Tag Archives: Two Kingdoms

“To bake or not to bake?” A reflection on Christian liberty and the prerogatives of conscience

Should be bork the borks? There are no easy answers.

Should we bork the borks? There are no easy answers.

So often I come across interesting conversations on Twitter that I would love to participate in. Unfortunately there are a good many impediments to my doing so. First of all, I’m often late to the party. I’ve had a Twitter account for awhile, but I’ve only recently started using it with any regularity, and I’ve got to say — I’m astounded at how active some people are, i.e., how often they post things, how many conversations they’re able to have at once, etc. I simply can’t keep up. So I’ll scan my feed when I’m on a break from work, when I’m waiting for my coffee at the Beanery, and when I…

Can we all just admit that everyone looks at their smartphones when they’re on the john? It’s pretty much the reason why these things were invented.

Moving on. I also have a hard time expressing anything meaningful in 140 characters. So that also makes it difficult. Also, I dislike the bickering that seems to be invariably bred by the forced brevity of tweets and the staccato style of the conversations. I’m not being holier-than-anyone by saying this, let me assure you. I’m a bickerer par excellence, myself. I grew up with four brothers.

With all of that said, I did want to take just a little time to reflect upon a topic that was raised by a friend which generated (by my last count) over seventy responses:

 

Vanessa refers, of course, to the recent debacle over whether business-owners really do have the right to refuse service to anyone. Let’s be clear — that is the question, put in pretty much the simplest form. Specifically this is playing out in the context of the wedding business: do Christian bakers and florists have the right to refuse their services to homosexuals intent on marrying? But there’s a corollary issue: what should said bakers and florists do? The “should” question is not one of right, but of prudence.

Another friend suggested this:

 

I’m not Dan Emery Price, but I am a Lutheran. So I guess I’ll do my bit to make the Lutheran responses more various.

I’m really going to try to be brief, but I can’t make any promises.

Constitutionally speaking, there is no question that a business-owner has a right to refuse service to anyone for any reason. In the absence of considerable moral hazard (the exception), this is just a no-brainer. I’d probably take this to ridiculous extremes: if a business wants to discriminate against me because of my race, that is their right. It’s their property, not mine. This is as plain as day to me. The alternative is having Nanny State adjudicate the fairness of all social and economic interactions. Sound familiar? It’s what we currently have. Do you like it? I don’t. So, to reiterate, as a legal-constitutional matter, it’s an open and shut case. Business-owners have the right; it should be protected. Fin.

Now, the unrelated religious question is this: when should these business owners use that right? A right is not the proverbial hammer before which everything is a nail. You don’t have to use your rights all of the time. You have a right to keep and bear arms (theoretically), but you don’t have to pack heat if you don’t want to. You have a right to free speech and a free press (theoretically), but you don’t have to be a journalist.

First of all, we should probably consider whether the business-owners in question have a duty to refuse service to homosexual patrons. It has been stated that because the goods in question (cakes and floral arrangements) have to do with weddings, and since weddings between homosexuals are immoral, that, yes, the putative bakers and florists have a Christian duty to refuse their services.

The problem with this, at least in my mind, is that cakes and flowers are completely extraneous to a wedding. Essentially speaking, they have nothing to do with marriage. You may as well insist that the Christian owner of a gas-station refuse to fuel up the limo that’s going to transport the gay couple from the courthouse to the reception and that his failure to do so would be a sin. Now there is a school of ethical thought that lends itself to such casuistry. Since I promised to try to be brief, though, I’m not going to get into it beyond saying that it sure ain’t Lutheran — it’s Roman Catholic. If you’d like to read a brilliant example of what it looks like in a case of concrete ethics when it’s developed to its logical conclusion, then I commend this document to you. It’s fascinating. However, it’s also highly problematic for reasons which I won’t attempt to get into now.

Strictly speaking, there’s no such thing as a wedding cake. And there are no such things as wedding flowers. Incidentally, there’s also no such a thing as a homosexual wedding. (I could take this a bridge farther and say that there’s no such thing as a homosexual, ontologically speaking, but that’s a whole other discussion.) Whatever ceremony is occurring, whatever profession of vows takes place, etc., what’s happening is not a wedding. “What God has joined together, let no man separate.” And if God has not joined it together (and in the case of a homosexual union, He has not), don’t think that a merely human joining-together is going to constitute (or even approximate) the indissoluble bond of marriage, because it is not.

