Adam, Eve, Aristotle, Music in the city, Benedict XVI

Sunday Sermons . . .

. . . and Weekday Observations

First Sunday of Lent, A-cycle:

A story of ingratitude: Adam and Eve had everything, under one condition — enjoy your garden except for that tree. Along came a talking serpent who persuaded them to violate the condition, or persuaded Eve, who found Adam an easy mark, her co-conspirator in the betrayal of the whole human race.

They did not know how good they had it, were insufficiently grateful for their situation. She and he listened to the con man singing a siren song and lost everything. Men have jumped off buildings for lesser catastrophes.

But the Supreme Giver, fully entitled to keep his angry word, backed off. The serpent would be thwarted. Good times would return. He would not forever be angry, which is where Jesus would come in, as Paul elucidates . . .

* [Bonus sermon:] Fourth Sunday in ordinary time, per Roman Catholic practice, but 4th after Epiphany per Episcopal Church U.S. practice, which I prefer.

It’s same text, however, gospel being sermon on mount, about lowly inheriting the land, etc., and other readings about the lowly having nothing to be ashamed of, in Zephaniah and 1 Corinthians.  This resurrection of the lowly from insignificance touched with obloquy is crucial to the Judaeo-Christian message.

Apply it geopolitically at your peril, however, keeping Antonio’s comment in The Merchant of Venice about the devil quoting Scripture for his purpose.  Nonetheless, it is in such Bible passages as these that Judaism and Christianity laid the groundwork for favoring or at least treating kindly the loser.

Liberation theology veered too closely to Marxism, said popes and others and “preference for the poor” might have meant preference for state action over private enterprise — Dorothy Day wryly cited devotion to “holy mother the state.”  But down deep we have conscience in the matter: Losers matter.

Weekdays:

* George Orwell had the young Graham Greene pegged as an adherent of the “soft left.”

* Aristotle the philosopher has drawn attention away from Aristotle the biologist, who described “birds, bees, and torpedo fish” based on “caefully sifted accounts” of travellers and fishermen.  To Charles Darwin, an inveterate sifter and describer, he was “old Aristotle,” who paved the way for Darwin’s “two gods,” Linnaeus and Cuvier, whom he considered “mere schoolboys” in comparison.

Top Soviet genetics researchers were imprisoned or poisoned.  Some of today’s researchers worry about pain inflicted on Zebrafish in experiments but console (excuse) themselves in that z-fish eat one another.  “Do unto others as they do unto themselves?” asks the reviewer, who was feeling neither their nor the Zebrafish’s pain.

He is John North, author of such studies as God’s Clockmaker: Richard Wallingford and the Invention of Time, reviewing Jim Endersby’s A Guinea Pig’s History of Biology: the Plants and Animals Who Taught Us the Facts of Life in Times Literary Supplement, 1/25/08.

Noting that Endersby wouldn’t eat genetically modified (GM) crops even though he considered them not harmful, because biotech companies do not have “society’s best interests nor the environent at heart” (North’s words), North adds, “This sounds rather like another inversion, that of the story of the Garden of Eden,” which for present purposes I will take as cold ingratitude towards God’s gifts even when modified by fellow human beings, though I can’t be sure North means it that way.

Finally, North notes the misquoting of Occam’s principle (his “razor”) and misspelling of his name — as “Ockham,” on more than 14,200 websites.  “We all know that the species Copy Editor is going the way of the dodo,” says North, adding, “May we hope for a genetically engineered substitute?”  To which I add, Hope all you want, you dodo, it ain’t gonna happen.

* Chicago being quite a university center, it should be no surprise to find riches such as were displayed Saturday night 2/2 at DePaul’s concert hall on Belden Avenue — a chapel converted from long-gone McCormick seminary days Presbyterianism.  There you found or would have found and heard the “opening gala” performance of a month-long “Hommage a Ravel,” DePaul Symphony Orchestra front and center, Cliff Colnot conducting and Eteri Andjaparidze at the piano for Ravel’s Concerto in G Major.  It was the middle of three pieces, sandwiched between R’s “pavane for a dead princess” and his “Daphnis et Chloe, Suite No. 2.”

