invitation. And there is a liturgical sign of entry. In Deuteronomy 28:9, directly after God says "The Lord will establish you as his holy people," he commands circumcision as a visible token of membership. Male babies were to be circumcised shortly after birth, and through them, the nation is circumcised. Circumcision was replaced by baptism in the Messianic, New Testament community. Members of the circle have public access to the benefits of the community.

It is impossible, by human effort, to enter into the inner circle (see Opening a Closed Circle, 83). Its members are elect by God. The language and benefits of the community are reserved for and active in the elect alone. They are the invisible community of the inner circle "born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." The inner circle is the church militant (Ecclesia militans). It is the burning bush in which God dwells by the Spirit and every man, woman, and child is on fire.

It is impossible and evil to fix another's place on the inner or outer circle, aside from their making an overt declaration. And it can be challenging, in the day to day, to know where to place oneself.


[1] The history of the dogma of an invisible and invisible church begins with Martin Luther. Luther's protest against Roman Catholicism demanded a new answer to the question "Who makes up the church?"

Luther called the Roman Catholic Church a “false church” (his sermon Von der heiligen christlichen Kirche in 1531). He set a true or hidden church over against it. His hidden church was separate from the visible church, the workaday church or the communio sanctorum of human beings harassed by sin and suffering, existing on and by God’s grace. This visible church was a mixture of good and bad. It was streaked with sin and harbored sinners even though it was diligent to combat sin and the perversion of doctrine. Inside it was the hidden church. "The church must appear in the world. But it can only appear in a covering (larva), a veil, a shell, or some other kind of clothes which a man can grasp, otherwise it can never be found," (WA Briefwechsel 9, 608). For Luther, then, the church is like a sacrament: the visible and hidden can be distinguished but not separated in this age. The visible may be handled and, underneath it, the hidden made available.

The false church does not value the scriptures. And, therefore, it cannot properly offer the sacraments or preach the gospel. The false church has no life in it--no inner grace, no hidden church.

Luther also perceived an analogy to his visible-and-hidden ecclesiology in the incarnation of Jesus, where God and man are one. The hidden church suffers in its flesh, even as its head, Jesus, suffered. And through that suffering the gospel life is made available to human beings.

Calvin, as is to be expected, sums up the work of the first Reformers:

"The Church," he says, "is used in the sacred Scriptures in two senses. Sometimes when they mention the church, they intend that which is really such in the sight of God (quae revera est coram Deo) into which none are received but those who by adoption and grace are the children of God and by the sanctification of the Spirit are the true members of Christ. And then it comprehends not only the saints at any one time resident on earth but all the elect who have lived from the beginning of the world.

"But the word church is frequently used in the Scriptures to designate the whole multitude dispersed all over the world who profess to worship one God and Jesus Christ, who are initiated into his faith by baptism, who testify their unity in true doctrine and charity by a participation of the sacred supper, who consent to the word of the Lord and preserve the ministry which Christ has instituted for the purpose of preaching it. In this church are included many hypocrites, who have nothing of Christ but the name and appearance; many persons, ambitious, avaricious, envious, slanderous, and dissolute in their lives, who are tolerated for a time, either because they cannot be convicted by a legitimate process, or because discipline is not always maintained with sufficient vigor.

"As it is necessary therefore to believe that Church which is invisible to us, and known to God alone, so this Church, which is visible to men, we are commanded to honor, and to maintain communion with it." (Institutes Bk. IV.1 § 7)

This post is a work in progress.
Its existence is to be a short, model ecclesiology,
 combining my model of "Saint Augustine's church",
 something on the two sacraments, and election.

Note: your grammar is not quite right.
Barth has some good tweaks.

As if to say that the circle one should care
about is not the circle of exclusion between
people, but the circle of election.

Previous post links an available hermeneutic
to a welcoming ecclesiology.

The mission-stance of the church mirrors
the mission-stance of the Triune God.

You were not wrong to bring in the
Trinity ad extra / ad intra. Put that
back in.

The private ascesis of the Sermon on the
Mount can be appended to this as well.

The circle of the Spirit is wider than the
circle of the church.

Monday, November 18, 2019

A Response to C. S. Lewis's lecture "The Inner Ring"

A coworker named Greg asked me to respond to C. S. Lewis's lecture "The Inner Ring." I've touched on this lecture before in "Blue Longing or Yellow Laziness." Nevertheless, that post is only about private revelation. There is more to say. Pattern 83, Opening a Closed Circle, might also play an oblique role.


Hi, Greg,

Thank you for asking me about C. S. Lewis's lecture "The Inner Ring." It is a memorable essay. I read it years ago and have never forgotten it. It is so frank about this negative and pervasive habit running through human society and into the heart. We are so governed by a desire to be included and by the avoidance of alienation. One wonders what the world--and we--would be like were it free of it.