Another thing we must remember about marriage is that its institution is part of the Orders of Creation — it precedes the Church. It even precedes the Fall. It is a civil ordinance in the most primal sense of the term, as the entire civitas (city) was made up of but two cives (citizens) at that time. Therefore marriage is not properly the purview of the Church but of the State. Therefore it is not quite accurate to state that a baker or florist who provides their services to a gay couple is participating in the profanation of the Divine Service. They’re not. If the ceremony is taking place in a church, and they’re calling it a wedding, then, yes, it’s profane already, and the Divine Service of that church is likely already profane if they’re the sort of church that would host such a ceremony. But even a wedding that is blessed by God in the Church is performed by the minister as a legally-vested agent of the State in accordance with divine institution and the Word of God. It could be conducted outside of the Church and still be a wedding.

In his Pastoral Theology, C. F. W. Walther writes that

Before the preacher officially consecrates a marriage, he should not only be sure that he is authorized for that function according to the laws of the state but should also familiarize himself with the laws of the state in which he is. Observing them is required for a valid and legitimate marriage, and he should proceed according to them insofar as they are not contrary to God’s word. (Pastoral Theology, C. F. W. Walther, translated and abridged by John M. Drickamer from the Fifth Ed., 1906; Lutheran News, Inc. 1995, pp.155-156.)

Rev. Rolf Preus explains that “Walther was following Luther in this matter. As Germany was trying to extricate itself from the church/state confusion created by the pope’s intrusion into civil government’s domain, in 1530 Luther offered theological counsel to pastors on marriage matters.” Luther’s words are apposite:

No one can deny that marriage is an external, worldly matter, like clothing and food, house and property, subject to temporal authority, as the many imperial laws enacted on the subject prove. Neither do I find any example in the New Testament where Christ or the apostles concerned themselves with such matters except where they touched upon consciences. (Luther’s Works, Robert C. Schultz, ed.; Concordia Publishing House, Fortress Press, 1967, Vol. 46, p.265.)

So, really, there’s nothing wrong with selling someone a cake or some flowers. What they do with the cake is none of the baker’s business and, moreover, not his responsibility. If it’s for a gay “wedding”, then that is sad, yes, and doubly sad if the State is so blind and corrupt as to give legal sanction to the misnomer. But the Christian baker should remember that a cake is not part of a wedding and that no wedding is even taking place, regardless of what it’s being called. God is not wedding them. They are not wedding each other. That verb and its participle have nothing to do with the goings-on. They should no more be denied a cake than should fornicators, adulterers, gluttons, or the slothful or greedy. And if you want to deny all of them cakes, that’s your right. But just keep in mind that if you apply that standard liberally and honestly, your business is going to tank.

Well, that’s all I have to say on the matter right now. I’d welcome discussion in the comments if anyone is interested. I didn’t edit this at all, so please excuse my dear Aunt Sally for any inconclusive paragraphs, logic-chopping, malapropisms, etc.

 

+VDMA

“How It Was” by Czeslaw Milosz

Czeslaw Milosz

Czeslaw Milosz

for Mollie

Stalking a deer I wandered deep into the mountains and from there I saw.

Or perhaps it was for some other reason that I rose above the setting sun.

Above the hills of blackwood and a slab of ocean and the steps of a glacier, carmine-colored in the dusk.

 
I saw absence; the mighty power of counter-fulfillment; the penalty of a promise lost for ever.

If, in tepees of plywood, tire shreds and grimy sheet iron, ancient inhabitants of this land shook their rattles, it was all in vain.

No eagle-creator circled in the air from which the thunderbolt of its glory had been cast out.

Protective spirits hid themselves in subterranean beds of bubbling ore, jolting the surface from time to time so that the fabric of freeways was bursting asunder.

God the Father didn’t walk about any longer tending the new shoots of a cedar, no longer did man hear his rushing spirit.

His son did not know his sonship and turned his eyes away when passing by a neon cross flat as a movie screen showing a striptease.

This time it was really the end of the Old and New Testament.

No one implored, everyone picked up a nodule of agate or diorite to whisper in loneliness: I cannot live any longer.

Bearded messengers in bead necklaces founded clandestine communes in imperial cities and in ports overseas.

But none of them announced the birth of a child-savior.

Soldiers from expeditions sent to punish nations would go disguised and masked to take part in forbidden rites, not looking for any hope.

They inhaled smoke soothing all memory and, rocking from side to side, shared with each other a word of nameless union.

Carved in black wood the Wheel of Eternal Return stood before the tents of wandering monastic orders.

