Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Paul Event

I had a thought recently that with all the justifiable attention we pay to the Christ event, we might well miss the potential significance of the Paul event.

Think of hierarchy. Think of succession. Think of disciples. Think of those entrusted with Christ's own teachings. And then think of a compleat interloper having the majority say on the meaning of all that happened in the presence of those same guardians! Such a thing flies directly in the face of the whole concept of succession. It should have called into question the whole fantasy of the rule on rule, the whole quasi-talmudic approach where everything is built on something else. But instead, the early church got around the issue by declaring the interloper an Apostle after all. And we have since based much of our teaching on his. There's a weird irony around the word "Apostle." It's supposed to be the same as missionary, which Paul obviously was. The irony is the historical assumption that it also means something akin to "benevolent dictator for life," which I just don't think was Jesus' intent.

But really, doesn't it blow everything wide open, that someone so from the outside of everything could have a personal revelation of Christ and leave such a deep mark on a movement that he had nothing to do with starting? It says to me that actually we are all equal partners in the New Testament conversation after all. God starkly and astonishingly ignores the fledgling hierarchy of the church right at its outset. Maybe he was trying to help the church set aside any idea of hierarchy. Such an action on God's part means that potentially we all have a voice. We are nobodies in the church but Paul was less than nobody -- he was, to borrow a biological term, an antibody. If such a one as he can look on the Christ event and commentate on its meaning, ought we not also to be able to do the same?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Missing the point with Mary

Somewhere in my bible school music training one of the instructors quoted something like the following, which, regrettably, I can't immediately source:
Christians are more likely to sing heresy than teach it.
Well this Christmas, I am guilty. I'm part of a group that will be performing a chant that extols Mary as "Virgo semper intacta" which renders in English as "virgin ever pure." Now in one sense, that of redemption through the death, resurrection, and return of her firstborn, I have no problem ascribing to her any amount of purity. But the literal sense of the Latin doesn't lead us in that direction at all. "Intacta" signifies untouched, by which we may assume that she never, through long years of 'marriage,' ever copulated with her husband Joseph. And that idea I find viciously problematic.

Now the Gospels clearly state that the couple abstained until the birth of Jesus. And I wonder how anyone could extrapolate "never" from such a statement. I mean, why include the limiting preposition "until" if you really mean "never?" But that is by the by. I have been sometimes accused of being a grammar cop, but I shall try to avoid that here.

It's not the misuse of the text that is so problematic, but the damage that the eternal "purity," and (let's go ahead and say it) 'Immaculate Conception' of Mary does to the whole story of Incarnation. To me the point of Jesus' coming was for God to come as an everyman and not have any advantages that could compromise the worth of his sinless life. Think how much easier he had it, if throughout his whole upbringing, his mother was without any faults. How is that fair? And take yourself back to the time he lived in and imagine that he was the only boy in his neighbourhood of probable one room dwellings who had not experienced the childhood trauma of waking up to the sound of his parents' revels at midnight. "Go back to sleep, son -- no, everything's alright, we'll explain in a few years..." Paul's idea is "tempted in every way that we are" and I think he's right. I think he gets the Incarnation in a way that those who wish to ascribe all sorts of fairy tale virtues to Mary just don't.

In black and white, then, the more we embellish the character of Mary, more we detract from the redemption. If Jesus had some unique advantage, he can't be our Saviour and he can't be our Example.

But the quote stands. I will, as agreed, sing this heresy. But not without comment.