The power of the inner ring so affects ethics and politics that I almost want to respond with a kind of highly abbreviated Republic or Utopia. But nation building is not on my mind. Instead, I wonder how Lewis's inner ring affects us in our relationship to God and in the realm of spiritual practice? And here there are three ways that I see working our human cravenness for the inner ring.

The first involves one of Christianity’s ancient enemies, Gnosticism. Gnosticism needs an inner ring. It promises salvation for anyone who enters its inner ring. Simply do this or that and one obtains the secret, the inner knowledge, one arrives or, in classical Gnosticim, one ascends beyond the flesh into the true realms of mind and spirit. This impulse is the religious impulse of the natural human being. It is idolatry’s lure.

The second involves private interpretations of scripture or revelations from God. To my mind, these play at a Christian variant of Gnosticism. God speaks especially to me. I am the recipient of private revelation. Or, applied to scripture, God made this scripture mean this particular thing to me. This is caricatured in the flop and drop joke about a man who opens his Bible and reads, “Judas went and hanged himself,” and, randomly opening his Bible again, reads “Go and do likewise.” More broadly, though, I think of the rising popularity of lectio divina.

There are various descriptions of lectio divina, but the generality is the same: one reads scripture slowly in a meditative and prayerful frame of mind, asking the Holy Spirit to speak through the text. The idea is that one reads the text and is open to words jumping out, phrases that want repeating, tugs at the heart. These, it is said, are the Spirit. One concentrates on these. Some say the reason for concentration is to simply remain in the presence of God. Others say the point is to gently bring such Spirit-highlighted phrases or words to bear on one's life. This second option is what disturbs me.[1]

This kind of lectio divina, which looks for personal meaning in the texts, is a ring-writing practice. It is absolutely singular and individual from beginning to end. One desires a particular subjectivity unique and private and apart. Read another way: one takes a public, common text inspired by the Spirit through the church in the particulars of historical culture, personality, and context, and one makes it a Great Book of the Self, ignoring the entire tradition of reading, ignoring all historical context, and going so far as to ask the Spirit to treat the grammar and syntax of the words differently and to gurgle private unction like a hidden spring into the well of your mind, a second method of inspiration very different from the first. Such is a mysticism of the worst kind.

The third thing that comes to my mind is the false use of judgment by the churches to create “pure” spaces—perhaps this is one under the label of eschewing sin or particular sins. “My church does not accept people who sin in way x. But we do readily encourage people who routinely commit sins y and z. People who sin in way x will experience private judgment and public/pulpit condemnation. People who sin in forms y and z will be overlooked, excused, or made officers and put in charge of committes.”

Lewis expands on this point as follows--note my italics:

And you will always find them hard to enter, for a reason you very well know. You yourself, once you are in, want to make it hard for the next entrant, just as those who are already in made it hard for you. Naturally. In any wholesome group of people which holds together for a good purpose, the exclusions are in a sense accidental. Three or four people who are together for the sake of some piece of work exclude others because there is work only for so many or because the others can’t in fact do it. Your little musical group limits its numbers because the rooms they meet in are only so big. But your genuine Inner Ring exists for exclusion. There’d be no fun if there were no outsiders. The invisible line would have no meaning unless most people were on the wrong side of it. Exclusion is no accident; it is the essence.

I have been thinking about this for a number of years—the breezy way that we assume the work of the church largely as one of judgment, of line drawing, of forming circles of ins and outs. Lewis plainly says that this judgment-as-people-define-it exists for the sake of exclusion. I don’t think this is the work of the church—exclusion. But I do wonder how we can understand the Great Commission apart from excluding tendencies. Once I baptize a man or disciple a woman, aren’t they automatically forming an inner ring? I believe that the answer is a hard won no. By this I mean that one would think the answer is yes, but in typical God fashion, the church is asked to buck our natural tendency, break all circle making, and remain together despite real differences akin to the way Paul’s strong and weak or James’s rich and poor are commanded to ignore such differences and partake of a common eucharistic meal.[2]

The triune God scandalously eschews an inner ring. Of all that exists, surely the Godhead would be right to keep its own fellowship, its own perichoretic dance of pure bliss. But it does not. God has opened the circle for love's sake. God is on mission. And so, the gospel message is freely spread to everything. Whoever wants can hear the word preached. Whoever wants can take up or Google scripture at any time and, in the phrasing of this week’s collect, “hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them.” Gnosticism has no place here. And there is no private interpretation of scripture: one interprets as a member of the community as it is spread across the ages in time and space. There is no private revelation, for, as Jesus said in the parable, “they have Moses and the prophets. They should listen to them.”

