I am a part of all that I have met; Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world, whose margin fades For ever and for ever when I move.

Month: March 2013

Introduction to Christianity

It will of course appear that I’m merely following trends by writing about Introduction to Christianity by Joseph Ratzinger. In fact I read the book just before the New Year, but work has been busy so I have not had a chance to put my thoughts into writing. Meanwhile I have read one other book that deserves careful reflection, with the result that I’m not sure how much more I will write about this one.

It’s an excellent book. Written in 1969, it reads as if it were a retrospective synopsis of major ideas in 20th century theology and biblical studies. I would estimate that about two thirds of the allusions were familiar to me by name (though not by having read the books in question, unfortunately!).

One doesn’t generally look to theological works for humor, but I might have expected it from Ratzinger, who’s opening one-liner from World Youth Day 2005 stuck in my mind (evidently for seven and a half years) after I read it on the BBC:

Permit me to remain seated after such a strenuous day. This does not mean I wish to speak ex cathedra.

Two passages in this book, made me laugh. In pages 157-159, Ratzinger skewers the historical Jesus crowd pretty nicely. He gives a summary of their “reconstruction” of Christ’s ministry, and says:

Let us not pause to wonder how such an empty message, which is alleged to reflect a better understanding of Jesus than he had himself, could have ever meant anything to anybody.

And later on within the same passage:

To anyone accustomed to think historically the whole theory is absurd, even if today hordes of people believe it; for my part I must confess that, quite apart from the Christian faith and simply from my acquaintance with history, I find it preferable and easier to believe that God became man than that such conglomeration of hypotheses represents the truth.

And another gem from page 209:

But what is one to say when such a meritorious researcher as E. Schweizer expresses himself on our question in the following terms: ‘Since Luke is not interested in the biological question, he does not cross the frontier to a metaphysical understanding either.’ Pretty well everything about this statement is false. The most staggering thing about it is the quiet way in which biology and metaphysics are equated.

Stopping here does not mean that I wish to convey that the primary focus of the book was comedic. There is a great deal of theological and pastoral value, and I hope that further excerpts will be forthcoming.

Among an alien people

We recently had a vacation in India. As is our custom, we did a lot of sightseeing, and saw the remains of many empires. In India we saw a lot of Mughal architecture, and also stuff in Jaipur and Udaipur which belonged to the maharajas of the Indian princely states, which in that case were independent up to the time of union. I always imagine myself back in those times, thinking about what it would be like to be either an emperor or a peon. I was convicted by the extent to which my attitude toward the ruling authority was a reflection on how I felt about their architecture. I was much more sympathetic to the Mughals than to the maharajas, though I couldn’t tell you one thing about the relative merits of their governance and administration of justice.

Mikhail Mikhailovich Dostoevsky

Joseph Frank’s five volume biography of Dostoevsky has been condensed to a single volume of about a thousand pages, available as a Kindle book, so I jumped at the chance.

I have just finished the second part of the book (i.e., corresponding to the second volume of the series), and my most potent impression so far is of Mikhail Mikhailovich Dostoevsky. Mikhail was Feodor’s older brother. Much of the material in the books consists of letters that Feodor wrote to Mikhail.

The universal impression of the letters is that Feodor is constantly requesting money, overestimating his own potential, deluded with the possibilities of future success, nagging and angling for every conceivable advantage, and, in short, being a perfectly terrible person. Mikhail comes across as a very patient person but not a very wise person, consistently supplying Feodor with money from his small cigarette manufacturing business, one assumes to the detriment of his own family, and certainly to the detriment of his own finances.

And yet, it’s Feodor Mikhailovich Doestoevsky. In 1859, my honest judgement would have been that Mikhail was pouring his money into a hole, supporting his loser brother when he should have cut him off to fend for himself. But my 2013 is that Mikhail was supporting Feodor Mikhailovich Doestoevsky. Totally worth it! How many people can been said to have done something so significant with their lives and finances?

Whom have I supported lately?

A recent reflection

I had a long disagreement with a nominalist the other day. In the end we decided we were talking about the same thing, but using different terms.

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