And those who longed for the Kingdom took refuge like me in the mountains to become the last heirs of a dishonored myth.

 

+VDMA

Liberty, Martyrdom, and the HHS Mandate

Image by Sodoma.

Dear Robert,

Sorry for taking advantage of a “Reply-all” to people I don’t necessarily know, but here goes…

Instead of a “stand up for religious liberty” day, how about a “stand up for Christian conviction even in the face of imminent martyrdom” day?

I do not expect to get my religious liberty back, as the bare minimum of “reasonable religion” which Madison assumed when he wrote the following quotation is no more:

We hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, “that religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence.” The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men: It is unalienable also, because what is here a right towards men, is a duty towards the Creator. It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society. Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe: And if a member of Civil Society, do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign. We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no man’s right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance. True it is, that no other rule exists, by which any question which may divide a Society, can be ultimately determined, but the will of the majority; but it is also true that the majority may trespass on the rights of the minority.

(Original citation here.)


Yet I’m sure that Madison, if you told him that it was your religious belief that you were the thrall of Satan, and that the man downstairs demanded human sacrifice, wouldn’t miss a beat in telling you, sorry, but your religion ain’t “wholly exempt from the cognizance” of Civil Society. Why? Because absent the bare minimum of natural law, and legislative and jurisprudential institutions which recognize it, nothing stands in the way of people citing “religious liberty” for all manner of civil disobedience, not all of which is truly in the public interest. This current situation with the HHS mandate is no such instance; however, neither is the real problem with said mandate its violation of a generic religious liberty. No, there are many instances where religious liberty has been duly constrained for the sake of the public interest, many of which we as Christians support.

To reiterate, then: the problem is not that this mandate violates a generic religious liberty, but that what it seeks to mandate is pure evil, thus contrary to the natural law, thus contrary to the public interest. If we fail to articulate this and choose instead to crow that our rights are being violated (a tertiary issue), we will miss an opportunity for true martyria.

I will end my preachment here with this excerpt from Thaddeus Kozinski’s excellent piece over at Ethika Politika a few weeks ago:

Do the Bishops want to send the message to Obama that his main sin is not being Lockean enough, in not adequately respecting the sacred “wall of separation” between church and state, in mixing politics and religion? Obama is being a bad liberal in not respecting the freedom of religion of some of the citizens, but he is also being a bad man in promoting an objectively evil practice. Do Catholics want to pressure other Americans in power to be merely good liberals, even if that would win Catholics a short-term reprieve? Should not the Bishops consider more carefully the long-term benefit for our country of declaring the truth, in and out of season, especially when it is becoming quite clear that nothing short of mass conversion to the Gospel can save us?


(Also by Kozinski; also excellent.)

With that said, trying to “get religious liberty back” right now, while the bodies-politic and social are as diseased as they currently are, can be about as successful as giving a sick man a blood-transfusion from his own leg.

Pessimistically (realistically?) yours, sed in Christo speo,

Trent

+ VDMA

Thoughts on the HHS mandate, religious liberty, etc.

I’m having a hard time putting my finger on just what about this panel-hearing made me so uneasy, besides the fact that it was three-and-a-quarter hours long (yes, I watched the whole thing). Here we had five men of the the cloth speaking cogently against the HHS mandate, which would require religious organizations and their subsidiaries to pay for contraceptives and abortifacients for their employees, either by paying for the drugs themselves, or by paying the insurance premiums to the company which provides the drugs. In many ways, it was wonderful to behold. The Rev. Matthew Harrison, president and bishop of my own church body, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, was among those testifying, and I have to say, I was right proud! Yet he along with the others kept invoking the American aura of religious freedom as the reason for their objection to this mandate. Freedom of conscience, they all insisted, is sacrosanct, and not to be violated by the government. The freedom to believe in and follow a set of religious tenets, they claimed, is enshrined by the Constitution, specifically Amendment I, which I will not bore you with by reproducing here. Google it.

I’m definitely sympathetic to this position. I mean, let me be clear: it’s my position, too, and no one can convince me that it’s wrong.

But another part of me doesn’t really care what the government has to say about the free exercise of religion. Because on this particular point from among many, true and undefiled religion before God — which I love, because I love Jesus — bids me not to care. We are to cling to Christ our Heavenly Bridegroom for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, in plenty and in want, because even death won’t part us, it will simply unite us fully with Him.

It is true of course, that when the U.S. Constitution stipulates that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, it means what it says.

It means what it says. Just how helpful is that?