If someone wishes to practice lectio divina, let them first do the hard work of exegesis. Let them practice lectio scriptura. Let them struggle with grammar, syntax, culture, idiom, and all that goes under the names hermeneutics and historiography. Let them do that and then, by all means, lectio divina as you will. But now one is working in the context of the interpreting community. (I still don't trust lectio divina because of its desire to get around the Spirit's initial method of inspiration and adopt something much more akin to the way pagans seek messages from the gods, but at least the worst sins of lectio divina are kept in check by its better educated elder brother.)

So then, struggling against the human tendency to close rings at every point of difference, Christians hold the doors open. By means of humility, they exclude no one. Lewis’s almost maudlin phrase (to modern ears) is “if in your spare time you consort simply with the people you like.” Today, we hear a phrase like that and think this is exactly what jocks, white supremacists, and shady members of mob families do. But Lewis meant simply being open to like and to befriend any person regardless of what ring they are or aren’t in. The church is commanded to be open like this. It is commanded and allowed in this manner to be and become a gathering of friends, a community, a family.

Allow me to now proffer a hypothesis and say, What if only God can do the judging? Isn't it so that God's manner of judging is radically other than what we expect. With the scripture, we see that it is different and surprising. And with scripture, may it even be offensive? I hypothesize and say that God is judging the world in the work of the church, but connotatively. That is, in a manner that is not well understood by the church, probably misunderstood by the church, and is wholly outside of its ability. Indeed, doesn't scripture forbid people from assuming they can definitely say who is out and who is in? (Can we always judge rightly even about ourselves?) Perhaps the church is busy with hospitality and the Spirit is busy with the work of judging--whatever that is. I do not think human beings can well define that word. As J. R. R. Tolkien's Gandalf says to Frodo in the dark of Moria, "Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends."

Moving on then, Lewis’s last paragraph suggests the human craving for inclusion in inner rings derives from a deep longing for the gospel--being included in God's inner ring. If you are always trying to satisfy your own desires for inclusion (“them as asks shan’t have”), you’ll forever be disappointed. But, he says, if one asks after Jesus’s command to “ask the Father,” then one is put on a new road which “lies quite in another direction.” And then Lewis talks about Alice’s house. Alice steps through a mirror in her house into the reflected “her house” which exists in Wonderland. This is exactly the sort of thing that Lucy, Edmond, and Eustace discover in the painting of a Narnian ship that comes to life in Eustace’s house and sucks them all into Narnia in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader. What one is looking for is already there, but one has to have eyes to see it. One has to step through a looking glass into a place that looks the same but is in another world entirely.

Thus, the whole lecture is contained in Jesus’s teaching that in the Kingdom the last shall be first and the first, last. By giving up one’s self-striving to be first, and by embracing the humility of last, one finds a community of friends and steps through the mirror into the Narnia that calls, always calls, from the center of every human heart.


1. The use of a text to quiet the mind so that one can be silent, reverent, and attentive to the encompassing presence of God is one of the deepest chambers of Christian meditative practice. All lectio divina--even this type--is governed by lectio scriptura; Buddhist and other practices of emptying the mind of illusions in an effort to find enlightenment is not what this is. The silence of Christian contemplation is obedient to scriptures such as "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth" (Ps. 46.10) and "The LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him." (Hbk 2.20). The Habakkuk text is especially helpful as it contrasts this silence with the dead silence of the idols in verses 18 and 19.

2. In the post "Some Changes Affected By Sacramental Theology," I raise the question of whether the inclusion of a proper sacramental theology in one's ecclesiology doesn't serve a deeply irenic purpose as a bay leaf blunts bitterness in a stew.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Hurtado on the dogmatic origins of the Qu'ran and the Gospels

In a post on October 22 of this year, Larry Hurtado put into words something I've been chewing on for a while about dogma behind why Christians and Muslims treat their scriptures differently.
[The] traditional Muslim view of the Qur’an is widely different from the way that traditional Christians view their scriptural texts such as the Gospels. In traditional Muslim belief, the Qur’an is a miracle, the direct speech of Allah, and has been preserved miraculously down the ages with scarcely a variant. In contrast, in traditional Christian belief, the biblical writings are the products of human beings, “inspired” by God to write their texts. But the texts in question are the words of those human authors. That is, the biblical texts partake of the various historical circumstances in which they were written, edited, and copied. So, as with any text transmitted by hand, these writings have been subject to the vicissitudes of that historical process, and, therefore, textual criticism of these texts is essential to try to establish the most reliable form/wording of them. A vast amount of scholarly effort over a few centuries now has been given to setting these texts in their historical context, and to tracing how they have been transmitted through to the invention of the printing press.

