Piety and high finance. Christian ecumenism and Middle Eastern tension. The Vatican and a Kentucky businessman meeting to fund a Holy-land venture. A ruined 1st-century Jerusalem synagogue excavated while laying the foundation of a 21st-century hundred-million dollar hotel complex. (Then its old coins and other relics captured, one imagines, under plexiglass cases in the behemoth’s gleaming lobby).
All of this and more surfaces in yesterday’s news story about the “Magdala Center,” coming soon to the Sea of Galilee.
I’m sorry, I just find the powerful gospel associations of the Holy Land creepily incongruous with accommodations that will undoubtedly prove both luxurious and unattainable to 99.99% of the world population–not to mention the crew of fishermen who once hung around the Messiah. Continue reading
Giotto's Franciscan allegory of poverty: Poverty is a winged gaunt woman dressed only in rags, at whom children throw stones or brandish sticks. Christ himself marries this woman to St Francis. Numerous angels, as well as the personifications of Hope and Chastity, are present as witnesses. As offerings, two angels carry worldly goods heavenwards. The reactions of the world are depicted at either side: on the left a young man imitates Francis, and on the right the rich express ridicule.
The most recent issue of neoconservative Acton Institute‘s organ, Religion & Liberty, brings an interesting interview with “paleoorthodox” pundit Thomas C. Oden. Actually it is an excerpt of the interview; other bits of interview, dealing with Marxist liberation theology and the current condition of Oden’s United Methodist Church, can be found here.
The excerpt printed in Religion & Liberty ranges from early Christian treatment of the poor to global South missionaries coming to the West. Here are some of Oden’s comments on the value of patristic exegesis for today’s Christians–in particular where such exegesis was applied to social issues:
Why do you think many evangelicals, in their searching, are drawn to patristic thought and commentary? What can churches do to encourage those that are searching?
They’re drawn to patristic thought because it is wise. They are hungry for wisdom. They are looking for reliable Christian teaching and, in many cases, evangelicals have not been exposed to these documents because they have been focused on Christian doctrine since the Reformation. Continue reading
This is a talk I put together from a number of sources for HS890: Resources for Radical Living, a Bethel Seminary DMin course, Jan 2011 [Key to sources provided at end of article]
SCHM: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me”: (Matthew 25:35-36). These words of Christ, along with the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37), the almsgiving practiced in many Hebrew synagogues, and the Old Testament precedent allowing the poor to glean fields, all made a profound impression on the minds of the early Christians, and they diligently sought to emulate these practices. (125)
SCHM: Tertullian (d. ca. 220), the Latin church father in northern Africa, informs us that the early Christians had a common fund to which they gave voluntarily, without any compulsion, on a given day of the month or whenever they wished to contribute (Apology 39). This fund supported widows,  the physically disabled, needy orphans, the sick, prisoners incarcerated for their Christian faith, and teachers requiring help; it provided burials for poor people and sometimes funds for the release of slaves. [Here are Tertullian’s exact words (from one of the Christian History Money issues: “Even if there is a chest of a sort, it is not made up of money paid in entrance-fees, as if religion were a matter of contract. Every man once a month brings some modest coin—or whenever he wishes, and only if he does wish, and if he can; for nobody is compelled; it is a voluntary offering. You might call them the trust funds of piety. For they are not spent upon banquets nor drinking-parties nor thankless eating-houses; but to feed the poor and to bury them, for boys and girls who lack property and parents, and then for slaves grown old and shipwrecked mariners; and any who may be in mines, islands, or prisons ….”] Continue reading
A 17th-c. Saint Nicolas icon, Historic Museum in Sanok, Poland
I could apparently spend my entire day just posting on interesting articles around the web about St. Nicholas, whose feast day is today. But this will be the last one. It’s a brief piece in the Huffington Post by new monastics Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, giving their own particular take on the jolly old guy . . . well, at least on his prototype, St. Nicholas of Myra:
Even though we don’t expect Santa for another few weeks, December 6th is the day when we remember the original “Old St. Nick.” Nicholas was bishop of Myra in fourth-century Turkey. Little is known about his life except that he entrusted himself to Jesus at an early age and, when his parents died, gave all of their possessions to the poor. Continue reading
Francis, renouncing everything for the love of God
In preparation for teaching Resources for Radical Living with my partner in crime, Mark Van Steenwyk, I’ve been re-reading Paul Sabatier‘s ground-breaking Vie de S. Francois d’Assise, though in a new, annotated English edition. This is The Road to Assisi: The Essential Biography of St. Francis, ed. with intro and annotations by Jon M. Sweeney (Brewster, MA: Paraclete, 2003)–well done and informative in its many annotations.
Since in Resources for Radical Living we are using Francis as a case study in penitential living, I have been looking for material in Sabatier on the penitential life. Plenty of suggestions show up early in Sabatier’s text about why Francis lived the way he did: he was a party animal early in life with too much money and not enough sense, who eventually had a serious illness and came to see the emptiness of his former hedonism. Then, impetuous in doing good as much as he had been in his frivolities, he turned to Christ for answers, and he took the Gospel message not just seriously, but literally.
Sabatier tells all of this in his chapter six: “First Year of Apostolate (Spring 1209 – Summer 1210)”:
After hearing the gospel passage preached to him about selling all you have, going, and following Christ, “Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff” (44),
The very next morning Francis went up to Assisi and began to preach. Continue reading
The following are brief excerpts and quotations I marked while reading Mark Galli’s Francis of Assisi and His World (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002). Galli, managing editor of Christianity Today and former managing editor of Christian History, did his homework well, and this little book, like Chesterton’s biography of Francis, is full of insights. Galli does tend to find “legalism” in medieval monasticism, and has cautioned evangelicals about their “romance of the cloister.” But his understanding of the sacrament of penance (see below) is more nuanced than that of most Protestants. Continue reading
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants, Resources for Radical Living
Tagged asceticism, Francis of Assisi, Franciscans, friars, leprosy, Mark Galli, Middle Ages, miracles, poverty, sacrament of penance, the mendicants, the poor
I am fascinated by Francis.
Francis of Assisi (1181/2 – 1226) was, I think, a man in many ways well ahead of his time. Being human, he was not without his oddities and peccadilloes. But he drank deeply from the sorts of spiritual wells that have more recently animated the charismatic movement.
He took monasticism to its next logical step in living what Weber would later call a “worldly asceticism”: his model of Imitatio Christi understood as a vigorous and peripatetic service to the world transformed medieval religious life. The Franciscans and Dominicans both lived it out for centuries after his death, though often in ways that would have made poor Francis’s hair curl.
He recognized with laser clarity the toxicity of wealth and the heroic measures necessary to save oneself from pride.
What a saint was Francis! Still today I am challenged every time I read of his life.
All of this I was beginning to discover in 1994, at age 31, as I moved on from both my Christian tutelage in the charismatic movement and my secular vocation in corporate communications to the full-time study of church history Continue reading
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants, Resources for Radical Living
Tagged asceticism, charismatic movement, discipleship, Dominicans, Francis of Assisi, Franciscans, friars, humility, joy, monasticism, poverty, prayer, the mendicants