It is not praise from Caesar when I say it was good, I being one who lacks cachet in such matters.  But I tell you, it was a joy to sit in that converted place of worship and let such glorious sounds wash over one.  Its charms soothe even such a savage breast as my own.  And free of charge.  See here for coming events, including weekly Ravel excursions, Thursdays at 8, in February, except for the last at 5:30 in the next-door recital hall.

* Benedict XVI-slash-Joseph Ratzinger is a theologian but also a “referee” since he became Defense of Faith prefect some years back and more so now he’s pope.  In Jesus of Nazareth (Doubleday), however, he’s again a theologian, a “player” as reviewer Peter Cornwell, says in a TLS review 1/25/08.  Cornwell, “attached priest” at St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic church, Bath and formerly vicar of (Church of England) University Church of St. Mary the Virgin at Oxford,  finds much in this book to feed “heart and mind . . . prayer and preaching.”

In it Benedict/Ratzinger seeks to demonstrate the historical Jesus as identical with the Jesus of faith, not a “Hellenized” personality, a product of early-church philosophizing.  He seeks this furthermore not by jettisoning the historical-critical method of contemporary exegesis, which he calls “indispensable.”  Cornwell finds the book technical but not indecipherable by the lay reader.

But B/R delivers swipes along the way at “liberal scholarship” that are more befitting his referee status, says Cornwell, delivering “papal lamentations [rather than] calm scholarly judgments.”  For example, the villainous servants of the vineyard parable become at B/R’s hands — “a remarkable interpretation” — not religious leaders but “this modern age.”  The official church goes free of blame.

“Woes” pronounced against clergy who ask too much of their people are ignored by B/R.  So is the cleansing of the Temple.  The Holy Spirit loses the wind-like quality of blowing where it wills and becomes instead the soul of God’s church, which becomes a sort of ecclesiastical Holiday Inn, free of and immune from surprises.

* For Gerald O’Collins, SJ, on the other hand, love is the answer.  His quest is Jesus the Redeemer (Oxford paperback), the love of God made flesh in Jesus of Nazareth and in those inspired by it.  This is the way it’s supposed to be, says O’Collins. (and Cornwell the reviewer), as opposed to making “hard theories” of “great biblical images,” as Mel Gibson did in “The Passion of the Christ,” with its emphasis on the quantity and severity of Christ’s suffering rather than on the quality of his mercy.

Neither was Jesus a Sidney Carton at the guillotine, doing a “far, far better thing” as substitute for the guilty one.  There is no justice in such “penal substitution,” argues O’Collins, who recognizes no “dominating theory” of redemption but rather a “mosaic” in which might be seen Jesus the savior.  Look, he says, beyond theology to art and literature, including a film which he thinks does Jesus justice, Pasolini’s “The Gospel according to St. Matthew.”

By such art, O’Collins says in a phrase that a genetically modified copy editor might flag for English-language usage, we “encounter everywhere the Holy Spirit active to relate ‘the whole of humanity to Christ.’” Breathes there a Christian with half a heart who can say nay to that sweeping sentiment?  Indeed, if enthusiasm be at issue, we are to engage in “the human struggle for a better society [and not run] away from political responsibility.”

This book has “a good word” for “unfashionable Catholics, including liberation theologians and the ebullient Frenchman Teilhard de Chardin,” and Cornwell welcomes that.  In addition, O’Collins shows a “robust earthiness,” locating “ecology in the map of salvation,” but with an eye to the after life and “resurrection of the body.”  He touches the bases, to be sure.

“No earthly utopia” is proclaimed in this book, however, nor “neglect of . . . Church and sacraments,” says Cornwell.  Rather, he adds, God’s “saving activity [is] everywhere.”  Thus, says O’Collins, into the whole world is inserted the “saving event of Christ,” who as redeemer embraces “the joy and the hope, the grief and anguish” of what Cornwell calls “a battered world.”

This veers dangerously close to boilerplate goo-gooism, even with utopia-rejection.  Don’t judge a book by its review, but this one sounds like bad poetry.

(More like this at Blithe Spirit, Commentary and Home for Unpremeditated Art)