But an equivalent scholarly effort to trace the origins and transmission of the Qur’an is still, by comparison, in its infancy. And a good part of the reason for this is deep opposition from Muslims who regard any such critical inquiry to be . . . well, almost blasphemous. So, it’s hardly a level playing field when Muslim and Christian apologists engage matters. Muslim apologists are impressively keen to follow critical investigation of the biblical texts such as the Gospels, but (as I know from personal experience) are reluctant to engage in, or even allow, such critical inquiry about the Qur’an. Indeed, I was told years ago by a Western scholar of Islam that one just didn’t explore certain questions, particularly about the textual transmission of the Qur’an.

Even the historical processes involved in the transmission of the Qur’an and the Gospels differ. From a very early point, Muslim rulers (such as Caliph Uthman in the late seventh century) took an interest in establishing a stable Qur’anic text, as part of their aim to standardize Islam, and consolidate their rule. But early Christian rulers such as Constantine showed no equivalent effort. Again, the reason partly lies in the different views of the respective sacred texts. And also, of course, from practically the outset, Islam was wedded to political regimes, where for the first three centuries the Christian movement was not.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Romping Around in Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics

It behooves anyone wishing to think well to consult chiefly with the most original and influential voices. Aristotle is one of these. Though he lived centuries before the codex, beforen the crucifixion, before Caesar’s crossing, his work was foundational for shaping the Greek mind. He got in early. But he wasn’t just lucky, he was also a polymath—a man whose questions were too loud and of too great a variety for him to ignore. And it did not hurt that he came from money.

The ancient world was as interested in self-help and success as we are today. So it is no surprise that Aristotle wrote three works on ethics, which for him meant not how to live but what is the best way of living. The most influential of these is called the Nicomachean Ethics (hereafter, the Ethics). Since its publication sometime after 335 BC, it has been loved, hated, reviled, annotated, misappropriated, memorized, cut-and-pasted, highlighted, sold, resold, reprinted, retranslated, shipped, and, yes, slowly and silently, in shops and on planes and on boats and in libraries, dorm rooms and kitchens and bedrooms (and bathrooms aplenty) it has been read. And it should be read.

The big ideas of the Ethics are the mean, friendship, and the happy life. But those all presume a certain kind of person. The Ethics requires its protagonist to be a certain kind of human being whom Aristotle calls a good person, e. g. “the good man’s view is the true one.” A good person acts well for the sake of good acting. Such goodness is not necessarily moral, as we understand that word today. Think, rather, rightness or fitness, as in the right thing done or said at the right time. A good person reads the room and considers what they do or say. And, more broadly, a good person knows their place on earth and under heaven. Happiness or εὐδαιμονία is the result, a well-ordered life lived well.

“We ought, so far as in us lies, to put on immortality and do all we can to live in conformity with the highest that is in us; for even if it is small in bulk, in power, and in preciousness, it far excels all the rest. Indeed, it would seem that this is the true self of the individual, since it is the authoritative and better part of him; so it would be an odd thing if a man chose to live someone else’s life instead of his own.” (1178a)

Simply knowing the what of a thing or the how to of a thing is not enough. Technique and technology cannot deliver the happy life any more than an answer, no matter how correct, truly comprehends its question. Act without understanding is the way of the sophist. Aristotle says, “We do not find people becoming qualified in medicine by reading handbooks.” One must live their life. One must enter in to it, in all its complexity, and by effort and action; by dialog, education, and contemplation; by love, friendship, and association, and with a bit of luck and talent, one discovers what it is to be a human being. No shortcuts.

Now, what is life without friendship? Thus, Aristotle’s chapters nine and ten on the kinds and grounds of friendship have forever been beloved. “Nobody would choose to live without friends even if he had all the other good things,” he says. For “friends are a help both to the young, in keeping them from mistakes, and to the old, in caring for them and doing for them what through frailty they cannot do for themselves; and to those in the prime of life, by enabling them to carry out fine achievements. Between friends there is no need for justice. [So, then,] good men and friends are the same.” (1155a)

It is worth noting that Aristotle encompasses in the word friendship much more than we do today. For us, friendship is an affection between people who are otherwise unrelated. Married people will sometimes call their partner their best friend, true. But we would not call business relationships, local governance, or the bond between parent and child friendship. Aristotle’s friendship has the generality of friendliness without the superficiality of a greeting on the street. It is stronger stuff. It is the “bond that holds communities together.” Nevertheless, Aristotle begins to divide friendship into types almost immediately. What at first he lathered indiscriminately becomes a sorting of the most discriminate sort.



Quotations from Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. trans. J. A. K. Thomson. Introduction by Jonathan Barnes. New York: NY. Penguin Classics. 2004.

Working Outline of this Post for Use and (later) Deletion

We should read good things, and Aristotle is one of those.
Aristotle wrote on Ethics.
It is going to help us out.

Presumption of a Good Character
The happy life
Friendship and Politics "Right virtues without right social practice is meaningless."
The Mean

Can we be good without others?