Archive for April, 2012


Reading Selection From Charles Peguy’s The Portal of the Mystery of Hope

April 30, 2012

“As a literature teacher, I’m marking the Easter season in one way I know how: assigning books that are suited to the season. This week we’re reading that lyrical, enormously uplifting work of Charles Péguy, The Portal of the Mystery of Hope. A gifted poet, Péguy lived among the poor, defended the innocent Dreyfus, embraced and then saw through socialism, and finally was led by his love for St. Joan of Arc to renew his childhood faith before he died in one of the very first battles of World War I. But in his 40 years he penned some of the greatest Catholic books of the 20th century, and this is one of them. It focuses on what Péguy calls the most neglected theological virtue: “the little girl, Hope.” His earthy, mystical lyrics depict Hope as a playful, energetic, eight- or nine-year-old child, beside whom Faith and Charity are weary middle-aged moms, who draw the energy to keep on moving from the innocent glee of the girl who tugs them forward by the hand.”
John Zmirak in Crisis Magazine

“Péguy, who was certainly not a theologian given to compartmentalizing, had brought his insights, once achieved, to completion in a breakthrough to a comprehensive theology of hope — by means of patient contemplation of the one reality that is at once natural and supernatural, by an unceasing process of approfondissement and assimilation. And this theology of hope makes its presence felt today, gently but irresistibly, by a structural shift in the whole theological edifice…

So the whole of Péguy’s art and theology flow more and more towards prayer without one ever being able to say precisely whether this prayer is dialogue or a monologue on God’s part. It is a dialogue with God but one which is constantly developing into a monologue of God the Father, addressed without distinction to his Son, to the men he has created and to himself. It is a form of “theology as Trinitarian conversation,” never realized prior to Péguy, which could only be risked by a poet using a simple and popular style of utterance that avoids any show of sublimity and yet does not for a moment degenerate into “mateyness” and false familiarity. Only faith in the Holy Spirit can allow God to speak in such a way.”
 Hans Urs von Balthasar


Look at the little one, says God, how she marches.
She would skip rope in the procession
She marches, she moves ahead by skipping a rope, for a bet.
She’s so happy
(Alone among them all)
And she’s so sure that she’ll never get tired.

Children walk exactly like little puppies.
(Moreover, they play like puppies too)
When a puppy goes for a walk with his masters
He comes and he goes. He comes back, he leaves again. He goes ahead, he returns.
He makes the trip twenty times.
Covers twenty times the distance.
It’s because as a matter of fact he’s not going somewhere.
His masters are the ones who are going somewhere.
He’s not going anywhere at all.

What he’s interested in is precisely making the trip.
Likewise with children.
When you make a trip with your children,
When you run an errand
Or when you go to Mass or to Vespers with your children,
Or to say the rosary
Or between Mass and Vespers when you take a walk with your children.
They trot along in front of you like little puppies.
They run ahead, they lag behind.
They come and they go. They play around.
They jump, They make the trip twenty times.
It’s because as a matter of fact they’re not going somewhere.
They’re not interested in going somewhere.
They’re not going anywhere at all.

The grown-ups are the ones who are going somewhere
The grown-ups, Faith, Charity.
The parents are the ones who are going somewhere.
To Mass, to Vespers, to say the rosary.
To the river, to the forest.
To the fields, to the woods, to work.
Who do their best, who strain themselves in order to get somewhere
Or even to go somewhere to go for a walk.

But the children are only interested in making the trip.
To come and to go and to jump. To wear out the road with their legs
Never to have enough of it. And to feel their legs growing.
They drink up the road. They thirst for the road. They never have enough of it
They’re stronger than the road. They’re stronger than fatigue.
They never have enough of it (just like hope). They run faster than the road.
They don’t go, they don’t run in order to get there. They get there in order to run. They get there in order to go. Just like hope. They don’t spare their steps. The idea doesn’t even occur to them
To spare anything at all.

It’s the grown-ups who are sparing as they’re forced to be. But the child Hope
Never spares anything
It’s the parents who are sparing. Unhappy virtue, alas, that they should have to make a virtue of it.
They’re forced to. As strong as my daughter Faith is,
Solid as a rock, she’s forced to be sparing.
As ardent as my daughter Charity is,
Burning like a fine wood fire
That warms the poor man by the fireplace
The poor man and the child and the starving man,
She’s forced to be sparing.
Only the child Hope
Is she alone who never spares anything.

She doesn’t spare her steps, the little devil, she doesn’t spare ours.
Just as she doesn’t spare the flowers and the leaves in the grand Processions,
And the roses of France and the beautiful Lilies of France
With the undrooping collars,
So in the little, in the long procession, in the hard procession of life she doesn’t spare anything
Neither her steps nor ours.
In the ordinary, in the gray, in the common procession
(Because it’s not every day that you have Corpus Christi.)

She doesn’t spare her steps, and since she treats us like herself
 She doesn’t spare ours either.
She doesn’t spare herself; and likewise, she doesn’t spare others either.
She makes us start the same thing over twenty times.
She makes us return twenty times to the same place.
Which is generally a place of disappointment
(Earthly disappointment.)

It doesn’t matter to her. She’s like a child. She is a child.
It doesn’t matter to her to take the grown-ups for a ride.”
Earthly wisdom is none of her business.
She doesn’t calculate like we do.
She calculates, or rather she doesn’t calculate, she counts (without noticing) like a child.
Like someone who has her whole life in front of her.

It doesn’t matter to her to take us for a ride.
She believes, she expects us to be like her.
She doesn’t spare our sufferings. And our trials. She thinks
That we have our whole lives ahead of us.
How she deceives herself. How right she is
For don’t we indeed have our whole Life ahead of us.
The only one that matters. Our whole Eternal life.

And doesn’t the old man have as much life ahead of him as the baby in tin’ crib.
If not more. Because for the baby in the crib the eternal Life,
The only one that matters, is hidden by this miserable life
That he has in front of him. First. It’s in front. By this miserable life on earth.
He has to endure, he has to go through this whole miserable life on earth
Before he can get to, before he can reach, before he can attain the Life
Which is the only life that matters. The old man is lucky.
He has wisely left behind this miserable life
Which had hidden the eternal Life from him
And now he is free. He has put behind him what was before.

He sees clearly. He’s full of life. There’s no longer anything between him and life.
He’s standing on the edge of the light.
He’s on the shore itself. He’s at the limit. He’s on the brink of etenial life.
We are right in saying that old men are wise.
Just as the child is right to think
That we are like her.
That we have our whole life ahead of us.
That we have it as much as she does. That it matters for her
To make us make the trip twenty times.
She’s right. What matters
(And to make us return twenty times to the same place
Which is generally a place of disappointment
Of earthly disappointment) what matters
Is not to go here or there, is not to go someplace
To arrive someplace
Some earthly place.

What matters is to go, always to go, and (on the contrary) not to arrive.
What matters is to go simply in the simple procession of ordinary days,
The great procession toward salvation. The days pass in procession
And we pass in procession through the days. What’s important
Is the going. To keep going. That’s what matters. And how you go.
It’s the road you travel. It’s the traveling itself.
And how you do it.

You make twenty times the same trip on earth.
To come to an end twenty times.
And twenty times you end up, you come to, you attain
With difficulty, with much effort, with much straining,
The point of disappointment.
Of earthly disappointment.

And you say: This little Hope has tricked me again.
I never should’ve trusted her. It’s the twentieth time that she’s tricked me.
Earthly wisdom is not her strong point.
I will never believe her again. (You will believe her again, you will always believe her).
I’ll never get taken in again. — Fools that you are.
What does it matter the place you wanted to go to.
Where you thought you were going.

Come on now; you’re not children, you know perfectly well
That the place you were going to would be a disappointment.
An Earthly disappointment. It was already disappointing beforehand. So why did you want to go there. Because you understand very well the game of this little Hope.

Why do you always follow this child of disappointment.
Why do you get yourself involved in this little one’s game.
All the time, and the twentieth time more firstly than the first.
Why do you go along of your own accord.
All the time, and the twentieth time more readily than the first.

It’s because in your heart you know very well what she is.
And what she does. And that she fools us.
Twenty times.
Because she is the only one who does not fool us.
And does not disappoint us

Twenty times
All through life
Because she is the only one who does not disappoint us
For Life.

And it’s thus that she is the only one who does not disappoint us. Because those twenty times that she makes us take the same trip
On earth, according to human wisdom, those are twenty times of increasing difficulty
Of repetition, of the same thing
Twenty times in vain, right on top of each other
Because they all went by the same road
To the same place, because it was the same route.

But for God’s wisdom
Nothing is ever nothing. All is new. All is other.
All is different.
In God’s sight nothing repeats itself.
Those twenty times that she made us take the same trip to get to the same point
Of futility

From the human perspective it’s the same point, the same trip, the same twenty times.
But that’s the deception.
That’s the false calculation and the false reckoning.
Being the human reckoning.

And this is why it doesn’t disappoint: Those twenty times are not the same. If those twenty times are twenty times of trial(s) and if the route is a path to sanctity
Then along the same path the second time doubles the first
And the third time triples it and the twentieth time multiplies it twenty fold.
What does it matter to arrive here or there, and always at the same place
Which is a place of (earthly) disappointment.
What matters is the path, and which path you take, and what you do on it
How you take it.
It’s the trip alone that matters.

If the path is a path to sanctity
In God’s sight, a path of trials
He who takes it twice is twice as holy
In God’s sight, and he who takes it three times
Is three times as holy, and he who takes it
Twenty times, twenty times more holy. That’s how God reckons.
That’s how God sees things.

The same path is not the same the second time around.
Every day you say, all your days are alike
On earth all days are the same.
Departing from the same mornings they convey you to the same evenings.
But they do not lead you to the same eternal evenings.
Every day, you say, looks the same — Yes, every earthly day.
But have no fear, my children, they do not at all look like
The last day, which is different from every other.

Every day, you say, repeats itself. — No, they are added
To the eternal treasury of days.
The bread of each day to that of the day before.
The suffering of each day
(Even though it repeats the suffering of the day before)
Is added to the eternal treasury of sorrows

The prayer of each day
(Even though it repeats the prayer of the day before)
Is added to the eternal treasury of prayers. of each day
(Even though it repeats the merit of the day before)
Is added to the eternal treasury of merits.
On earth everything repeats itself. In the same matter.
But in heaven everything counts
And everything increases. The grace of each day
(Even though it repeats the grace of the day before)
Is added to the eternal treasury of graces. And it’s for this that the young

Alone doesn’t spare anything.


The Lie With The Ring Of Truth – R.R. Reno

April 27, 2012

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Genesis 3.4-5

Did God say … ?
The subtle serpent creates a disorienting atmosphere of uncertain questions. Is it “this tree” or “any tree” that God has fenced with a commandment not to eat of its fruit? What did God actually command? And why? What are the real consequences of transgression? The ambiguity is crucial. As the self-defeating perversion of goodness, sin is ugly and repulsive. Transgression can only allure in a world of distortion and dreamlike fantasy, where what is real becomes malleable, capable of seeming to be what it is not. The robbery won’t require any killing, the thief imagines. The one-night stand won’t lead to any bad feelings. The lie is for the best.

Our lives are full of gauzy pictures that our imaginations conjure in order to make the ugliness of sin look more appealing. This is why deception and the lie loom so large in Christian thought about Satan. We can consistently desire what is bad when we imagine that it will add up to something good, a mental open t it wi s only possible if we are deceived about reality. As Gregory of Nyssa writes, “Good is in its nature simple and uniform, alien from all duplicity or conjunction with its opposite, while evil is many-colored and fairly adorned, being esteemed to be one thing and revealed by experience as another” (On the Making of Man 20.3).

Or as St. Paul writes, “Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” 2 Corinthians 11:14). In the garden, the serpent’s distortion has the effect of throwing doubt on the divine plan. “Is this not, he seems to be saying, “the garden of joy? You are surrounded by food for life, and yet you are commanded not to fully enjoy it? Is this the sort of God you obey, one who promises life and yet requires renunciations, one who claims to give blessings but always ends up placing limits and making demands?”

These questions have been repeated many times. A Jew is not to eat` pork or shrimp, and what are we to think? Does God wish to cut us off from the good things in life? St. Paul inveighs against fornication, and what are we to think? Is God so opposed to sex and the human capacity for pleasure? Is not the whole scheme of divine commandment, a diminishment of life that cuts us off from the bounty of creation, condemning us to endless sackcloth and ashes?

The woman’s response is corrective, but the serpent’s opening gambit produces an echoing exaggeration. She recounts that God forbade eating from the tree in the middle of the garden, and she then adds, “Neither shall you touch it” Unsettled by the distortions of the serpent, the woman wants to return to the reality of God’s commandment, but her grasp is unsteady. It is as if Satan’s insinuation has taken hold on her imagination. She begins to assume the role of lawgiver herself, puffing up as one giving orders and establishing rules. It is an untenable position of pride: “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to it or take from it” (Deuteronomy 12:32).

Midrash is a traditional Jewish style of reading. It involves a supplemented retelling, that interprets by way of added emphasis, color, and dramatization, as I have done above. The skeleton of the biblical story is retained, but flesh is added. Midrash, however, is not unique to Judaism. These few verses depicting the original transgression provide the basis for an extensive tradition of Christian midrash. Milton’s Paradise Lost provides one of the most famous examples. But there is nothing uniquely poetic or premodern about the tendency to fill out the story of the fall.