Well, golly. I guess we should go and get someone to tell us what it says. I’m no devotee of Derrida, but we delude ourselves here if we think that interpretation of the “free exercise clause” throughout U.S. jurisprudential history has been consistent.

To whit:

Congress can’t prohibit the free exercise of religion. Except when the free exercise of religion constitutes a violation of civil law. For example, if your free exercise of religion entails crashing jets into skyscrapers, it’s prohibited. By Congress, no less. Crashing jets into skyscrapers kills people, and we, as a society, are against this.

Congress can also prohibit your free exercise of religion if the same entails you, as a man, marrying several women. (But fear not, men: you can sleep with as many women as you want, you just can’t marry them all.) This particular exercise of religion is verboten, as the history of the Mormons proves.

Congress can also prohibit your free exercise of religion if your religion requires human sacrifice. And wouldn’t we support this? I mean, maybe the U.S. Congress wouldn’t be the ones to do it, but I’m sure that the local constabulary wouldn’t waste time quoting chapter and verse, or your Miranda rights, to you if they catch you you with the knife upraised and your victim lying prone on the altar. No, they’ll taser your human-sacrificing ass. And wouldn’t we support this?

Now comes the HHS mandate. It appears that Congress can also prohibit your free exercise of religion if the same would have you refuse to pay for contraceptives and abortifacients.

Know how I know this? They just did. They passed Obamacare. Because they, in their collective wisdom and by means of their legislative prerogative, concluded that Obamacare was reasonable and prudent for carrying into execution all of their foregoing powers, etc., or something like that. I mean, it wasn’t exactly the first huge entitlement package that was pushed through the hallowed halls. I’m not defending it. Just saying.

Anyway the brass tacks of the HHS mandate mean several things for the devoutly religious here in America. If you’re a Roman Catholic hospital, or a Lutheran restauranteur, or a Jewish chiropractor, or a Baptist liquor-store owner, you can’t refuse to comply with this mandate for religious reasons. You can’t say, “the free exercise of my religion binds me to disregard this law,” with impunity.

But you can say that, and you can do that, with…um…punity.

You can civilly disobey. Obey God rather than men. Ignore the government. Say your piece, and move on undeterred. I wish that more would have been made by each clergyman present of the fact of our future noncompliance. Why are we seeking to parley? Cause a major fuss. Clear the temple, so to speak. Let zeal for His house consume us, etc.

We do not have an unalienable right to religious liberty, my friends. It makes so little sense to frame this discussion in the context of rights. Freedom is the ability to do as you ought, and that freedom will never be taken away. Why? Because it is literally a freedom that you can die exercising. Indeed, to die is gain, the fullest fruition of such freedom. To face fines, imprisonment, persecution, and even death rather than forsake Our Lord is ultimately the fate of the faithful in this world. Paradoxically, it is the highest joy and the greatest blessing, as well. Remember that St. Paul, after mentioning his Roman citizenship to the tribune and gaining some leniency from it, ultimately went before Festus and Agrippa, and then before Caesar himself — Nero, to be precise. In the end, all that his Roman citizenship did for him was allow him to be executed by beheading rather than crucifixion.

With all that said, just why is it, then, that we as Christians are walking around like we own the place? We don’t! America isn’t God’s country. Indeed, this whole world is still in thrall to its prince, unless it become the Church, and be sanctified. But then it is no longer the world, for the Holy Spirit calls the Church out of the world, to be separate from it, perpetually other, even while in the midst of it.

But I digress.

I’m not saying that this hearing was a bad thing. No, it was wonderful to see these men speaking of His testimonies before Kings unashamedly, as it were. But we, the Church, need to be already thinking about how we will take “no” for an answer. Because that’s what the answer is going to be, in one way or another, at some point or another.

 

Related post: Liberty, Martyrdom, and the HHS mandate

 

+VDMA

An echo from "A Conversation on Christendom"

foto_1319727755

I wrote the following post back in June of 2010 when I was contributing to a blog started by my friend Matthew entitled A Conversation on Christendom (does one italicize the titles of blogs, or is that pretentious? Oh well. “The moving finger writes,” etc., etc.). No one has posted there since December of last year, and I’m not sure if it’s a shame or not. I liked the conversation while it went on, but I’ll be the first to admit that some of us got kind of pissy and disputatious. I think I probably fomented most of that, actually. Anyway, I’ve recently been revisiting the blog, as the whole topic of the Two Kingdoms has recently been rolling around in my head again. Indeed, it’s never not rolling around in there, but lately it’s just been making more noise…

OK, I’m going to stop mixing my metaphors now, make like a tree, and get…on with my point, which is as sharp as a dagger.

