March 03, 2004
Upon whose authority

Sorry I kind of blew up in the previous thread. As you might have surmised, I have personal issues connected with this. That's the trouble -- everybody has personal issues connected with this. But the subsequent comments and emails reminded me of the general coolness of my readership, so don't think that I don't appreciate you all.

Like I said, I'm going to give the whole subject of the theology of the flesh a break, but here are some interesting links for further reading:

Celibacy in Context, by a Byzantine monk

On the Virtue of Chastity, by blogger Jcecil3

Theology of the Body, a summary of the current Pope's teaching on the subject (the extended version is also on the site, if you're really feeling ambitious)

Augustine on Marriage, Monasticism and the Community of the Church, by a Dutch theology professor

Martin Luther on Family Life, via Lynn some time ago

Suffice to say that while the gay-marriage question is new, this general conversation has been going on for a long, long time in the churches. Hardly anyone since the 2nd century has actually promoted dualism, however (maybe the Christian Scientists, but I don't know much about them).

I also wanted to make one other point, not about flesh but about my use of Paul. He received quite a thrashing at the hands of some commenters here. I'm not an unqualified Paul fan myself, and I do think he should be read with his historical context and specific audiences in mind.

However, I can't go along with the interpretive strategy that a lot of people seem to take with him, which is to compare what he says with what Jesus said and toss whatever seems to contradict. I can understand the thinking behind that, because certainly you'd want to take words from the mouth of God over the opinions of some guy. However, the Gospels are not words from the mouth of God, not directly anyway. As I (and several other people) said when I was blogging Mark, the Gospels were writings by early church figures to explain what their faith was about. Which is, in fact, also what Paul's epistles are. The Gospels and the epistles came from the same church at about the same time; one Gospel writer, Luke, was a friend of Paul's who wrote sympathetically about him in Acts. So even though Paul did not personally know Jesus, he knew a hell of a lot more about him than anyone in the 21st century can claim to know.

Moreover, when the church compiled the Bible about 100 years later, it selected those Gospels and those epistles for its time-capsule to future generations about its faith. Whatever discrepancies there were between them, they didn't see as important enough to matter. And, significantly, they didn't see the Gospels alone as telling you all you needed to know about following Jesus; some theological meat was needed on the Gospels' bare bones. So while I don't swallow whole everything Paul says, I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. If something he says seems to contradict Jesus, I'll consider the possibility that my perspective just makes it look like a contradiction.

I know this deference to early church authority doesn't sit well with many Protestants. In fact, you run into a lot of people who say things like, "I don't follow any earthly authority, I just follow Jesus." But whether you're a Catholic, Protestant, Gnostic or whatever, it is only through accepting some earthly authority that you know anything about Jesus. And Jesus seems to have meant it that way. If he only wanted people to take it directly from him he would never have ascended, or at least he would have made like Yahweh on Mt. Sinai and written his own material.

Martin Luther knew that, which is why his promotion of "individual conscience" in studying Scripture was never meant to strip the church of its responsibility to teach. For all Christians, there's a delicate balancing act between listening to authorities, using one's reasoning and hearing whatever the Spirit might say to oneself. I do not pretend to have the perfect formula for that. But I do think my acceptance of Paul is defensible for that reason, however easy it is to get cynical about him.

Posted by Camassia at March 03, 2004 07:00 PM | TrackBack

Well said, consistent with everything you've said in the past and entirely coherent with itself, Camassia.

Some of us risk running off down the road with a Thomas Merton or a Henri Nouwen, who, while dedicated servants of our Lord, probably, like Paul, and John Mark, and Luke, and others, didn't have it all down exactly correctly, either.

I remember discovering that the Hebrew Bible had perpetuated "Red Sea" instead of the correct "Sea of Reeds" for millenia. And when I now read about all the travails that Moses had running that far south to cross the Red Sea, it's almost funny how men can create stories to go around mistranslations -- and have them make sense! And then discovering the two stories of creation in Genesis, and the two flood stories, and the several different accounts of how Goliath got his. Those all make your point.

And just today, I read about a lay preacher who was preaching about an "austere man" but read and preached on it as an "oyster man." He converted twelve that day!

I all *does* work to His ends, doesn't it?

I pray that God will continue blessing your search.

Posted by: GG on March 3, 2004 07:22 PM
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