Modern biblical critic Gerhard von Rad produces exegesis in this genre, and he does so with a panache for inventing motives and emotional responses that shed light on the psychology of sin (1972: 88-90). These examples of creative retelling are not surprising. This short portion of biblical text combines narrative realism with economy of expression, a’ combination that positively invites the reader to fill out the story with more detail. Here, then, the literary form matches the ambition of Genesis. The suggestive brevity of the verses invites us to interweave our many and diverse thoughts about the nature of sin into our reading. In the silences of the text we find a place for our own knowledge of the concrete form of human wickedness, and in so doing we vindicate the traditional view that this story tells us about the original sin.

And the woman said…
Perhaps the serpent arrives on the scene more ignorant than wise, and he opens with a clever question designed to provoke the woman to betray crucial information. “I’ve heard that all these trees are off limits. Is it true?” he asks. “No,” says the woman, “with God as my witness, I was told to refrain from eating the fruit of the one tree in the middle of the garden.” “Oh, I see;’ he responds. Now, with this missing piece of information, the lawyer can proceed, knowing just where to focus his attention. “You foolish woman;’ he says to himself, “you have given me what I wanted to know, because you could not restrict yourself to a simple `yes’ or `no” (Matthew 5:37). Eve is too eager, too chatty, too forthcoming. She allows herself to be lured into a discussion with the evil one about the substance of God’s commandment. “Do not throw your pearls before swine”warns ,Jesus (Matthew 7:6), and that seems to be exactly what Eve does. “Such is the evil of idly and casually exposing to all and sundry the divine mysteries,” John Chrysostom observes in his extraordinarily rich reading of Eve’s transgression (Homilies on Genesis 16.6 in FC 74.211).

This might seem a fanciful reading, but the larger scriptural witness suggests otherwise. A negligent, careless tongue looms large in the biblical concern about sin, much larger than most Christian readers realize. Restraint of the tongue is the object of two of the Ten Commandments: do not take the LORD’S name in vain, and do not bear false witness. James identifies the control of the mouth as the key to vice and virtue (James. 3:2-5) and warns that “the tongue is a fire” (3:6). Sin has made our tongues “a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). The Pastoral Epistles place great emphasis on the properly trained tongue, one that knows when to be silent and when to command and teach according to the sound doctrine.

This larger biblical concern about the tongue and its dangers forms the background for Chrysostom’s portrayal of Eve as the original gossipy housewife, whose wandering, undisciplined tongue leads to the original human sin. It is not prideful self-assertion that is the source. For Chrysostom, the root sin is negligence, expressed most clearly in the easy familiarity of neighborhood gossip. For in gossip we treat other people’s lives as occasions for entertainment and titillation, as opportunities to express complacent superiority or to express a burning envy.

With Chrysostom’s interpretation, therefore, we see an important aspect of our sinful selves. We are not hyper-alert seekers after advantage, men and women who puff ourselves up with arrogant self-importance. More often than not we are somnolent, lazy, and complacent folks who drift along with the crowd. We don’t rush off to join the devil’s party. Instead, we wake up one day and find that, after an unthinking, offhanded career as a fellow traveler, we have signed a loyalty oath as full members.

There is no one right way to read the story of the first sin. The early monastic tradition developed a list of seven deadly sins: pride, envy, anger, sloth, avarice, gluttony, and lust. Under the influence of Augustine, Western Christianity has tended to presume that pride is the cardinal, original sin. But the early monks who lived in the Egyptian desert often thought otherwise. For some greed loomed large. They observed a deep human fear of dependence upon God that manifested itself in a perennial desire to accumulate some small margin of protective, sustaining property. For others, a languid, despairing, spiritual pessimism (sloth) was the deepest problem we face.

We should not be surprised that the Christian tradition has not settled on a single account of material form of the primal sin. The scriptures themselves equivocate. Proverbs 16:18 gives St. Augustine his favorite text: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” But Wisdom of Solomon 2:24 teaches, “Through the devil’s envy death entered the world.” (St. Augustine harmonizes these verses by supposing that the devil’s pride causes him to envy, God’s supremacy.) In 1 Timothy 6:10 we read that “the love of money is the root of all evils.” And 1 John 2:16 gives a threefold formulation (drawing on Ezekiel 24:21) that has been used to probe the deep sources of sin: “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.”

This diversity should not trouble, because it reflects a deeper, formal truth about sin. Transgression is, at root, a spectral romance with nothingness. It is epitomized by idolatry, devotion to an image powerless to deliver on its promises. Lacking an underlying truth or reality, our actual sins take countless forms without ever coming into focus as instances of some deeper, more stable, more fundamental form of life.

As a strange, impossible love of nothingness, sin always twists itself toward some semblance of reality. Sin is the perverted love of a finite good, and therefore has no stable, fundamental form. For this reason, there is no one way to characterize the original sin in Genesis 3.

You will not die…
The serpent’s deceiving promise is a primordial lie
. It is to the ears what an idol is to the eyes: a fantasy about the power of life. As a promise, the lie is a claim about the future, a faux covenant. In the subtle, indirect, and deceiving form of a negative claim, the serpent seems to promise life: “You will not die.” “Have no fear,” he implies. “Do as you please. You can have what you want right now — and at the same time you can have the fullness of life in the future. You can have the lovely fruit, and it will provide you with all the happiness you seek.” At root, this lie, and the covenant it implies, is like the golden calf at the base of Mount Sinai. It is like Mammon, whom we so often serve. It is like the ideological totems of modern men and women. Satan’s lie always takes the same form. It creates the illusion that there is some path to fullness of life other than obedience to God’s commandments.

Evil is negation, and pure evil is complete privation or negation. Therefore, pure evil cannot exist, not even as a possibility. As a result, the lie can endure only in the mind of the woman and tempt her if it somehow participates in truth, as do all believable lies. And indeed Satan’s lie does. When they eat the fruit, neither the man nor the woman drops dead. The LORD, who has said, “In the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Genesis 2:17), seems to be shown the purveyor of falsehood, while the serpent speaks the truth.

The seeming truth of Satan’s lie rests on the equivocal meaning of life and death. God creates the man and the woman for a purpose: to enter into his Sabbath rest. Spiritual life and death turns on our acceptance or rejection of that divine purpose established in the beginning. Moses’s exhortation to the Israelites restates the choice that Eve faces in the garden: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendents may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him” (Deuteronomy 10:19-20).

Christ presents the same choice to all the nations: “In him was life” (John 1:4), he is “the bread of life” (John 6:35), and his words “are spirit and life” (John 6:63). Christ gives his flesh over to death for the sake of “the life of the world” (John 6:5 1), and in his resurrection death is “swallowed up by life” (2 Corinthians 5:4). In this way, from Eve onward the original choice of life or death is recapitulated again and again: “He who has the Son has life; he who has not the Son of God has not life” (1 John 5:12).

The serpent’s lie was brilliant and effective, because it shifts the focus of human concern. He directs attention to what the woman already possesses: the gift of physical life that she shares with all living things. “What you have now you shall not lose;’ he promises, and in a strict sense he speaks truthfully. But the strict sense of Satan’s promise is not the implied sense. “You shall not die” conjures the promise that we will have life abundant. The deception thus breaks the bond between “life and godliness:’ and the lie turns our attention away from “him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3). The serpent’s lie tempts the woman to believe that what matters most is sentient, bodily existence: “Take the fruit. It’s not going to kill you!”

The lie remains effective to this day. St. Augustine makes a distinction between two dispositions toward things: use and enjoyment. To use something means to see its finite goodness and its role in God’s larger plan or purpose and then to love it contingently, that is, not for its own sake but for the sake of God’s plan. To enjoy, by contrast, means to embrace something as our final rest and ultimate purpose, to love it for its own sake. God alone is our proper rest, and thus we are created to enjoy him alone, and others in him, while we are to use created reality to attain that end. But we are tempted to rest in countless finite goods, and the temptation is strong, because, as Satan promises, we really can love them and live in them for their own sake — at least for a while.

My professional success is genuinely rewarding. The five-star chef cooks wonderful food. Patriotism is a noble sentiment. All of these finite goods make life better in the short and medium term. “The tree was good for food” (Genesis 3:6), and its apple does not kill Adam and Eve — or us. In fact, an apple might satisfy our hunger and keep the doctor away. Thus, it’s very easy to think that apples and other finite goods are what make life worth living. The lie works because it has a ring of truth.


The Fall – R.R. Reno

April 26, 2012

The Fall by Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (6 March 1475 – 18 February 1564), commonly known as Michelangelo.

Sin is crouching at the door (Genesis 4:7)

The Serpent Was More Subtle.
On the sixth day God creates “the beasts. . . and the cattle.. . and everything that creeps upon the ground” (Genesis 1:25). Yet, now appears something “more subtle” and seemingly of a different order. Just who or what is the subtle serpent? The voice of the tradition is unequivocal: it is a worldly form of Satan, the fallen angel. The modern historical-critical tradition rejects this reading; von Rad is typical: “The serpent which now enters the narrative is marked as one of God’s created animals…. In the narrator’s mind, therefore, it is not a symbol of a `demonic’ power and certainly not Satan. What distinguishes it a little from the rest of the animals is exclusively its greater cleverness.” So which shall it be: demonic power personified or the animal trickster of folklore?

At the very minimum, Jewish and Christian readers expect this verse to cohere with other parts of the Bible. For example, Job 1 portrays an interaction between God and Satan that sets up another scene of temptation. God allows Satan to afflict Job in order to tempt him to curse God (Genesis 1:6-12). Wisdom of Solomon 2:23-24 interprets the original temptation along similar lines: “God created man for incorruption, and made him in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil’s envy death entered the world.” The New Testament only reinforces the presumption that temptation and transgression come from the devil.

In Luke’s Gospel, Satan and the demons are closely associated with serpents and scorpions (10:17-20), and in John of Patmos’s vision of end times, the power of Christ is depicted as dethroning “that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (Revelations 12:9). Even when the image of the serpent is absent, the link between Satan and temptation is clear. In the New Testament scene that recapitulates the circumstances in Genesis  3, Satan tempts Jesus in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13).

Scripture interprets scripture, and the weight in favor of reading the serpent as Satan is overwhelming. But we can do more than adduce intra-canonical warrants. It is useful to think through why there is such a strong consensus that a demonic power lay behind the original transgression.

The benefits of pursuing this question are significant. We not only understand Genesis 3:1 more fully, but we also develop a deeper, more intelligent grasp of why angels and demons become so important in the later books of the Bible and why so many later theologians developed systematic accounts of non-bodily, spiritual creatures.

The way forward is not obvious. As Origen notes, “In regard to the devil and his angels and the opposing spiritual powers, the Church teaching lays it down that these beings exist, but what they are and how they exist it has not explained very clearly.” [On First Principles preface.6 in Origen: On First Principles, trans. G. W. Butterworth ( Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1973), 245.]But Origen, however tentative in his speculations about Satan, gives him a central role in the cosmological drama of fall and redemption. The role is emphasized in the many later scriptural passages that implicitly comment on Genesis 3:1. As the larger tradition affirms again and again, evil and the possibility of transgression begins with the angels.

It is very important to see that this view of the origin of evil is not the product of an ancient view of the world as bounded by a heaven above and a spiritual realm below, the so-called three-tiered universe often adduced by modern scholars as a sufficient explanation for early Christian (and Jewish) interest in angels and demons. The devil is not a mythological figure invented by a pre-scientific, credulous spiritual imagination.

On the contrary, the idea of a fallen angel helps biblical readers of Genesis 3 in two ways. First, a reference to Satan immediately conjures a cosmos-wide power, and this helps dramatize the cosmos-wide scope of the divine plan and the sinful resistance to it. Second, the concept of the devil serves as a placeholder for the most extreme possible negation of the divine plan that is consistent with the belief that God is the all-powerful and all-good creator of everything out of nothing.

Let us begin, then, with salvation history. In the broadest possible sense, if we assume that the serpent is not just a particular animal in the garden of paradise, but is instead a grand spiritual being who has already embarked on the deepest and widest possible rebellion against God, then at the very least we have succeeded in refraining a quite intimate and concrete story of temptation in Genesis 3 within a cosmic context. What the serpent says is not just a localized event.

Recourse to the devil inflates the significance of the events. The story is not merely about a serpent and a woman and a man. On the contrary, the garden scene depicts the ultimate adversary at work. The transgression, therefore, is infected with the depth and breadth of Satan’s prior rebellion. It is universally consequential, or as the terminology of traditional doctrine would have it, the sin is original.

One might object that this enlargement of the events in Genesis 3 does violence to the plain sense. But the objection ignores the context, which positively begs from a cosmic frame of reference. The seven-day account of creation that opens Genesis is part of the Priestly tradition; in contrast, the second account of creation of man and woman in Genesis 2 reflects the Yahwist tradition. The standard modern approach to reading these two accounts emphasizes their differences. The P writer provides an account of the architecture of the cosmos, while the J writer is more interested in the human-focused flow of history.

However, the two perspectives overlap. The Priestly material suggests a historical dynamism toward the seventh day (Genesis 2:2). Now we can see how an interpretation of the serpent as the devil opens up a cosmic frame of reference for reading the Yahwist. Instead of trying to give a conceptual answer to the question of how a particular event in the past can have universal consequences, the tradition gives an exegetical answer. The episode is cosmic in significance because the serpent is Satan, the primordial agent of rebellion.

Job, the biblical text most closely related to Genesis 3 in theme and situation, evokes a similar conclusion about the human condition. The main body of the book is highly particularized. Job’s flocks are stolen, his house destroyed, and his children killed. These personal tragedies trigger a long series of debates with Job’s friends about the justice of Job’s sufferings, debates that turn on whether Job is a righteous man.

The central premise is that God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked. The assumption is that our actions determine our destinies. Have I obeyed? Have I transgressed? As readers familiar with the book know, Job’s friends argue that Job must have transgressed. Job counter-argues that he has not. But for our purposes, the important point of the debate is more general. Throughout the back and forth of argument, all the focus falls on the human condition.

