The Secular Utility of the Cloistered Contemplative

What are monks good for, anyway? Why do we allocate scarce resources to their activities of prayer, liturgy, and the odd bit of gardening, or apiculture, or brewing?

We could ask the same question about priests, and about church buildings. Sure, they do lots of good and valuable work – teaching, nursing, and so forth – but their strictly religious activities would seem to be a complete waste.

But not so. People do better – are braver, more resilient, and happier in the face of life’s ineliminable vicissitudes both small and great – when they can see that their personal struggles signify in the larger struggle of good with evil for the redemption of the whole world. They do better when they can see how their small efforts to be good contribute weal to the side of the angels in the Wars of Heaven. If earthly life is throughly pointed toward some utterly transcendent and wonderful Good, then it can all be worthwhile. Otherwise, it just can’t, and is utterly vain and meaningless, so that despair is the  only apposite response to life’s utter futility.

As for people, so for their families, their enterprises of all sorts, their tribes and nations. If these are formed by a shared understanding of their important roles in the wider struggle of God with his enemies, they are more likely to prosper and prevail. Otherwise, they are more likely to dwindle and fail. The demographic collapse of our merely secular society – more and more obviously nihilist – shows how irreligion plays out.

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The Ultimate Integration

God is Omega in that all things achieve their final integration in him, and by him – not just at the eschaton, but always. It is by virtue of this integration that creaturely events are in the first place coordinated so as to form any coherent world. Thus the integration of the Omega is the forecondition of Creation. That’s why Omega is coterminous with Alpha.

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Creatura : Creator :: Map : Territory

According to the invaluable Online Etymology Dictionary, the English word “map” is derived from:

… Medieval Latin mappa mundi “map of the world;” first element from Latin mappa “napkin, cloth” (on which maps were drawn), “tablecloth, signal-cloth, flag,” said by Quintilian to be of Punic [i.e., Tyrian] origin (compare Talmudic Hebrew mappa, contraction of Mishnaic menaphah “a fluttering banner, streaming cloth”) + Latin mundi “of the world,” from mundus “universe, world” (see mundane).

Now this is interesting, because while the Old Testament refers to the firmament of the cosmos with the word raqiaà, meaning literally “extent” – apparently a merely abstract geometrical idea – it is described variously in scripture as like a crystalline tent or canopy (Isaiah 40:22, Ezekiel 1:22), or a scroll (Isaiah 34:4; Revelation 6:14). I.e., an expanse of fabric such as are used as a substrate for maps.

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Keepers of Our Elder Brothers

Is it fair to characterize the Jews of today as the elder brothers of the Christians, as recent Papal dicta would suggest? The question arose in the commentary on Bonald’s recent post on Judeo-Islamic universalism. I hadn’t ever considered it one way or another, but the comments got me wondering. I still don’t think that the answer matters much (although I may of course be missing something), but as so often happens once one begins to think a little about a little thing, one discovers all sorts of connections.

What follows began as a quick comment in that thread, which grew in the writing as unsuspected and fruitful associations revealed themselves. It came to me first as a single sentence, almost the moment I asked myself the question, “Are the Jews our elder brothers, after all?” It had always seemed to me that they are – which was why I had never thought about it.

The answer: “Yes, certainly: the Jews are elder brothers to us, just as the elder brothers of Joseph were to him.”

Now, when it first bubbled up to the surface, this statement seemed to come out of nowhere, completely unsupported. It rang true, but for reasons I could not begin to see. So I began to ruminate upon it, in the process gradually discovering why the thought had arrived.

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The Name of the Word

In the comments on my post about the epithet Jesus so often used to refer to himself, Son of Man, some readers expressed surprise and concern at the notion to which I there referred in passing that God the Son, YHWH, was to be distinguished from God the Father, El Elyon, God Most High, Deus in excelsis. I noted that their difference is not of being, but of person: thus a reference to any Person of God would be a reference to God.

Readers worried nonetheless that the differentiation might be an innovation of recent liberal scholars of the Bible – of, that is to say, latter-day Gnostics – or even of mine. It is not. On the contrary, it has been with us from the very beginning, not just of the Church, but of Israel.

By coincidence, I last night came across a passage from one of the Fathers of the Church, St. Irenaeus of Lyons, that substantiates this claim. In explaining why the early Church differentiated between YHWH and El Elyon, and providing the Scriptural basis for the notion, he shows that it was considered orthodox by the bishops of the first centuries of the Church.

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Son of Man

Jesus refers to himself often as the Son of Man (using the definite article). This title had always confused me. I thought that what distinguishes him from me and you – each of us likewise a child of men (note the indefinite article) – is that he is the son of God, and that this unique status formed the basis on which his ministry, his crucifixion, his Atonement for our sins, and so our redemption and salvation, all rested.

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The Liberal Ratchet & the Insatiable Maw of Moloch

The sacrificial victim consecrated to the god of any cult must always be pure, clean, unblemished, the first, best fruits of the harvest. Nothing less will do; anything less would be unworthy, an insult. This is why the firstborn was sacrificed, or the king, or children, or virgins, or captured enemy soldiers who, like an innocent animal, were not sullied by any of the sins of their captors.

In ancient Judah, two goats were needed for the most important sacrifice of the year, on the Day of Atonement, because one of them had to take all the sins of the people to itself and be driven out of the City – this was the scapegoat – to cleanse the City and her people in preparation for the rite, so as to prevent any pollution of the sacrifice of the other pure and unblemished goat. As the goat sacrificed to YHWH had to be ritually clean, so did all the ministers of the sacrifice: the people themselves, the priests, and the High Priest. So before the sacrifice of the goat to YHWH, the sins of the people had to be laid upon the scapegoat, and he driven beyond the firmament of the City’s pale to the desert waste where demons had sway over chaos and desolation. In practice, the scapegoat was driven over a cliff of Mount Azazel, the high place in the Judean desert that was the house and temple of the demon Azazel and his coterie (as Olympos was the mountain house of Zeus, and Zion the mountain house of Melchizedek, the Mighty Righteous – YHWH).[1]

The scapegoat was a sacrifice “for Azazel.” If the scapegoat had not assumed the sins of the people, then they themselves would have been “for Azazel” – for, no man can serve two masters. The ritually impure are doomed to be given to Azazel at the Last Judgement. These are they who have not by then been washed of their sins in the blood of the Lamb.

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A Girardian Commentary on John the Baptist

For those who take an interest, Angel Millar has published my essay on Gustave Flaubert’s “Herodias,” a tale of John the Baptist, and one of the Three Tales (1877), at his People of Shambhala website.  We think of Flaubert as the consummate social novelist (Madame Bovary [1856] and A Sentimental Education [1869]), but he was also, despite not being much of a believer, a powerful religious thinker (Salammbo [1862] and The Temptation of Saint Anthony [1874]).

The essay is also a meditation on the function of the Holy Spirit.  Here is the link: http://peopleofshambhala.com/herodias-of-flaubert/

The essay explores additional themes such as the relation of mimesis and crisis and the relation of text and conscience.

Theosis

What is it like to live the life everlasting that is promised to Christians? The question has arisen in the last few days both over at View from the Right, where Lawrence Auster is contemplating his own incipient death with awesome magnanimity and serenity, and at Charlton’s Miscellany. Both Charlton and Auster make important points. I had reactions to both posts, so I figure it makes most sense to consolidate them here.

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