Yes, I’ve been thinking about the Two Kingdoms again, about the City of God and the City of Man, about the sacred, the profane, and the mundane, about this world and how we are to live in it. Pursuant to this, I’ve been tracking down things I’ve written on the topic in the past, because I’m lazy, and I don’t like wasting my time rephrasing things that I’ve already phrased passably well before. I realize that this begs the question: did I, in fact, phrase them passably well in the first place, and do they merit reiteration?

Well, who knows? I suppose you must decide for yourself, dear reader. I’ve certainly had the experience of rereading with a commixture of horror and embarrassment any number of different things I’ve written not that long ago — for example, papers I wrote as a freshman in college. (With that said, a good friend of mine — I shall call her Monica, since her name is Monica — wisely cautioned against judging one’s “past self” with derision and disbelief, for to do so foolishly sets up one’s “present self” as the paragon of truth and right; we ought rather to humbly realize that we all learn and grow, quite often in ways that are only realized in retrospect.) I wasn’t quite as horrified, however, upon rereading the thoughts from A Conversation on Christendom which I am reposting below as I have been in other instances. This is, I think, not a bad thing.

The original title of the post was “Too much history.” It’s still up, riddled with typos which I do not care to correct, here.

Below is an only-slightly revised and streamlined version.

What do you think about Christendom, etc.?

+ + +

What is the unique office of the Church of Christ? What makes Christianity unique? Nothing less and nothing more (not that there needs to be or could be more) than the scandal presented by the Cross of Christ, Christ the incarnate Lord, crucified, risen and ascended, “foolishness to Greeks and a stumbling block to Jews.” Atonement. The great cosmic paradox. This is the Gospel.

This, then – the Gospel – is the unique purview of the Church, of Christianity. It is the Gospel which makes Christianity distinct from every other religion, every other philosophy under the sun, which makes it about so much more than simply “living in harmony with the Divine Order.” The truth is that we are, each one of us, born in disharmony with that Divine Order, out of tune with the Music of the Spheres. We can’t follow the Law. We need the Gospel, or we will all perish. Without the God who justifies sinners in His flesh, we are lost.

What of the Law, then?

The Law tells us how we ought to live while simultaneously showing us how we are not living. The Law condemns and kills the old Adam in us. And there are myriad ways in which the Law comes to us, not just Holy Writ: all of Nature testifies to this Law. The wise men and scholars of every age – Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, Cynic, Cartesian, Newtonian, etc. etc. – have born witness to it. C.S. Lewis called it “the Tao,” attesting its culturally transcendent nature. It is written on man’s heart. As Lewis wrote in The Abolition of Man, there is not really any such thing as a “Christian” morality: there is morality, and there is immorality; the Law which is written on the hearts of even the most recalcitrant and unregenerate man has gone out to all the earth from before the foundations of the world so that men are without excuse. One need not be a Christian to know the difference between right and wrong; that is why it is just that the heathen are damned.

With that said, we Christians do not go to Church simply to hear the Law. We go for the Gospel, which is Christ Jesus, the power of God for salvation to all who believe. This is a power that the Law does not possess, “for by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified in His sight.” No, we go to the assembly of believers on the Lord’s Day to receive the gracious and life-giving Word of God, in the preaching of the forgiveness of sins by pastors and in the distribution of this same Word in the Eucharist. This is the unique office of the Church of Christ. This is her charge until Christ, her Bridegroom and her Lord, comes again. And the gates of Hell shall not prevail against her, for she is Christ’s Body, and His Body has already endured the flames once and for all, and risen triumphant. She awaits the consummation of this victory, which is hers by faith – already, but not yet. Kingdoms rise and fall; empires wax and wane. The grass withers and the flowers fall, sed verbum Domini manet in aeturnum.

The state, however, does not exist for such a blessed vocation, for such a blessed end. Still, this is not to say that its vocation is profane. It is, however, secular. It is mundane. I no more care that the leaders of state who pilot the bodies politic of the world are Christian than I do that my plumber is a Christian. If a man is a Christian and a statesman, then thanks be to God. He may for this reason (emphasis on may) have a more sedate perspective on the limited nature of his office and be more circumspect on that account; that would be a blessing, indeed. But that would in no way change the nature of his office, which Holy Writ speaks of in the following fashion:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed (St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, 13.1-7).