In a sense, Job and his friends live in the Yahwist strand of Genesis. The discrete details of our lives provide exactly the right frame of reference for thinking about the human condition. And yet, Job neither begins nor ends with this focus. Instead, the story opens with Satan approaching the LORD God in his heavenly court. He challenges God, suggesting that God lacks the ability attract spiritual loyalty without buying off the faithful with worldly rewards. The story ends with the famous divine appearance out of a whirlwind, an appearance in which God recounts to Job, not the details of his life and actions, but instead the divine acts of creation. In short, the cosmic perspective frames and contextualizes the human-focused concerns of Job and his friends.

The devil functions in the same way in the New Testament, Again and again St. Paul reminds his readers of the true scale of their struggle against sin. Worldly trials and temptations are not just local; they are afflictions of the devil. The faithful are to resist with confidence, for in due time the God of peace will crush Satan under their feet (Romans 16:20). This image of triumph draws on Genesis 3:15 — the divine prophecy that the children of Eve shall crush the head of the serpent.

In the same way, Hebrews uses the greater spiritual powers of angels and demons in order to frame the significance of the passion and death of Jesus. The one who was greater than angels was made lower in order to destroy what the writer calls “the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14). Luke’s Gospel makes a similar move when it evokes the intruding agency of evil: “Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot” (Genesis 22:3). The reader is put on notice. The events in Jerusalem, like the events in the primordial garden, have the gravest and greatest of consequences.

Our goal is not to try to reconstruct a New Testament angelology or demonology and transpose it back onto Genesis. The point is much simpler. When 1 Peter 5:8 warns that “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour,” the effect is not to conjure up pictures of a trident-carrying, horned creature with cloven hoofs. Instead, this and other appeals to Satan function in the same way as the apocalyptic visions of Daniel, Zechariah, and Revelation, all of which portray our destiny in the context of more powerful forces.

Here a reading of the serpent as Satan begins to pay theological dividends. As we allow the image of Satan to guide our reading of Genesis 3, we learn something about the large biblical vision of human freedom. Although our actions are free and we genuinely shape the directions of our lives, we do not define the moral and spiritual atmosphere in which we live. As any mention of the devil reminds us, we are cast into a world already shaped by a creation-wide history of resistance to the divine plan. Our freedom is not pristine, unaffected, and uninfluenced by prior events. We must decide and act in circumstances beyond our control.

Of course, not every portion of scripture can be brought into harmony with every other part. The Bible is fundamentally heterogeneous and cannot be reduced to general theological principles. We should avoid the impulse to interpret scripture simply in order to draw out a theological point, even the very important point that human freedom is constrained by a larger contest between good and evil. Theological concepts are never fully adequate, and no single theological conclusion does justice to the plentitude of the scriptural text. For this reason, it is worthwhile to digress into some further, more technical reasons for calling the tempting serpent “Satan.” These reasons emerge out of the problem of theodicy, the conceptually difficult need to acknowledge the reality of evil while affirming the power and goodness of God.

We can best begin by considering the contrary interpretation. The text says the serpent was an animal — admittedly a strangely clever and talkative animal — and that is the end of it. [A talking animal is not sufficient reason to hypothesize about demonic (or angelic) agents. Balaam's ass talks, but the role of the ass is that of a sensible animal and not a spiritual being (Numbers 22:21-30).] With this approach we gain in literalism, but an immediate problem emerges. As human beings, our acts are voluntary or free insofar as they are motivated. An unmotivated act is accidental, not free. But as embodied rational beings, we are motivated by what we perceive and by conclusions we draw from our engagement with the world. As St. Augustine writes, “Nothing draws the will into action except some object that has been perceived.” [Augustine, De libero arbitrio 3.25.74. I draw this formulation from the translation provided in tt MacDonald's nuanced analysis of St. Augustine's approach to Adam and Eve's sin in "Primal ," in The Augustinian Tradition, ed. Gareth B. Matthews (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 110-39 at 118]

If this is so, then the first transgression must have been motivated by something perceived in the garden. Perhaps it was the novelty of a talking snake. Perhaps it was the loveliness of the fruit. Perhaps the slipperiness of human language, a faulty memory, or the all-too-natural tendency of the human mind to be distracted led the woman to eat. Perhaps the natural affections and loyalty of the man to the woman led him to follow suit.

The point is not to specify the motive or cause. Instead, we need to see what is entailed in allowing the serpent to be just a clever snake. Because our freedom is embodied and responsive rather than purely spiritual and originative, if the serpent is just another bodily creature in the world, then the temptation toward primal sin follows as a consequence of the way God creates.

He makes us free in certain way, but the created order contains realities and impulses that are intrinsically tempting and out of balance: a talking animal such as the serpent, a lovely fruit, the bond of companionship, or some other feature of created, embodied existence. In short, if the serpent is just an animal, then sin emerges out of the human encounter with the natural order.

This conclusion immediately runs up against the problem of evil. The notion that the original transgression occurs as a result of our embodied freedom seems to contradict the biblical assertion that God creates everything and calls it good. Not surprisingly, then, the tradition reads Satan into this verse. There are (so the traditional train of thought presumes) free spiritual beings whose created free wills are not moved by their perception of other created realities. In their independence, these spiritual beings are capable of a pure choice, a choice unmotivated and uncolored by instinct and natural desire. For this reason, spiritual beings can make choices that are originative and not responsive. A spiritual being can choose evil without being motivated by anything God has created. Angels are, as it were, self-moved.

If we suppose the existence of an angel who has fallen, then we have a way out of the problem of evil in our reading of Genesis 3, or at least a way of giving a more subtle form to the problem of evil. [Here I follow Augustine's line of reasoning in his long digression at the beginning of his treatment of the fall in The Literal Meaning of Genesis 11] By interpreting the serpent as Satan, we have created exegetical space for a prior, purely spiritual choice of disobedience, one not motivated by the desire for something in the created world that is perceived as good. The fallen angel is motivated solely by his choice of evil, the darkness of a world without the supreme goodness of God (Genesis 1:4).

Of course, the pure freedom of the devil is a finite freedom. The devil is not a primordial being who exists before creation, and in this sense the devil’s freedom is part of the divine project from the outset. However, although the finitude of a purely spiritual freedom constrains its scope and consequences, finitude does not mitigate the capacity of a disembodied freedom to do and become something out of its own pure choice. In a certain sense, God is still on the hook.

But for God’s creation of the angels, none would have fallen. Yet the important point is secure: no aspect of creation other than freedom itself is implicated as the reason for an angelic fall. The devil falls strictly because of his choice and not because of any other feature or quality of the created order. This allows us to say that the first transgression, the fall of the devil, occurs in creation, but not because of creation. “It was,” writes St. Augustine, “an evil arising not from nature but from choice” (City of God 11.19).

These suppositions about the finite spiritual freedom of fallen angels open up conceptual space for an interpretation of Genesis 3, and this allows us to pursue a reading that avoids the problem of implying that the ordinary conditions of our embodied freedom lead to sin. Interpreted as Satan in bodily form, the serpent in the garden can be understood as the vehicle for the intrusion of a more original evil choice into our world of embodied freedom. Aspects of creation (e.g., the attractive tastiness of the apple) are obviously implicated in and serve as the medium for transgression, but we need no longer presume that created goods trigger the first human sin.

Instead, Satan’s prior, purely spiritual, and self-directing choice influences Eve’s subsequent, embodied, and responsive choice. She is not thrown off balance by anything God has created. Her transgression turns on her response to a prior form of evil that is, in itself, an act of finite but pure freedom. Of course, Adam’s sin has precisely the same form. She hands him the fruit, and he responds to Eve’s prior choice. Once the infection is introduced it spreads.

The conceptual advantages of reading the serpent as Satan shows why it is terribly naive to imagine that the classical interpretation is motivated by a love of mythological figures. [The modern historical-critical tradition is hopelessly confused on this point. See, for example, Claus Westermann, Genesis 1-11:.4 Commentary.. Unable to countenance "the mythological explanation of the serpent," Westermann concludes that the origin of evil must be a purely human phenomenon. Westermann is apparently unable to imagine that biblical readers (including readers whose writings would subsequently be incorporated into the canon) would develop interpretive hypotheses in order to avoid contradicting basic theological convictions about the nature of God and creation. Von Rad also falsely assumes that classical demonology is mythical and summarily rejects the traditional reading of the serpent as Satan by insisting that the narrative treats temptation as "a completely un-mythical process.” The dichotomy works only if one supposes that hypothetical or inferred beings are by definition mythical, but this is absurd, since it would make a great deal of scientific and mathematical reasoning mythological.]

To read the serpent as Satan is not to think of the snake as a wicked elf or a rebellious satyr. On the contrary, the traditional exegesis of the serpent as Satan resolves the dilemma posed by a literal reading of the story. To suppose the serpent to be Satan’s worldly guise allows us to coordinate the strong affirmation of the intrinsic goodness of creation in Genesis 1 with the narrative disobedience, resistance, and rebellion of Genesis 3.

At this point we should step back and consider an obvious objection. The reading of the serpent as Satan may help us with the difficulty of affirming the intrinsic goodness of God’s creation. The hypothesis of an angelic fall allows us to assert that freedom alone can pervert itself; it cannot go awry simply as human freedom engaged in response to created goods. Yet this approach, we might worry undermines human responsibility. If the fall is triggered by Satan’s earlier choice, then how can we be held responsible? It would seem that the original sin is the devil’s fault, not ours. And if this is the case, doesn’t the entire Pauline economy of guilt in Adam and forgiveness in Christ collapse?

The objection is helpful, because it forces us to be clear about the nature of our embodied freedom, as well as more attentive to what scripture actually says about our roles in both the empire of evil and the reign of Christ. It is certainly true that we are free participants in the divine plan — for good or for ill. However, transgression is like Caesar’s army crossing the Rubicon. Our freedom does not determine us all at once. It sets us down a particular path. More important, in crossing any number of moral and spiritual Rubicons, we are like soldiers deciding to follow, not generals leading their legions. Our freedom is real; we must decide to move our feet in one direction or the other.

But that freedom is reactive and responsive, not executive or commanding. We need a leader to trigger our movement. This is why human freedom never provides a sufficient explanation for the march toward sin — or the countermarch toward righteousness. Humans seem capable of a depravity — and righteousness — that far exceeds our ordinary capacities, which is why ordinary language stretches toward adjectives such as “demonic” and “saintly” when describing human extremes. We can follow much further than we can lead.

There are scriptural and commonsensical reasons for thinking of human freedom more on the model of an enlistee than an officer. Joshua ends with a re-statement of the choice that determines us. We cannot create endlessly new and different paths into the future. On the contrary, we must decide whom to follow: “Choose this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:14-15). We are free to switch loyalties, but we cannot invent new armies and new objectives. With exactly the same underlying assumptions about the human condition, St. Paul insists that our choice, which recapitulates the original choice of Adam and Eve, is about whom to serve and not an invitation to brainstorm about the good life. “You are slaves of the one whom you obey, writes Paul, and in Adam we are conscripted into the army of sin (Romans 6:16).

The gospel stories evoke the same view of freedom when they portray the good news as a challenge to “the powers” that hold us in their thrall. We seem always beholden to a prior evil that gives us orders that we willingly obey, and Christ frees us by giving counter commands. Mammon leads us one direction; God leads us in another. When Paul says that “for freedom Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1), he does not mean that we can opt out and wait for a third option. We are freed from sin precisely because we are taken captive in Christ. In him we serve the life-giving master.

Thus an appeal to Satan in our interpretation of Genesis 3 reinforces a general Biblical claim about our created condition. Our freedom is always a matter of whom we obey, and in sin we seek a perverse fulfillment of our natural desire for obedient service. Promethean self-direction is a fantasy, for we are not created with the capacity to serve ourselves. We can only serve that which is greater, which is why the supposition that the serpent is Satan fits nicely with the larger biblical tendency to see the fundamental form of sin as idolatry. The perverted human will follow the false gods, false leaders, and false promises, all the while imagining them to be the source of life.

The view of human freedom as a decision about whom to obey finds ample confirmation in everyday life. We cannot follow our instincts, but we can follow the idea of following our instincts. We cannot live as natural men and women, but we can follow a philosophy of natural existence. We cannot live only for ourselves but we can adopt the principle of egoism. By St. Paul’s analysis, in sin we pervert rather than undo or destroy the purposes for which human nature was created. We live a distorted facsimile of covenant. We are “slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe” (Galatians 4:3).

We were created to know and worship the living God, but in our blindness we serve dead idols (Romans 1:21-23). Thus, when we introduce the greater power of Satan into our interpretation of Genesis, we are not understanding human responsibility for sin, nor are we compromising the Pauline vision of salvation history. Instead, we are bringing our reading of the fall into conformity with the New Testament account of our slavery to sin. Sin is a perverted obedience, a false following, a deceived discipleship. To suppose the serpent to be a form of Satan helps us see the true form of our slavery to sin — and by contrast to see the obedient form of our participation in Christ.

Although there are strong reasons in support of a traditional reading of the serpent as Satan, neither scripture nor the classical theological tradition gives Satan an ongoing, central role in the unfolding of the divine plan. St. Paul observes “sin came into the world through one man” (Romans 5:12) and that the divine campaign against the entire empire of evil is conducted through “that one man Jesus Christ (Romans 5:15). While we may not be commanders in the cosmic conflict, salvation history turns on our loyalty. Although the possibility of evil should be traced back to the purely spiritual freedom of fallen angels, we need to be careful. The origin of evil should not be confused with the location of its ultimate conflict with goodness. The centers of government may have been in Richmond and Washington, but the tide of the Civil War turned at the small Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg.

For Gregory of Nyssa, the human focus of the scriptural story is clear from the outset, and he explains why God fittingly chooses our embodied freedom as the place to work out his redemptive plan. Our amphibious existence as both embodied and free places us at the center of the cosmic drama. “God, taking dust of the ground, formed the man, Gregory writes, “and, by an inspiration from Himself, He planted life in the work. of His hand, that thus the earthy might be raised up to the Divine, and so one certain grace of equal value might pervade the whole creation, the lower nature being mingled with the supra-mundane” (Catechetical Orations 6 in NPNF 5.480).

The human creature has a unique role. We are what angels and demons can never be: a hybrid of body and spirit that participates in all aspects of the created order. Through us, therefore, God can reach into all the corners of his creation. Neither pure spirit nor mere body, we are at the crossroads of reality. The future of the cosmos is in the hands of whichever army controls this strategic point.

Thus, for all the biblical concern about demons and for all the theological principles that warrant the hypothesis of the devil, focus falls on the human. We live out our loyalties in the quotidian realities of everyday life. It is here and now that we do the work of Satan, and it is here and now that we encounter Christ, who has the power to free us from the thrall of our own past choices, from the primordial choice of Adam and Eve, and from the original wickedness of Satan. We do the most to defeat the devil and sanctify the world when we focus on our core competence: obedience to the call of Christ in the midst of human affairs.


A God Who Speaks – Alan C. Mitchell, Ph.D.

April 25, 2012

Peter Paul Rubens served Albert and Isabella, the Spanish governors of the Netherlands, as both court artist and diplomat. Isabella commissioned Rubens to design twenty tapestries for the Convent of the Poor Clares in Madrid, where she had lived and studied as a girl. Woven in Brussels, the series -- which is still in the convent (now a museum) -- celebrated the Eucharist, the Christian sacrament that reenacts Jesus' transformation of bread and wine into his body and blood at the Last Supper.This painting is a modello, or oil sketch, for one of the tapestries. It depicts the meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek (Genesis 14:1–20). Returning victorious from battle, Abraham is greeted by Melchizedek, high priest and king of Salem, who presents him with loaves of bread as attendants bring vessels of wine. Catholic theologians considered the scene to prefigure the Eucharist. Rubens presents the narrative as though it appears on a tapestry itself. Cherubs carry the heavy, fringed fabric before an imposing architectural setting. On the right, two attendants seem to climb from a wine cellar. Are they real men standing in front of the tapestry, or images woven inside it? Such confounding illusion delighted baroque audiences. (1623)

Alan C. Mitchell, Ph.D., is associate professor of New Testament Studies and Christian Origins at Georgetown University and is director of the Annual Georgetown University Institute on Sacred Scripture. He is a member of the Society of Biblical Literature, the Catholic Biblical Association, and the Society for the Study of the New Testament.


Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
Hebrews 1:1-4

The Exordium: An Interpretation
Hebrews opens with one of the most rhetorically polished statements in the New Testament. Although such stylistic elegance is characteristically displayed throughout Hebrews, the exordium shows clearly that the author has mastered the principles of advanced rhetorical composition. Its effect on the readers is compelling and persuasive. The original Greek, all one sentence, pleases the ear with its alliteration and cadence. No less are the mind and spirit satisfied by the carefully structured phrases, leading the reader and/or listener to grasp ideas that are central to the exposition that follows.

The significance of the nature of God as Speaker/Revealer and the definitive establishment of the Son as Speech/Revelation are established through pairings and parallels carefully subordinated to permit the explanation of the central ideas of the main clause, that God has spoken anew. The implication is that what has been said is effective because of the means of God’s speech, which is more closely bound to the Speaker than any previous vehicles, because he is none other than God’s Son.

Speech in Hebrews reveals the character of God and is an integral aspect of the sermon’s theology. One cannot help but wonder if such an accomplished author as this one did not have a special appreciation of God as a communicator. The portrait of God as a speaker shows interest in fundamental principles of oratory: good oratory in the ancient world appealed to the pathos of the audience and demonstrated the ethos or character of the speaker. The most effective speech managed to achieve a balanced harmony between the two. Thus in Hebrews the very nature of God is to speak, to disclose, to reveal.

To accomplish these ends, there are a variety of media at God’s disposal. The opening verse mentions the prophets as a prelude to the manner of speech that is of special interest to the author, namely the Son. In the next chapter communication between God and humans will include the mediation of angels (Hebrews 2:2). So the author of Hebrews speaks of the manifold attempts on God’s part to communicate through the ages, suggesting that God’s desire for self-communication is an ongoing process of self-disclosure, which culminates in the revelation of the Son.

The exordium is structured in three parts:

(1)  verse 1: God’s speech in the past;
(2)  verse 2: God’s speech in these last days; and
(3)  verse 3-4: a summary of the place and role of the Son.

These verses function to introduce the main theme of the sermon, and they may serve as a summary of the Christology of Hebrews. The Son is introduced as the new means of God’s communication and is described with terms spanning his pre-existence to his exaltation. At the heart of that description is the central tenet of Hebrews that Christ made purification for sins. The author will develop the elements of this brief description in what follows, in order to show how effective was God’s speech in the Son by portraying him as the mediator of a better covenant.

The goal of showing what is new and different in the manner of God’s speech is dramatically accomplished by the shift of subject from God to the Son in the second verse. Vanhoye (La Structure Litteraire de L’Epitre roux Hebreux [Paris: Desclee de Brouwer, 1963] 65-68) has shown how this shift creates an interesting inversion of emphases, with the second half of the unit dominating the first, despite the fact that both halves of the exordium are centered on its most important part, the opening of v. 2, “In these last days, however, God has spoken to us through a Son.”

The latter two verses, 3 and 4, are rich in content. As relative clauses, they depend on the first half of the exordium (1:1-2). Thus grammatical subordination highlights the importance of the central statement while defining the role of the Son in terms of his functions, which themselves will be expanded on throughout the sermon: his nature, his role in creation, his atoning once for all self-offering, and his exaltation.

The opening verse of the exordium eludes easy interpretation. Some commentators have suggested that the two adverbs, polymerōs kai polytropōs imply that the author understood God’s revelation to Israel through the prophets as incomplete, whereas the revelation in the Son is complete (Attridge, 37; Bruce, 46; Hughes, 36; Lane,1:10; Montefiore, 33-34). Hebrews does show an interest in completeness and fullness elsewhere (2:10; 5:9;7:19, 28; 9:9; 10:1, 14; 11:40; 12:23) and the author’s use of comparison supports such an interpretation (1:4; 5:14; 6:9; 7:7, 19, 22; 8:6; 9:11, 23; 10:3 11:16, 35, 40; 12:24). The manifold nature of the revelation, however, need not connote incompleteness (Koester, 176). Moreover, what may be more important for the author is the time and manner of what God has done. Hebrews also shows interest in the present time as an opportunity (1:5; 3::7,13, 15; 4:7; 5:5; 13:8) and the means of salvation offered by the Son. The contrast of what God has done in the past through the prophets and has now done in Christ fits well with the sermon’s hortatory function to encourage the readers not to lose confidence at the present moment. The vehicle of God’s present revelation, the Son, is the ground of their confidence in this sermon.

The conclusion of verse 2 introduces the important series of qualifications that suit the Son for his work. The reference to his being heir of all things is frequently seen by commentators as an allusion to Psalm 2, where the kings inherit the land (Attridge, 40; Koester, 178; Lane, 1:6). The association of this notion of inheritance, and the extension of it from the land to the universe, not only applies a royal motif to the Son but also draws a comparison between the Son and previous royal figures of the LXX tradition (i.e., The Septuagint)  Implicit in the comparison is the difference between the royal Son’s inheritance and theirs. Drawing such comparisons becomes a staple of the way the author of Hebrews argues. The entire exordium makes a series of these comparisons, and that tactic will be continued in the remainder of the sermon.

The beginning of verse 3 underscores the nature of the Son as capable of communicating the realia of God. Difficult as it may be to understand the meaning of the terms used here, the affinity of the Son with God is at the heart of the attribution “as the reflection of God’s glory and the exact representation of God’s essential being.” To say that the Son reflects the glory of God is not the same as saying that he is the exact representation of God’s essential being. So the author does not merely express one idea through these two clauses, but tries to give distinct content to the way he sees the relation of the Son to God in the work the Son must do as bearer of God’s final revelation, now spoken through him. With what seems to be a clear reference to Wisdom 7:26, “For she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness,” the author further qualifies the identity of the Son.

The fact that the word “reflection” is paralleled with the expression “spotless mirror” in this LXX text may lead us to think that the author of Hebrews understood the reflection of the Son in some way to mirror the reality of God. The LXX text makes a further synonymous parallel attributing to Wisdom the “image” of God’s goodness. The author of Hebrews chose not to reproduce this part of the LXX verse, preferring to call the Son the “exact representation” of God’s essential being. The Greek word charaktcr, “exact representation,” carries the meaning of a “stamp” or an “imprint,” so the idea is not far from that of an image.

What may be decisive here, however, is the dependent noun. In the LXX text Wisdom is the “image of God’s goodness,” whereas in Hebrews the Son is the “exact representation of God’s essential being.” One may rightly question whether this goes further than what the LXX author attributes to Wisdom herself, since “goodness” may be a metaphor for the whole nature of God. In his interpretation, however, the author of Hebrews seems deliberately to have spelled out how he understands the Son to carry the imprint of God. The word “nature,” hypostasis, means “essential being” or “reality,” what makes things what they are.

That a child should somehow be a representation or reflect the character of the parent is part of the tradition of Hellenistic Judaism as seen in 4 Maccabees 15:4: “In what manner might I express the emotions of parents who love their children? We impress upon the character of a small child a wondrous likeness both of mind and of form” (NRSV). As both the “reflection of God’s glory” and the “exact representation of God’s essential being” the Son is eminently qualified for the role he must play as the vehicle of God’s revelation.

The continuation of verse 3 brings into play the Son’s function in sustaining the universe, which he shared in creating. Commentators usually call attention to the loose connection of this verse to the wisdom tradition, in the absence of any clear textual parallels. Frequently cited are Wisdom 7:24, 27, which mention that Wisdom not only has the power to do all things but renews them as well, and 8:1, where Wisdom orders all things. Attridge refers to the Philonic tradition, where the Logos guides “all things on their course” (The Migration of Abraham 6), is portrayed as a “pillar” (On Noah as a Planter 8), or is described as a “bond” that holds all things together (On Flight and Finding 112; Attridge, 45; see also Ronald Williamson, Philo and the Epistle to the Hebrews. ALGHJ 4 [Leiden: Brill, 1970] 95-103).

A closer biblical parallel is found, however, in Sirach 43:26, where toward the end of an extended wisdom meditation on the glory of God manifested in creation the author proclaims: “Because of him each of his messengers; (angeloi) succeeds, and by his word all things hold together” (NRSV). The LXX author most likely intends to refer the pronouns in both prepositional phrases to God, but it is possible for the second phrase to refer back to the immediately preceding noun “messenger.”

The author of Hebrews may have taken advantage of this ambiguity and extended this function of sustaining all things to the Son. If this is the case, the allusion to Sirach 43:26 still falls within the wisdom tradition. The subject of the allusion, however, is different and makes a still closer identification of the Son with God in his designated role as the means of God’s spoken word. The point is that the Son is no mere messenger of God’s word, as the further qualifications of the exordium will demonstrate. An allusion to Sirach 43:26 with its mention of the messenger (angelos) might also help to explain why the comparison with the angels in verse 4 is important for the author. This comparison will be developed further in the next section (Wisdom 1:5-14).

The following clause introduces the priestly function of the Son, which will become one of the major themes of Hebrews. At this point the wisdom tradition of the previous verses gives way to the tradition of Jesus’ sacrificial death. Here the stress on purification for sin anticipates the attention the author will give to this aspect of the Son’s priestly function in the central section of the sermon (Wisdom 8:1-10:18). The fact that only this aspect of the priesthood of the Son is mentioned in the exordium indicates something the author felt needed to be addressed. It is important, then, that as the major motifs are introduced in the exordium, the reader’s attention be drawn to the Son’s self-offering, which qualified him to be a High Priest. The placement of this aspect of the qualifications of the Son in the center of vv. 3 and 4 gives it the prominence the author wanted it to have in the structure of the exordium.

At the end of verse 3 the author mentions yet another important motif in the sermon, the exaltation of the Son and his heavenly enthronement. Allusions to Psalm 110 play a major role in the Christology of Hebrews. Later in this chapter (1:13) a similar allusion will help make the comparison of the n11 with the angels. In 8:1 the psalm will again be evoked to highlight In heavenly enthronement of Christ as High Priest. In 10:12 the session at the right hand of God follows on the unique sacrifice for sins, which Christ has made. In this last instance we have a close parallel to 1:3, which announces what will later be claimed for the qualitatively different priesthood of Christ in Hebrews.

The author of Hebrews is, of course, not unique in the appropriation of Psalm 110 to help develop his Christology. Other allusions to the psalm in Christological contexts are found elsewhere in the New Testament, indicating that this is a firm element of early Christian tradition (Matthew 22:44; 26:64; Mark 12:36; 14:62; 16:19; Luke 20:42; see David M. Hay, Glory at the Right Hand: Psalm 110 in Early Christianity. SBLMS 18 [Nashville and New York: Abingdon,19731). In a number of instances an allusion to this psalm comes in a context where either Christ’s death (Luke 22:69) or his resurrection (Acts 2:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossian 3:1) relates to his exaltation. In Romans 8:34 and 1 Corinthians 15:25 Paul brings all three together. Lack of direct attention to or extensive discussion of Christ’s resurrection in Hebrews suggests that the author has done something similar in joining it to his exaltation. In a related vein it may be that the author of Hebrews joins Christ’s death to his resurrection in the context of his exaltation (Attridge, 46).