The state can, through negative prohibition and positive injunction, move men to moral action, perhaps even at times creating a penumbra of moral culture. But this cultivated thing is not the Church, for an amalgam of moral men is not the Church. Two or three gathered together in God’s name (Father, Son and + Holy Ghost) are more the Church (indeed, truly are the Church) than an alliance of Christian states, an alliance of do-gooders.

What is to be gained from such an alliance? Perhaps this is the wrong question. What more needs to be gained? Certainly no sacred thing can be gained. Whatever can be gained by an alliance of Christian states is the same secular good that can be gained by an alliance of any states, period. To call such an alliance “Christendom,” however, would be a sad misnomer. Moreover, I deny the very possibility of a Christian state. I do not think that the adjective “Christian” can properly be attached to anything, really, be it corporate or singular, that is not the Church of Christ. (The Christian per se is not singular, not individual, but is a member of the Church, i.e., a person. For a fuller explication of this concept, see “Personhood and Being,” by John Zizioulas, which is Chapter 1 of his larger work, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church.) A state cannot be incorporated into the Church, however, for the state is concerned with earthly order and peace, not salvation. The state wields the Law in order to compel, to punish, to order aright. The moral dimension of the Law, that which concerns men’s outward behavior, is very much its business. It is the custodian of a lesser good, a mundane good. While obedience to the Law merits nothing in the way of salvation, it does conduce to peace and good order here on earth.

All this talk of Christendom has me thinking of the account of the Transfiguration in the Gospels of St. Matthew (ch. 17) and St. Luke (ch. 9). Peter, James and John accompany Jesus to the top of the mountain and are granted a foretaste of the beatific vision in a theophany. Moses and Elijah join them, and talk with Christ (What about? No one knows!) Peter, overcome as any would be in his situation, desperately tries to make the moment last forever; his words are apposite to our discussion: “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

Peter wants to make a more permanent dwelling there on the mountain. He wants the “mountaintop experience” to continue. So he proposes to build tabernacles, wherein Christ and the patriarchs might dwell. But poor Peter—great among the apostles if only on account of his great folly, the penitence he models, and the great forgiveness he receives—did not yet know that “the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands” (cf. Acts of the Apostles 7.48); he seeks to build a kind of Christendom there on the mountain, through his own efforts. But before he is even done with his proposal, the very voice of God the Father knocks them flat: “While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!’”

This reads almost as a rebuke to Peter: the Incarnate Word and the words which He preaches are sufficient for you! Do not desire anything more!

Yes, the ecstatic experience atop the mountain is a free and spontaneous blessing — who, like Ransom on Perelandra, would not want to taste the fruit again? — but life is not lived on the mountaintop. It is lived in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, which we traverse as pilgrims. We have no Abiding City in this Valley, yet traverse it we must. That is why the disciples go back down. It has not been granted to them to stay. They must live by faith, not by sight. On top of the mountain, they did indeed say “it is good to dwell here.” But such was not within their power.

“[There is a preliminary taste of this fulfillment that occurs within history,” Mr. Taylor wrote in the first post, “when Christians of good faith and character live together in peace and justice. You might have felt yourself close to heaven in the home of a beautiful family, or in communal worship during a Sunday service.”

Yes, I think we all have. But it was an unexpected blessing, and the blessing was not the feeling, but rather the reality. The objective truth of God’s grace may not always evoke the same feeling. We may not always feel like we’re on the set of The Fellowship of the Ring, replete with a soundtrack and lembas-bread. But it is Truth, for God’s Word is Truth. And the blessing is not because we good Christians are living together in peace and justice in our meager tabernacles. The blessing is that Christ, out of His great love and mercy, deigns to be among us when we gather together in the Name of God (Father, Son and + Holy Ghost) to hear His Word and receive His Sacraments.

The Church is Christendom enough for me. In it God’s Kingdom comes every moment, at right angles to this earthly plane, farther up, farther in. It’s always now, already, but not yet. We don’t need a five point plan to make it happen. No political schema will make it more what it already is. The Church lacks nothing, for she is bedecked in the robes of Christ’s righteousness. Even though she has been an unfaithful bride, Christ the Bridegroom is ever faithful, daily and richly forgiving her of her many sins, her covetousness, even her murders and adulteries, which have been many. All of these He has assumed as His own:

In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it (St. Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians 2.11-15).

Isn’t that enough? What do we think we are going to achieve or accomplish with “Christendom”? Another tower of Babel, and a worse one that at, for it will be self-righteous one.

 

+ VDMA