The inclusion of the Son’s session here emphasizes his glory above all things. The very definite act of sitting down at the right hand of God is an unmistakably powerful biblical image. As Hay (Glory at the Right Hand, 86-87) points out, this is not done at the expense of the power and glory of God, but nonetheless underscores the unsurpassable exaltation of the Son after his having undergone the humiliation of death on a cross.

It is frequently asked whether Hebrews 1:3 derives from an ancient hymnic source. The explanation of this part of the exordium as earlier hymnic material is, however, beset with many problems. In general the identification of hymnic material in the New Testament is itself questionable. The usual texts grouped under this category are John 1:1-18; Philemon 2:6-11; Colossians 1:15-18; 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 Peter 3:18-19. The formal characteristics of these New Testament hymns vary one from another, so it is not easy to typify what exactly constitutes formally hymnic material (Lane 1:7). To complicate matters further, commentators do not agree on the limits of the hymnic material in the exordium of Hebrews. Some include the last part of verse 2 because they believe the form of the relative clause to be especially hymnic (Lane 1:8).

Still others believe the exordium to be integral in itself and look skeptically on the suggestion that this part of it was taken from earlier hymnic material (Grasser 1:49; Janusz Frankowski, Early Christian Hymns Recorded in the New Testament: A Reconsideration in Light of Hebrews 1,3, BZ 27 [19831 183-94; John P. Meier, Structure and Theology in Hebrews 1,1-14, Bib 66 [19851 168-89; Donald W. B. Robinson, The Literary Structure of Hebrews 1:1-4, AJBA 2 119721 178-86). The abrupt change of subject from God to the Son, the use of the extended relative constructions, the fact that the author uses several words here (apaugasma and charakter) that are not used elsewhere in the sermon, the notice that the author diverges from the text of Psalm 110 in the choice of the preposition en in the expression “at the right hand,” when it is correctly cited in 1:13 as ek, have fueled speculation that these anomalies all point to the appropriation of hymnic material that antedates Hebrews itself.

Some commentators (Ellingworth, 97-98), not convinced by these lines of argumentation, point out that the so-called anomalies can all be reasonably explained within the context of Hebrews to show that the verse is well integrated into the exordium and does not show signs of earlier material deriving from an ancient Christian hymn. Craig Koester, on the other hand, entertains the possibility that the exordium contains traditional elements (179).

The last verse of the exordium turns to the matter of the Son’s name, which unequivocally is superior to that of the angels. Naming plays an important role in the biblical tradition, whether it has to do with the naming of a newborn or the change of a name already given. In Hellenistic Judaism the interest in the significance of the name is grasped in Philo’s treatise on the changing of names. The verse claims that the Son became superior to the angels to the extent that he had received a name that is more excellent than theirs. Noticeable here is the stress that it is not only in name that Christ is superior to the angels. The name signifies his superiority, which derives from his status as Son. Obviously the author understands the verse as a transition to the next section, 1:5-18, which will make a formal comparison between the Son and the angels.

The name is not specified here, but many commentators understand it to be “Son,” the only term by which Christ is designated in the exordium. The circular composition of the exordium supports this assumption, as “Son” is the critical term in 1:2a and the subject of the exordium as a whole (Meier, Structure and Theology, 188-89).

Some commentators note that the exordium ends on a note of comparison similar to the way it begins. At its opening the comparison focused on the superiority of God’s revelation in a Son over what had preceded it through the prophets. In its conclusion the view shifts to the comparison between the Son and the angels. Ostensibly it appears that prophets and angels have little to do with one another. In the context of an announcement about God’s revelation, however, one may find a common ground.

Commentators also note that the Hellenistic Jewish tradition that angels mediated the revelation of the Law may come into play in this verse, supplying yet another stage in the ways God communicated before the definitive way announced in the opening of the exordium: through a Son. They point to Hebrews 2:2 for support, on the assumption that the “word spoken by angels there” is none other than the Jewish Law.

A problem with that view is that even though the Hellenistic view of such angelic mediators of the Law postdates the prophetic era in biblical history, what they reveal, the Law, predates it. Thus in the exordium the sequence of revelation does not follow a linear development. One way out of the dilemma may be to understand the wider role of angelic mediators in Hellenistic Judaism to be at work here (Job 1:27, 29; 2:1; Philo, On Dreams 1.141-43; On Abraham 115; Josephus, Antiquities 15.136; Acts 7:30,38,53; Gal 3:19; Attridge, 65), which would then provide yet another means of revelation between the prophets and the Son. Such a tradition may lie behind the synonymous use of “angels” and “prophets” in Philo (On Abraham 113; Questions on Exodus 2.16). This option is attractive not only because it preserves a sequential order, but also because it may explain the anomaly of the definite article, which precedes the word “angels” in the text.

The exordium of Hebrews briefly presents the main theme of the sermon in the role articulated for the Son, first as the means of God’s final revelation and then as the one who makes complete purification for sins, i.e., purification of the conscience of the worshipers (9:14; 10:22) and is exalted at the right hand of God. Thus he is the eternal Son and eternal High Priest (2:9-10; 9:12-15; 13:20-21) who mediates access to God in a way superior to those of the past.


Reading Selections from The Sense Of An Ending – Julian Barnes

April 24, 2012

Julian Barnes

A reader at Amazon writes: “The Sense of an Ending” starts off describing the relationships between four friends at school, narrated by one of the friends, Tony Webster, but quickly it becomes clear that this is written many years later. Barnes has long been a terrific observer of the English middle classes and his style invariably contains satire and dry humor. And this being Barnes, this school clique is intellectual in interest, as the narrator recalls English and History teachers and student philosophizing.

Tony is a middle class everyman. He’s unexceptional and his subsequent life has been so conventional as to border on the dull, unlike the catalyst for the story Adrian Finn who is intellectually gifted and a natural philosopher of the human condition. However the friendship falls apart after the friends leave to go to university and Adrian enters into a relationship with Tony’s ex-girlfriend. And that would have been that, except that many years later a mysterious letter opens up the past causing Tony to reconsider the actions of his youth.

As is my custom on Paying Attention To The Sky, a number of reading selections follow but none will spoil your enjoyment of this gem of a novella. One reviewer commented: “When you finish you will return immediately to the beginning…Who are you? How can you be sure? What if you are not who you think you are?” Sometimes when you slice and dice your past you wind up with a self you can live with but might not be who you truly are…


Differences Between Youth And Age
It strikes me that this may be one of the differences between youth and age: when we are young, we invent different futures for ourselves; when we are old, we invent different pasts for others.

If Tony Hadn’t Been Tony
I’m sure psychologists have somewhere made a graph of intelligence measured against age. Not a graph of wisdom, pragmatism, organizational skill, tactical nous — those things which, over time, blur our understanding of the matter. But a graph of pure intelligence. And my guess is that it would show we most of us peak between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five. Adrian’s fragment brought me back to how he was at that age. When we had talked and argued, it was as if setting thoughts in order was what he had been designed to do, as if using his brain was as natural as an athlete using his muscles.

And just as athletes often react to victory with a curious mixture of pride, disbelief and modesty — I did this, yet how did I do this? by myself? thanks to others? or did God do it for me? — so Adrian would take you along on the journey of his thought as if he himself didn’t quite believe the ease with which he was travelling. He had entered some state of grace — but one that did not exclude. He made you feel you were his co-thinker, even if you said nothing. And it was very strange for me to feel this again, this companionship with one now dead but still more intelligent, for all my extra decades of life.

Not just pure, but also applied intelligence. I found myself comparing my life against Adrian’s. The ability to see and examine himself, the ability to make moral decisions and act on them; the mental and physical courage of his suicide. “He took his own life” is the phrase; but Adrian also took charge of his own life, he took command of it, he took it in his hands — and then out of them. How few of us — we that remain — can say that we have done the same? We muddle along, we let life happen to us, we gradually build up a store of memories. There is the question of accumulation, but not in the sense that Adrian meant, just the simple adding up and adding on of life. And as the poet pointed out, there is a difference between addition and increase.

Had my life increased, or merely added to itself? This was the question Adrian’s fragment set off in me. There had been addition — and subtraction — in my life, but how much multiplication? And this gave me a sense of unease, of unrest.

“So, for instance, if Tony…” These words had a local, textual meaning, specific to forty years ago; and I might at some point discover that they contained, or led to, a rebuke, a criticism from my old clear-seeing, self-seeing friend. But for the moment I heard them with a wider reference — to the whole of my life. “So, for instance, if Tony …” And in this register the words were practically complete in themselves and didn’t need an explanatory main clause to follow. Yes indeed, if Tony had seen more clearly, acted more decisively, held to truer moral values, settled less easily for a passive peaceableness which he first called happiness and later contentment. If Tony hadn’t been fearful, hadn’t counted on the approval of others for his own self-approval … and so on, through a succession of hypotheticals leading to the final one: so, for instance, if Tony hadn’t been Tony.

I remember a period in late adolescence when my mind would make itself drunk with images of adventurousness.. This is how it will be when I grow up. I shall go there, do this, discover that, love her, and then her and her and her. I shall live as people in novels live and have lived. Which ones I was not sure, only that passion and danger, ecstasy and despair (but then more ecstasy) would be in attendance. However … who said that thing about “the littleness of life that art exaggerates”? There was a moment in my late twenties when I admitted that my adventurousness had long since petered out. I would never do those things adolescence had dreamt about. Instead, I mowed my lawn, I took holidays, I had my life.

But time … how time first grounds us and then confounds us. We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe. We imagined we were being responsible but were only being cowardly. What we called realism turned out to be a way of avoiding things rather than. facing them. Time … give us enough time and our, best-supported decisions will seem wobbly, our certainties whimsical.

Does character develop over time? In novels, of course it does: otherwise there wouldn’t be much of a story. But in life? I sometimes wonder. Our attitudes and opinions change, we develop new habits and eccentricities; but that’s something different, more like decoration. Perhaps character resembles intelligence, except that character peaks a little later: between twenty and thirty, say. And after that, we’re just stuck with what we’ve got.We’re on our own. If so, that would explain a lot of lives, wouldn’t it? And also — if this isn’t too grand a word — our tragedy.

“The question of accumulation,” Adrian had written. You put money on a horse, it wins, and your winnings go on to the next horse in the next race, and so on. Your winnings accumulate. But do your losses? Not at the racetrack—there, you just lose your original stake. But in life? Perhaps here different rules apply. You bet on a relationship, it fails; you go on to the next relationship, it fails too: and maybe what you lose is not two simple minus sums but the multiple of what you staked. That’s what it feels like, anyway. Life isn’t just addition and subtraction. There’s also the accumulation, the multiplication, of loss, of failure.

Adrian’s fragment also refers to the question of responsibility: whether there’s a chain of it, or whether we draw the concept more narrowly. I’m all for drawing it narrowly. Sorry, no, you can’t blame your dead parents, or having brothers and sisters, or not having them, or your genes, or society, or whatever — not in normal circumstances. Start with the notion that yours is the sole responsibility unless there’s powerful evidence to the contrary. Adrian was much cleverer than me — he used logic where I use common sense — but we came, I think, to more or less the same conclusion.

Not that I can understand everything he wrote. I stared at those equations in his diary without much illumination coming my way. But then I was never any good at maths.

Life Disappoints
I don’t envy Adrian his death, but I envy him the clarity of his life. Not just because he saw, thought, felt and acted more clearly than the rest of us; but also because of when he died. I don’t mean any of that First World War rubbish: “Cut down in the flower of youth” — a line still being churned out by our headmaster at the time of Robson’s suicide — and “They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old ” Most of the rest of us haven’t minded growing old. It’s always better than the alternative in my book.

No, what I mean is this. When you are in your twenties, even if you’re confused and uncertain about your aims and purposes, you have a strong sense of what life itself is, and of what you in life are, and might become. Later … later there is more uncertainty, more overlapping, more backtracking, more false memories. Back then, you can remember your short life in its entirety. Later, the memory becomes a thing of shreds and patches. It’s a bit like the black box airplanes carry to record what happens in a crash. If nothing goes wrong, the tape erases itself. So if you do crash, it’s obvious why you did; if you don’t, then the log of your journey is much less clear.

Or, to put it another way. Someone once said that his favorite times in history were when things were collapsing, because that meant something new was being born. Does this make any sense if we apply it to our individual lives? To die when something new is being born — even if that something new is our very own self? Because just as all political and historical change sooner or later disappoints, so does adulthood. So does life. Sometimes I think the purpose of life is to reconcile us to its eventual loss by wearing us down, by proving, however long it takes, that life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

I was saying, confidently, how the chief characteristic of remorse is that nothing can be done about it: that the time has passed for apology or amends. But what if I’m wrong? What if by some means remorse can be made to flow backwards, can be transmuted into simple guilt, then apologized for, and then forgiven? What if you can prove you weren’t the bad guy she took you for, and she is willing to accept your proof?

The Brain And Typecasting
When you start forgetting things — I don’t mean Alzheimer’s, just the predictable consequence of ageing — there are different ways to react. You can sit there and try to force your memory into giving up the name of that acquaintance, flower, train station, astronaut … Or you admit failure and take practical steps with reference books and the Internet. Or you can just let it go — forget about remembering — and then sometimes you find that the mislaid fact surfaces an hour or a day later, often in those long waking nights that age imposes. Well, we all learn this, those of us who forget things.

But we also learn something else: that the brain doesn’t like being typecast. Just when you think everything is a matter of decrease, of subtraction and division, your brain, your memory, may surprise you. As if it’s saying: Don’t imagine you can rely on some comforting process of gradual decline — life’s much more complicated than that. And so the brain will throw you scraps from time to time, even disengage those familiar memory loops. That’s what, to my consternation, I found happening to me now. I began to remember, with no particular order or sense of significance, long-buried details of that distant weekend with the Ford family. My attic room had a view across roofs to a wood; from below I could hear a clock striking the hour precisely five minutes late. Mrs. Ford flipped the broken, cooked egg into the waste bin with an expression of concern — for it, not me.

Personal Time
The time-deniers say: forty’s nothing, at fifty you’re in your prime, sixty’s the new forty, and so on. I know this much: that there is objective time, but also subjective time, the kind you wear on the inside of your wrist, next to where the pulse lies. And this personal time, which is the true time, is measured in your relationship to memory. So when this strange thing happened — when these new memories suddenly came upon me — it was as if, for that moment, time had been placed in reverse. As if, for that moment, the river ran upstream.

What Did I Know Of Life, I Who Had Lived So Carefully?
What did I know of life, I who had lived so carefully? Who had neither won nor lost, but just let life happen to him? Who had the usual ambitions and settled all too quickly for them not being realized? Who avoided being hurt and called it a capacity for survival? Who paid his bills, stayed on good terms with everyone as far as possible, for whom ecstasy and despair soon became just words once read in novels? One whose self-rebukes never really inflicted pain? Well, there was all this to reflect upon, while I endured a special kind of remorse: a hurt inflicted at long last on one who always thought he knew how to avoid being hurt — and inflicted for precisely that reason.


His Sense Of Disfigurement – James Kaplan

April 23, 2012

His sexy Italian good looks caused the bobby soxers to swoon but Frank Sinatra held a surpising deep secret.

A raw December Sunday afternoon in 1915, a day more like the old century than the new among the wood-frame tenements and horse-shit-flecked cobblestones of Hoboken’s Little Italy, a.k.a. GuineaTown. The air smells of coal smoke and imminent snow. The kitchen of the cold-water flat on Monroe Street is full of women, all gathered around a table, all shouting at once.

On the table lies a long-haired girl, just nineteen, hugely pregnant. She moans hoarsely; the labor has stalled. The midwife wipes the poor girl’s brow and motions with her other hand. A doctor is sent for. Ten long minutes later he arrives, removes his overcoat, and with a stern look around the room — he is the lone male present — opens his black bag. From the shining metallic array inside he removes his dreaded obstetric forceps, a medieval-looking instrument, and grips the baby with it, pulling hard from the mother’s womb, in the violent process fearfully tearing the left side of the child’s face and neck, as well as its left ear.

The doctor cuts the cord and lays the infant — a boy, huge and blue and bleeding from his wounds, and apparently dead — by the kitchen sink, quickly shifting his efforts to saving the nearly unconscious mother’s life. The women lean in, mopping the mother’s pallid face, shouting advice in Italian. One at the back of the scrum — perhaps the mother’s mother, perhaps someone else — looks at the inert baby and takes pity. She picks it up, runs some ice-cold water from the sink over it, and slaps its back. It starts, snuffles, and begins to howl.

Mother and child both survived, but neither ever forgot the brutality of that December day. The son bore the scars of his birth, both physical and psychological, to the end of his years. A bear-rug-cherubic baby picture shot a few weeks after he was born was purposely taken from his right side, since the wounds on the left side of his face and neck were still angry-looking.

Throughout his vastly documented life, Sinatra would rarely — especially if he had anything to do with it — be photographed from his left. One scar, hard to disguise (though frequently airbrushed), ran diagonally from the lower-left corner of his mouth to his jaw line. His ear on that side had a bifurcated lobe — the classic cauliflower — but that was the least of it: the delicate ridges and planes of his left outer ear were mashed, giving the appearance, in early pictures, of an apricot run over by a steamroller. The only connection between the sonic world and the external auditory meatus — the ear hole — was a vertical slit. Later plastic surgery would correct the problem to some extent.

That wasn’t all. In childhood, a mastoid operation would leave a thick ridge of scar tissue on his neck behind the ear’s base. A severe case of cystic acne in adolescence compounded his sense of disfigurement: as an adult, he would apply Max Factor pancake makeup to his face and neck every morning and again after each of the several showers he took daily.

He later told his daughter Nancy that when he was eleven, rafter some playmates began to call him “Scarface,” he went to the house of the physician who had delivered him, determined to give the good doctor a good beating. Fortunately, the doctor wasn’t home. Even when he was in his early forties, on top of the world and in the midst of an artistic outpouring unparalleled in the history of popular music, the birth trauma — and his mother — were very much on his mind. Once, in a moment of extraordinary emotional nakedness, the singer opened up very briefly to a lover. “They weren’t thinking about me,” he said bitterly. “They were just thinking about my mother. They just kind of ripped me out and tossed me aside.”

He was talking to Peggy Connelly, a young singer whom he met in 1955 and who, for almost three years at the apex of his career, would be as close to him as it was possible for anyone to be. The scene was Madrid, in the spring of 1956: He was in Spain shooting a movie he had little taste for. One night in a small nightclub, as he and the twenty-four-year-old Connelly sat in the dark at the edge of the dance floor, she caressed his left cheek, but when her fingertips touched his ear, he flinched. She asked him what was wrong, and he admitted he was sensitive about his deformity.

“I really don’t think I had ever noticed it, truly,” Connelly said many yours later. “This was early on in our relationship.” He then went do to spill out the whole story of his birth: his great weight (thirteen and a half pounds), the ripping forceps, the way he’d essentially been left for dead. “There was no outburst of emotion,” Connelly recalled. . There was [instead] an obvious lingering bitterness about what he felt had been a stupid neglect of his infant self to concentrate only on [his] mother intimating that he was sort of `ripped from her entrails and tossed aside; otherwise his torn ear might have been tended to.”


When “Swingin’ Lovers” was released in 1956, it became one of the biggest selling LPs Capitol had ever produced. Radio Stations around the country ate it up and with 15 included songs to choose from they had many sides that could be programmed. But the one most often played on the radio that first year is the same selection most often played to this day. Oddly, although the title was an existing standard that fit the nature of the desired “concept.”  “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” came into the record almost by accident, and at the last minute.  Many times Nelson Riddle would relate the story of how the orchestration was actually completed in the rear seat of the car while Mrs. Riddle drove him to the studio on the night of its recording. When the music copyists passed out the parts to the members of the orchestra, the ink was still wet on the pages. Sinatra had suggested to Nelson that he create a long sustained crescendo for the interlude between vocal choruses.  Nelson complied exactly. For the rest of his career on the concert stage, whenever Sinatra announced “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” he always described it as “Nelson Riddles’ Shining Hour.”
Liner Notes to Sinatra Best of the Best


Redemption — Fyodor Dostoevsky

April 20, 2012

A reading selection from The Brothers Karamazov.The speaker is Dostoevsky’s character Father Zossima, who, hours before his death, relates to his fellow monks the story of his conversion, in which his only brother, Markel, played a crucial role.


BELOVED FATHERS AND TEACHERS, I was born in a remote northern province, in the town of V—, of a noble father, but not of the high nobility, and not of very high rank. He died when I was only two years old, and I do not remember him at all. He left my mother a small wooden house and some capital, not a big sum, but enough to keep her and her children without want. And mother had only the two of us: myself, Zinovy, and my older brother, Markel. He was about eight years older than I, hot-tempered and irritable by nature, but kind, not given to mockery, and strangely silent, especially at home with me, mother, and the servants. He was a good student, but did not make friends with his schoolmates, though he did not quarrel with them either, at least not that our mother remembered.

Half a year before his death, when he was already past seventeen, he took to visiting a certain solitary man of our town, a political exile it seems, exiled to our town from Moscow for freethinking. This exile was a great scholar and distinguished philosopher at the university. For some reason he came to love Markel and welcomed his visits. The young man spent whole evenings with him, and did so through the whole winter, until the exile was called back to government service in Petersburg, at his own request, for he had his protectors.

The Great Lent came, but Markel did not want to fast, swore and laughed at it: “It’s all nonsense, there isn’t any God,” so that he horrified mother and the servants, and me, too, his little brother, for though I was only nine years old, when I heard those words I was very much afraid. Our servants were all serfs, four of them, all bought in the name of a landowner we knew. I also remember how mother sold one of the four, the cook Anfimia, who was lame and elderly, for sixty paper roubles, and hired a free woman in her place.

And so, in the sixth week of Lent, my brother suddenly grew worse — he had always been unhealthy, with bad lungs, of weak constitution and inclined to consumption; he was tall, but thin and sickly, yet of quite pleasing countenance. Perhaps he had caught a cold or something, in any case the doctor came and soon whispered to mother that his consumption was of the galloping sort, and that he would not live through spring.

Mother started weeping; she started asking my brother cautiously (more so as not to alarm him) to observe Lent and take communion of the divine and holy mysteries, because he was then still on his feet. Hearing that, he became angry and swore at God’s Church, but still he grew thoughtful: he understood at once that he was dangerously ill, and that that was why his mother was urging him, while he was still strong enough, to go to church and receive communion. Hr knew himself that he had been sick for a long time; already a year before he had once said coolly at the table’, to mother and me: “I’m not long for this world among; you, I may not live another year,” and now it was as if he had foretold it.

About three days went by, and then came Holy Week. And on Tuesday morning my brother started keeping the fast and going to church. “I’m doing it only for your sake, mother, to give you joy and peace,” he said to her. Mother wept from joy, and also from grief: “His end must be near, if there is suddenly such a change in him.” But he did not go to church for long, he took to his bed, so that he had to confess and receive communion at home.

The days grew bright, clear, fragrant — Easter was late that year. All night, I remember, he used to cough, slept badly, but in the morning he would always get dressed and try to sit in an armchair. So I remember him: he sits, quiet and meek, he smiles, he is sick but his countenance is glad, joyful.

He was utterly changed in spirit — such a wondrous change had suddenly begun in him! Our old nanny would come into his room: “Dear, let me light the lamp in front of your icon.” And before, he would never let her, he even used to blow it out.

“Light it, my dear, light it, what a monster I was to forbid you before! You pray to God as you light the icon lamp, and I pray, rejoicing at you. So we are praying to the same God.”

These words seemed strange to us, and mother used to go to her room and weep, but when she went to him she wiped her eyes and put on a cheerful face. “Mother, don’t weep, my dear,” he would say, “I still have a long time to live, a long time to rejoice with you, and life, life is gladsome, joyful!”

“Ah, my dear, what sort of gladness is there for you, if you bum with fever all night and cough as if your lungs were about to burst?”

“Mama,” he answered her, “do not weep, life is paradise, and we are all in paradise, but we do not want to know it, and if we did want to know it, tomorrow there would be paradise the world over.” And everyone marveled at his words, he spoke so strangely and so decisively; everyone was moved and wept.

Acquaintances came to visit us: “My beloved,” he would say, “my dear ones, how have I deserved your love, why do you love such a one as I, and how is it that- I did not know it, that I did not appreciate it before?” When the servants came in, he told them time and again: “My beloved, my dear ones, why do you serve me, am I worthy of being served? If God were to have mercy on me and let me live, I would begin serving you, for we must all serve each other.”

Mother listened and shook her head: “My dear, it’s your illness that makes you talk like that.”

“Mama, my joy,” he said, “it is not possible for there to be no masters and servants, but let me also be the servant of my servants, the same as they are to me. And I shall also tell you, dear mother, that each of us is guilty in everything before everyone, and I most of all.”

At that mother even smiled, she wept and smiled: “How can it be,” she said, “that you are the most guilty before everyone? There are murderers and robbers, and how have you managed to sin so that you should accuse yourself most of all?”

“Dear mother, heart of my heart,” he said (he had then begun saying such unexpected, endearing words), “heart of my heart, my joyful one, you must know that verily each of us is guilty before everyone, for everyone and everything. I do not know how to explain it to you, but I feel it so strongly that it pains me. And how could we have lived before, getting angry, and not knowing anything?” Thus he awoke every day with more and more tenderness, rejoicing and all atremble with love. The doctor used to come to us: “Well, what do you think, doctor, shall I live one more day in the world?” he would joke with him.

“Not just one day, you will live many days,” the doctor would answer. “You will live months and years, too.”

“But what are years, what are months!” he would exclaim. “Why count the days, when even one day is enough for a man to know all happiness. My dears, why do we quarrel, boast before each other, remember each other’s offenses? Let us go to the garden, let us walk and play and love and praise and kiss each other, and bless our life.”

“He’s not long for this world, your son,” the doctor said to mother as she saw him to the porch. “From sickness he is falling into madness.”

The windows of his room looked onto the garden, and our garden was very shady, with old trees; the spring buds were already swelling on the branches, the early birds arrived, chattering, singing through his windows. And suddenly, looking at them and admiring them, he began to ask their forgiveness, too: “Birds of God, joyful birds, you, too, must forgive me, because I have also sinned before you.” None of us could understand it then, but he was weeping with joy: “Yes,” he said, “there was so much of God’s glory around me: birds, trees, meadows, sky, and I alone lived in shame, I alone dishonored everything, and did not notice the beauty and glory of it at all.”

“You take too many sins upon yourself,” mother used to weep.

“Dear mother, my joy, I am weeping from gladness, not from grief; I want to be guilty before them, only I cannot explain it to you, for I do not even know how to love them. Let me be sinful before everyone, but so that everyone will forgive me, and that is paradise. Am I not in paradise now?”

And there was much more that I cannot recall or set down. I remember once I came into his room alone, when no one was with him. It was a bright evening, the sun was setting and lit up the whole room with its slanting rays. He beckoned when he saw me. I went over to him; he took me by the shoulders with both hands, looked tenderly, lovingly into my face; he did not say anything, he simply looked at me like that for about a minute: “Well,” he said, “go now, play, live for me!” I walked out then and went to play.

And later in life I remembered many times, with tears now, how he told me to live for him. He spoke many more such wondrous and beautiful words, though we could not understand them then. He died in the third week after Easter, conscious, and though he had already stopped speaking, he did not change to his very last hour: he looked joyfully, with gladness in his eyes, seeking us with his eyes, smiling to us, calling us. There was much talk even in town about his end. It all shook me then, but not deeply, though I cried very much when he was being buried. I was young, a child, but it all remained indelibly in my heart, the feeling was hidden there. It all had to rise up and respond in due time. And so it did.


A Cosmic Cross — Paul Tillich

April 19, 2012

“Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two,  from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
Matthew 27:50-54


Stories of the crucifixion the agony and the death of Jesus are connected with a group of events in nature:  Darkness covers the land; the curtain of the temple is torn in two; the earth is shaken and the bodies of the saints rise out of their graves. Nature, with trembling, participates in the decisive event of history. The sun veils its head; the temple makes the gesture of mourning; the foundations of the earth are moved; the tombs are opened. Nature is in an uproar because something is happening which concerns the universe.

Since the time of the evangelists, wherever the story of Golgotha has been told as the turning event in the world-drama of salvation, the role nature played in this drama has also been told. Painters of the crucifixion have used all their artistic power to express the darkness over the land in almost unnatural colors. I remember my own earliest impression of Good Friday — the feeling of the mystery of the divine suffering, first of all, through the compassion of nature. And so did the centurion, the first pagan who witnessed for the Crucified. Filled with awe, with numinous dread, he understood in a naive-profound way that something more had happened than the death of a holy and innocent man.

The sun veiled its face because of the depth of evil and shame it saw under the Cross. But the sun also veiled its face because its power over the world had ceased once and forever in these hours of its darkness. The great shining and burning god of everything that lives on earth, the sun who was praised and feared and adored by innumerable human beings during thousands and thousands of years, had been deprived of its divine power when one human being, in ultimate agony, maintained His unity with that which is greater than the sun. Since those hours of darkness it is manifest that not the sun, but a suffering and struggling soul which cannot be broken by all the powers of the universe is the image of the Highest, and that the sun can only be praised in the way of St. Francis, who called it our brother, but not our god.

“The curtain of the temple was torn in two.” The temple tore its gown as the mourners did because He, to whom the temple belonged more than to anybody else, was thrown out and killed by the servants of the temple. But the temple — and with it, all temples on earth — also complained of its own destiny. The curtain which made the temple a holy place, separated from other places, lost its separating power. He who was expelled as blaspheming the temple, had cleft the curtain and opened the temple for everybody, for every moment. This curtain cannot be mended anymore, although there are priests and ministers and pious people who try to mend it. They will not succeed because He, for whom every place was a sacred place, a place where God is present, has been hung upon the cross in the name of the holy place.

When the curtain of the temple was torn in two, God judged religion and rejected temples. After this moment temples and churches can only mean places of concentration on the holy which is the ground and meaning of every place. And like the temple, the earth was judged at Golgotha. Trembling and shaking, the earth participated in the agony of the man on the cross and in the despair of all those who had seen in him the beginning of the new eon. Trembling and shaking, the earth proved that it is not the motherly ground on which we can safely build our houses and cities, our cultures and religious systems.

Trembling and shaking, the earth pointed to another ground on which the earth itself rests: the self-surrendering love on which all earthly powers and values concentrate their hostility and which they cannot conquer. Since the hour when Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last and the rocks were split, the earth ceased to be the foundation of what we build on her. Only insofar as it has a deeper ground can it stand; only insofar as it is rooted in the same foundation in which the cross is rooted can it last.

And the earth not only ceases to be the solid ground of life; she also ceases to be the lasting cave of death. Resurrection is not something added to the death of him who is the Christ; but it is implied in his death, as the story of the resurrection before the resurrection, indicates. No longer is the universe subjected to the law of death out of birth. It is subjected to a higher law, to the law of life out of death by the death of him who represented eternal life. The tombs were opened and bodies were raised when one man in whom God was present without limit committed his spirit into his Father’s hands. Since this moment the universe is no longer what it was; nature has received another meaning; history is transformed and you and I are no more, and should not be anymore, what we were before.


A History of Water — Karl W. Giberson

April 18, 2012

And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.
Genesis 1: 6-10

The Long And Winding Stream
The winds, the sea, and the moving tides are what they are. If there is wonder and beauty and majesty in them, science will discover these qualities. If they are not there, science cannot create them.
Rachel Carson

Water gets even more interesting when we look at the history of how it got to the earth. The story begins with the big bang, the cosmic fireball we met earlier.

Popular views of the big bang picture all the matter in the universe exploding outward like something blowing up in an action movie. This original matter then combined into the cosmic structures we find in the universe today. This picture is way too simple.

The big bang produced no matter. Only unimaginably high energies emerged from that mysterious and transcendent event. Picture the energy released as an atomic bomb explodes; now multiply this many times over. These energies were so high that matter simply could not exist. Of course, there was no such thing as matter in the universe then, so this statement is a bit odd.

A universe with no matter in it would remain quite uninteresting, but fortunately the universe was born with a set of remarkable physical laws. One of the most basic of those laws was discovered by Albert Einstein in 1905: E=MC2.

This law is the most well-known equation in all of science. Most people don’t know any equations at all, but if they do know one, it is E=MC2. It has graced the covers of magazines, T-shirts and posters. It inspired the atomic bomb, nuclear reactors and dreams of unlimited free energy from seawater. And most important, it was the door through which matter entered our universe.

As the early universe expanded, it cooled, following the same laws of physics running your refrigerator. Cooling is simply the name we give to a decrease in the energy content of a region of space, whether it is your freezer, a Canadian winter or the entire universe. Any quantity of energy will have to decrease in temperature if it spreads out to fill a larger volume. This is why opening your door in the winter cools your house — some of the heat energy flows out the door, futilely trying to warm up the front yard.

As the early universe expanded and cooled it reached critical temperatures where interesting things happened, like when water cools and freezes. If you were swim‑ming under water that was about to freeze — hopefully in a wetsuit to keep you from also freezing — you would see ice crystals suddenly appearing, seemingly out of nowhere. Small bits of water would suddenly be transformed into slivers of ice. Liquid would have become solid. This is what water does as it cools. In the same way, as the early universe cooled, matter popped into existence.

Matter first appeared in two forms — the familiar electrons, with negative electrical charges, and the less familiar quarks with electrical charges of 2/3 and –1/3. Quarks are odd particles conceived in the 1960s to explain the peculiar behavior of other particles. One of their many odd properties is that — like teenagers at the mall — they are never found alone. As soon as they appear, they immediately combine with each other. But they don’t just combine — they form specific particles that have total electrical charges of either 1 or 0.

The most familiar examples of particles with these charges are the proton and neutron, respectively, but there are others. One curious result of this rule of combination is that we never encounter particles with fractional charges, even though we know that both protons and neutrons are composed of particles with fractional charges. In the early days, before this odd rule was understood, heroic efforts were mounted to find a fractionally charged quark hanging out by itself, but none were discovered. Eventually the theory came to include a rule precluding lone-ranger quarks.

After the quarks combine in the early universe, the newly minted matter consists of protons, neutrons and electrons buzzing about in a chaotic but steadily cooling mix. The particles move at great speeds but gradually slow down as the universe expands and cools. Positively charged protons attract negatively charged electrons. As soon as the speeds get low enough — which occurs at a specific temperature — the electron drops into an orbit about a proton, like a child leaping onto a spinning merry-go-round when it slows down enough. The neutrons occasionally bang into protons and stick there, forming the combination still found today in the nucleus of a hydrogen atom. The universe is now full of hydrogen atoms, with a few helium atoms leavening the mixture.

All the particles in the universe are now electrically neutral atoms — their negatively charged electrons• balance their positively charged protons. The powerful electrical forces of attraction and repulsion no longer dominate, and the much weaker gravitational force takes over. The brand new hydrogen atoms float freely about but gravity gathers them ever so slowly together. Clouds of hydrogen gradually form, growing ever larger, and as they get larger they pull with more gravitational force on other atoms. Eventually much of the hydrogen is collected into huge steadily growing clouds that surpass the size of the moon, then the earth, then a large planet like Jupiter. As the clouds get larger they become more compressed, their gravity growing ever stronger.

Nothing limits how strong gravity can become. Eventually another threshold is crossed and the hydrogen atoms become so densely compacted they actually fuse together in a nuclear reaction. This fusion ignites the gigantic balls of hydrogen and, like a slow-motion fireworks display, great spheres of hydrogen turn into stars. Unfortunately, there are no life forms in the universe to witness this extraordinary display, especially since this turns out be a critical step in preparing the universe for life. But amazingly the images of these fireworks end up traveling for billions of years across the universe and are eventually observed, long after the events have faded into history.

The gravity within these newly born stars crushes the hydrogen nuclei, fusing them into helium nuclei and giving off great quantities of light and heat. The process begins to fill the blanks on the periodic table of the elements. Two hydrogens make helium. Add one more and we have lithium. Two helium make beryllium. Add another and we have carbon. Other combinations make nitrogen, oxygen, neon, sodium and on down the periodic table.

At this point the universe is billions of years old and still without an isolated drop of water anywhere. No stars have planets orbiting them, and no solid surfaces exist anywhere on which one could stand. The raw materials out of which planets and people will eventually be constructed are buried deep inside brightly shining stars, and if this were where it ended, there would be nobody to lament our brightly glowing but failed and stillborn universe. But there are more chapters to the story, as you might have anticipated, based on the simple fact that you exist.

Going Out With A Bang
Amazed, and as if astonished and stupefied, I stood still, gazing for a certain length of time with my eyes fixed intently upon it and noticing that same star placed close to the stars which antiquity attributed to Cassiopeia. When I had satisfied myself that no star of that kind had ever shone forth before, I was led into such perplexity by the unbelievability of the thing that I began to doubt the faith of my own eyes.
Tycho Brahe

Large stars near the end of their lives regularly explode as a matter of course. With the force of a billion atomic bombs they strew their contents over unimaginably vast regions of space. It is, of course, a once-in-a-lifetime event for the star — a literal going out with a bang. And even though recorded history is just a few thousand years long — and stars live for billions of years — we have some examples of such explosions that were noted by careful observers.

In A.D. 1054 what is now the Crab Nebula exploded in a flash of light bright enough to be seen in daylight for weeks. Observers in Korea, China, Japan, North America and the Middle East all recorded the supernova, as it is now called, although Europeans did not. It seems that Europeans, convinced that the heavens were perfect and unchanging, managed to delude themselves into not seeing this new star, which must surely have been quite visible.

The great Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe witnessed another supernova in 1572. Like his predecessors, he could not believe that such a dramatic change in the heavens was possible, but, apparently unlike his predecessors, he had enough confidence in his observations to know that he was seeing something remarkable. Brahe’s protege, Johannes Kepler, witnessed another supernova in 1604, and then there were no more visible from earth until 1987, when a star exploded in a nearby galaxy known as the Large Magellanic Cloud.

A supernova explosion fills a massive region of space with the elements created inside the star; the powerful explosion, though, follows known laws of physics as it distributes its contents about the universe. A vast cloud of chemically enriched material, trillions of miles in diameter, results from the event — an event absolutely critical for enabling life.

The grand cloud that results from the supernova resembles the original cloud out of which the star formed in the first place, with one important difference — it contains a substantial roster of different materials, and not just hydrogen and helium. This time around gravity has more to work with, beginning again to gather the material in the huge cloud back into balls. The largest chunk at the center becomes another star — one that starts out with heavier elements, in addition to hydrogen. It is the ultimate recycling project, but unlike recycling on earth, the atoms getting recycled remain in mint condition, no matter how many times they are used.

Some of the smaller balls end up orbiting about the second-generation star. These smaller balls contain many different atoms, and some of them have a curious molecular combination of hydrogen and oxygen. In most parts of the universe these molecules are in the form of a solid. In the others they are a gas. But on balls that are exactly the right distance from the central star, the molecules are liquid, an all-purpose, seemingly magical liquid called water.

Water is found in several places in our solar system. Hydrogen is, of course, the most common element in the universe, and while oxygen is less common it is readily available to combine with hydrogen and form water. Water in the form of ice is a major component in comets and can be found in trace quantities in the atmosphere of Venus, under the surface of Mars and possibly even on some of Jupiter’s moons.

(We have to keep in mind, however, that more than 99 percent of the mass of the solar system is in the sun, so the distribution of elements elsewhere is almost irrelevant from the perspective of the solar system as a whole. The earth has a lot of water, but the earth is a tiny, insignificant speck compared to the sun. And because the water tends to cover so much of the surface, it is easy to overestimate the total amount. Astronomers are not sure exactly where the water on the earth came from. Constructing the early history of our solar system is an enormous challenge.)

From a purely scientific point of view, water is a molecule like any other — and there are lots of molecules. The laws of physics and chemistry describe its behavior, and there are no deep mysteries embedded in its familiar structure. But the laws of physics and chemistry conspire to make water unusual in ways that are critically important for life. Most peculiarly, water expands rather than contracts when it freezes. This makes ice lighter than water, so it floats. Floating ice insulates the water beneath it from the cold temperatures of winter.

Absent this layer of insulation bodies of water all over the earth would freeze solid. If ice were heavier than water, the layer of ice that formed on the top would sink to the bottom and another layer would freeze on top and sink until the entire body of water was a solid piece of ice. This would kill almost every life form in the water.

Water is also an effective solvent. Waste products from our bodies dissolve readily in water and can then easily be expelled. But wait — as they say on television — there is more. Water is also a remarkable coolant capable of absorbing heat and carrying it away from our bodies in the form of sweat. And water stores heat in our bodies, helping keep us warm in cold weather. Magical.

The Gathering Of The Waters
If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.

The creation story in Genesis records that God gathered the waters. In the King James Version that I read as a child it says, “God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.” In ways that the original readers of Genesis could never have imagined, the gathering of the waters was a cosmic process that took billions of years and involved all the laws of physics and chemistry. The water that we take for granted that covers so much of our planet and makes up so much of our bodies was forged in the nuclear furnace of a star that exploded in the suburbs of the Milky Way galaxy billions of years ago.

That water now cycles endlessly through the life process here on earth — cooling, cleansing and nurturing us. It irrigates our crops, nourishes our livestock, cleans our clothes and gets turned into snow at ski resorts. In those parts of the world where it is plentiful, clean and fresh, we take it for granted and play with it. In Quebec City they construct a hotel out of ice every winter to attract tourists and invite hardy souls to hold their weddings there, wearing parkas and snow boots. We think nothing of using thousands of gallons so our lawns will be green rather than brown in the heat of summer. Water is like air — plentiful and useful.

In parts of the world where fresh water is rare, its value is more apparent. There is a school in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, where children used to walk a quarter mile during their breaks to get a drink of water. I used to walk to the hallway to get a drink when I was in school. World Vision, one of many organizations helping with water problems around the world, installed a well near the school that the children now use to get water. On school days a group of laughing, happy children can be seen working the oversized pump that takes several of them to manage. The water that emerges from its modest faucet is welcomed in ways that few North Americans can appreciate.

For those schoolchildren the water is simply a welcome part of their diet and lifestyle now. Some of the children that stay in school and go on to university will eventually discover that the precious fluid summoned from beneath the earth by a few children cranking on a lever was created billions of years ago, deep in the heart of a star, via processes of unimaginable subtlety. Those that have learned to worship God will no doubt marvel and give thanks.

Water exists because the universe has a set of laws that guide its steady development from the big bang into the present. If we suppose that water and the life it enables are of no consequence, then we can dismiss these laws as irrelevant. On the other hand, if we believe that God is the Creator of life and that life has a purpose, then these laws take on a new character. If God is the Creator, then these laws exist because God created them. And these laws work because God upholds them from moment to moment. Viewed by these lights, the origin of water and life are creation events, intentionally enabled by the Creator of the universe.


Living On A Goldilocks Planet – Karl W. Giberson

April 17, 2012

A mere 20 light-years away in the constellation Libra, red dwarf star Gliese 581 has received much scrutiny by astronomers in recent years. Earthbound telescopes had detected the signatures of multiple planets orbiting the cool sun, two at least close to the system's habitable zone -- the region where an Earth-like planet can have liquid water on its surface. Now a team headed by Steven Vogt (UCO Lick), and Paul Butler (DTM Carnagie Inst.) has announced the detection of another planet, this one squarely in the system's habitable zone. Based on 11 years of data, their work offers a very compelling case for the first potentially habitable planet found around a very nearby star. Shown in this artist's illustration of the inner part of the exoplanetary system, the planet is designated Gliese 581g, but Vogt's more personal name is Zarmina's World, after his wife. The best fit to the data indicates the planet has a circular 37 day orbit, an orbital radius of only 0.15 AU, and a mass 3.1 times the Earth's. Modeling includes estimates of a planet radius of 1.5, and gravity at the planet's surface of 1.1 to 1.7 in Earth units. Finding a habitable planet so close by suggests there are many others in our Milky Way galaxy.

God is infinite, so His universe must be too. Thus is the excellence of God magnified and the greatness of His kingdom made manifest; He is glorified not in one, but in countless suns; not in a single earth, a single world, but in a thousand thousand, I say in an infinity of worlds.
Giordano Bruno, 1582

Giordano Bruno (1548 – February 17, 1600), (Latin: Iordanus Brunus Nolanus) was an Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician and astronomer. His cosmological theories went beyond the Copernican model in proposing that the Sun was essentially a star, and moreover, that the universe contained an infinite number of inhabited worlds populated by other intelligent beings.


About twenty light years — 120 trillion miles — from earth, in the constellation Libra, a planet named Gliese 581g orbits a star resembling our sun. It’s the fourth planet out from the star, which can only be seen from earth with a telescope. Not far from the middle of its solar system, comfortably situated in what astronomers call the “Goldilocks Zone,” the planet is not too hot and not too cold, but “just right,” like the porridge in the fairy tale. Its gravity is also not too strong and not too weak, so it could have a stable atmosphere like earth. And its star is not too bright and not too dim.

Gliese 581g orbits about its sun in the middle of what astronomers call the habitable zone. Five hundred other planets have been discovered to date outside our solar system, and this is the first one that might be habitable. It is also nearby — at least by astronomical standards — being located in our galactic neighborhood. A huge spaceship traveling over the lifetime of many generations of astronauts could conceivably get there, although the expense would be so great as to essentially render the project impossible.

Astronomers have waxed eloquent about Gliese 581g. One of the discovers called it “Zarmina’s World,” after his wife, convinced that such a “beautiful planet” deserves a more interesting name than Gliese 581g. A Penn State astronomer, enthused at the prospects of extraterrestrial life, says Zarmina’s World is the “first one I’m truly excited about.” After decades, of finding uninhabitable sterile orbs, this discovery has finally provided a license to think seriously — or at least scientifically — about the prospects that we are not alone in the universe.

The hypothetical citizens on Zarmina’s World have already been embraced by the Catholic Church as “children of God.” [This curious fact was left unfootnoted by Giberson and a Google Search didn’t reveal his source for the statement. Unless of course “official Vatican astronomers” double as the Magisterium…Ah well, makes for good reading by the uneducated secularists in our midst.]An official Vatican astronomer, Jesuit priest Jose Gabriel Funes, finds nothing surprising in the prospects of extraterrestrial life: “Just as there is a multiplicity of creatures on Earth, so there could be other beings created God.” Another Vatican astronomer-priest assures us that the Zarminians would have souls, and says he would be happy to baptize them, they asked.

Theologically conservative Protestant Ken Ham, head of the creationist organization Answers in Genesis, disagrees. He claims that Vatican astronomers’ offers to baptize the Zarminians shows that they “can’t truly understand the gospel.,, “The Bible,” says Ham, “makes clear that Adam’s sin affected the whole universe. This means that a aliens would also be affected by Adam’s sin, but they can’t have salvation…. [T]o suggest that aliens could respond to the gospel is just totally wrong.”

All this fussing and fretting about aliens might lead one to believe that some sort of signal had been received — an unmistakably intelligent message like what Jodie Foster’s character, astronomer Ellie Artoway, deciphered in the move Contact. The great distance to the planet rules out the possibility of actual alien Zarminians being among us, but a mere twenty light years is no barrier to radio transmission. If the Zarminians started twenty years ago broadcasting messages to earth, or even generically in all directions, we would be receiving them by now. Radio waves have, in fact, been emanating from earth in all directions for almost a century and could be detected by any extraterrestrial civilization with the appropriate technology. But we are receiving no radio messages from 581g or any other planet in the universe. So why all the excitement about the Zarminians?

Hope Springs Eternal
Our Moon exists for us on the earth, not for the other globes. Those four little moons exist for Jupiter, not for us…. From this line of reason we deduce with the highest degree of probability that Jupiter is inhabited.
Johannes Kepler

Zarmina’s World, as near as we can tell, is not like the earth. Astronomers have not “beamed down” on a planet with breathable air, familiar gravity and comfortable temperatures, as Captain Kirk and the crew of the Starship Enterprise were constantly doing on Star Trek. We now know that the vast majority of planets are nothing like those convenient Hollywood fantasies.

Zarmina’s World is three times the mass of the earth but only slightly larger, so gravity would be much stronger there, due to the greatly increased density. Upon being beamed onto that surface Captain Kirk would find himself weighing over 500 pounds, posing challenges for his trademark brawls with the local aliens. In fact, he would have trouble even standing upright, seriously compromising the charismatic persona that always seemed so appealing to the local alien females.

Zarmina’s World is much closer to its star than our earth is to the sun-14 million miles compared to 93 million for the earth. Its “year” is just 37 days long. It rotates so slowly that one side almost always faces the sun, creating temperatures as hot as 160 degrees — beyond even the most dreadful spots on the surface of the earth. The dark side is like the Canadian winters I enjoyed as a boy: -25°F (that’s below zero!). In the literal twilight zone between the unbearable heat and the Canadian cold would be some pleasant temperatures, where creatures like us could certainly make ourselves at home. Zarminians, if they exist, would have to move every so often as the planet slowly turned, to remain in the temperate zone where water could easily be maintained in liquid form.

The hopeful, even confident, speculations that there might be life on Zarmina’s World reveal just how eager astronomers — and many other members of our species — are to discover that we are not the only life in this big universe. Vogt, co-discoverer of the planet, and the earthling Zarmina’s husband — Mr. Zarmina — believes that “chances for life on this planet are 100 percent.” Vogt’s speculation, alas, is one part science and ninety-nine parts wishful thinking: Zarmina’s World has some surface area between 32°F and 212°F (0°-100° C). So, in the event that water exists in those regions — which we don’t know — it would be liquid. And water is essential for life. Therefore, there could be life on Zarmina’s World — which is more than you can say for the hundreds of other planets that have been discovered outside our solar system.

We don’t know if Zarmina’s World actually has any water, but the chances are reasonable based on what we know about water in the universe in general. Whether that water has contributed to the formation of life is an entirely different question. What these speculations about life in Zarminian waters remind us is how critically important and unusual our water supply is here on the earth — a cosmic quirk that we take for granted. There is an inextricable link between liquid water and life, both here on the earth and anywhere else in the universe we hope life might exist.

Water, Water, Everywhere — Or Not
And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm, in the heart of the furnace roar; And he wore a smile you could see a mile, and he said: “Please close that door. Its fine in here, but I greatly fear you’ll let in the cold and storm — Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it’s the first time I’ve been warm.
Robert Service, The Cremation Of Sam Mcgee

Almost three-fourths of the surface of the earth is covered with water, and virtually all of the world’s cities are on a body of water. Most people live near rivers, lakes and oceans. And water even makes up 60 percent of the human body, a fact readily apparent when one is sweating in the hot sun or desperately thirsty.

Water, in many parts of the world, seems almost magically available. It pours from our taps on demand, falls from the sky, bubbles up in springs, cascades down the sides of mountains and over cliffs. We swim in it, bathe in it, run it through hoses to water our lawns or entertain our children. We make ice from it to put in our drinks. We skate on it. Even beavers use it freely and recklessly, creating gigantic ponds in which to raise their families. In those many parts of the world blessed with an abundance of water, we take it for granted.

In the larger universe, however, water is rare. In some ways the universe seems so inhospitable to liquid water that one might infer that water is not welcome.

For starters, the temperatures don’t cooperate. All but an insignificant fraction of the volume of space is essentially empty. The volume taken up by stars, planets, moons, comets and other bodies where water might possibly be found is quite insignificant. And all this empty space is cold — really cold.

Growing up in Canada I learned a lot about cold. In the midst of winter, during my teen years, I arose before dawn to deliver my village’s only daily newspaper, the Telegraph Journal. The thermometer outside our kitchen window was a stark and skinny messenger framed against the darkness, feebly illuminated by light from inside the house. The mercury on many mornings all but vanished into the little ball at the bottom of the thermometer, with temperatures reading -40°F (Canada had not yet gone metric). The weather report on the radio would warn that additional chilling from the wind had reduced that temperature even further, sometimes to more than -60°F. Dressed warmly by my thoroughly Canadian mother and with one of her hand-knit woolen scarves about my mouth, I would head out into the pitch-black frigid morning to deliver the news to the good citizens of the little village of Bath, New Brunswick. I would return an hour later, an icicle several inches long hanging from the scarf in front of my mouth, where my breath had condensed and frozen in the cold air.

A decade later I found myself studying at Rice University in Houston, Texas, where thermometers had no need for negative numbers. I arrived in the middle of August and was greeted by temperatures that routinely exceeded 100 degrees, a dreadful situation made even worse by high humidity and requiring the continuous use of air conditioners. In between the extremes of New Brunswick and Texas lie the narrow temperatures that humans enjoy — 85 degrees at the beach, 72 in our offices, 65 on a pleasant evening as we turn in for the night.

The temperature ranges experienced by humans seem extreme but that is simply our limited and parochial view. Those cold temperatures that greeted me as I headed out on frosty Canadian mornings are positively balmy compared to the average temperature of the universe, which is more than 400 degrees cooler. If you took a space voyage to another star system, the temperature outside your window for most of the long journey would be -454°F. A cold Canadian winter would be a welcome relief from such unimaginable cold. On the other hand, the temperature on the stars runs as high as 70,000 degrees, an inferno capable of melting just about anything. You would be incinerated just by getting too close, never mind actually making physical contact.

‘The temperature range where humans feel comfortable is thus extremely narrow compared to the universe as a whole. And even the larger range where humans can exist the habitable zone — is very narrow.

Water seems even more remarkable when we note that only 5 percent of the total matter in the universe is the ordinary familiar stuff made up of atoms and molecules. The other 95 percent consists of largely unknown stuff called, for lack of better terms, dark matter and dark energy. All the elements on the chemists’ periodic table, all the vast collection of atoms and molecules that comprise the earth, the sun and the other planets, all the stars in the Milky Way galaxy — all this matter is less than 5 percent of the total stuff in the universe. And this small percentage is itself composed almost entirely of hydrogen, with water making up but a small fraction. Water thus comprises much less than 1 percent of the universe. Given that water accounts for two-thirds of the matter in our bodies, we can see that we are most unusual from a purely chemical point of view, not to mention our more remarkable characteristics.


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