Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Review: The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age, by Francis Yates


This is a book about the fascinating intellectual history of post-Renaissance early modern England. As she has pointed out in some of her other books, this period of time, shortly before the rise of modern science, was shot through with occult beliefs which, as she tells us in this book, took the form of Christian Cabalism in early modern England. By the end of this period, this rather obscure occult philosophy had morphed into what we now know as Science. 

Many people don't believe it when you tell them modern science was an outgrowth of occult beliefs, but it's true. As Thomas Kuhn explained in his fascinating book The Copernican Revolution (pp. 128-132), Copernicus and Kepler believed the sun was at the center of a solar system of planets because of their having been influenced by neoplatonic thought via the writings of Renaissance occultist Marsilio Ficino, who is someone Francis Yates also writes about in this book. As Yates tells it, the old philosophy of Aristotle and medieval Scholasticism, which had used Aristotelianism as a philosophical framework for its theology, was being replaced with a new belief, that of a Hebraic-Christian occult 'Christian Cabalism'. Christian thinkers of the time having been influenced by the Hebrew writings of the Old Testament and the mystical Kabbala, which were being printed for the first time in Italy (as was the Talmud, with papal permission no less). Oddly enough, in time, this new occult philosophy did replace Aristotle and Scholasticism, eventually becoming what we, today, consider modern science. 

I was especially interested in reading this book because of a related subject I have an interest in, that of English Christian Hebraism and the Puritan emphasis on the Old Testament along with its creation of a somewhat Judaized Christianity, including the belief in a coming earthly golden age (i.e., the Puritan Hope, or postmillennialism). Yates tells us that "Some English Puritans took their convictions to their logical conclusion by emigrating to Amsterdam and adopting Judaism as their religion" (p. 215) (!). 

This is a book worth reading if you're at all interested in the time period and subject matter.

It's really quite fascinating!  

“The Rosicrucian movement had failed on the continent. Refugees from that failure poured into Puritan England as the refugees from Antichrist. And the Puritan revolution took over some of the aspects of the projected Rosicrucian revolution. This is why there was a ‘Puritan occultism’, why an English translation of the Rosicrucian manifestos was published in Cromwellian England, and why the philosophy of John Dee was cultivated by earnest Parlimentarians… The argument, in oversimplified form, is that ‘the occult philosophy of the Elizabethan age’ was a Christian Cabalist philosophy, with its particular Rosicrucian blend of magic and science.” 

Francis Yates, The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age (pp. 212; 221)  

Also of interest, and best read before the work mentioned above, is Francis Yates’ book: The Rosicrucian Enlightenment 

Melencolia 1 by Albrecht Dürer


Friday, November 30, 2018

Luther’s Works (Volume 54) edition of Table Talk




I recently finished reading the Luther’s Works (Volume 54) edition of Table Talk. I found it to be, as expected, a very good introduction to the man’s thought. Below are a few quotations I wrote down as I was reading through the book:

“One ought to love one’s neighbor with a love as chaste as that of a bridegroom for his bride. In this case all faults are concealed and covered over and only the virtues are seen.” (p. 28)

“For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.”  (Galatians 5:6)

“Concerning the verse in Galatians [5:6], ‘faith working through love,’ we also say that faith doesn’t exist without works. However, Paul’s view is this: Faith is active in love, that  is, that faith justifies which expresses itself in acts. Now, it is assumed by some that the fruits of faith make faith to be faith, although Paul intends something different, namely, that faith makes the fruit to be fruit. Faith comes first and then love follows. This also happens to be the case of God’s works. Circumcision, in so far as it is a work by itself, is of no account. But this, he says, is what counts: ‘Believe in me and be godly.’” (p. 74)

“When somebody asked about Moses and how he could write about the creation and other things that happened so long before his time, he [Martin Luther] said, ‘I think many things had been written before Moses and that Moses took these things and added to them what God commanded him. No doubt he had the story of the creation from the tradition of the fathers.’” (pp. 40-41) 

“This is especially so if the devil turns the gospel into law. The teachings of the law and gospel are altogether necessary, but they must be distinguished even when they are conjoined, otherwise men will despair or become presumptuous. Consequently Moses describes these teachings well when he speaks of an upper and lower millstone (Deut. 24:6). The upper millstone rumbles and pounds. This is the law. It’s very well set up by God so that it grinds. On the other hand, the lower millstone is quiet, and this is the gospel. Our Lord God has suspended the upper millstone in such a way that the grain is crushed and ground only on the lower stone.” (pp. 276-277)

“In the cart [wagon] he [Martin Luther] spoke about Italian marriages [pederasty]. “These [he said] exceeded by far all the lewdness and adulteries of the Germans. The latter are nevertheless sins, but the former uncleannesses are satanic. God protect us from this devil! By God’s grace none of the native tongues in Germany was at all acquainted with this heinous offense.” (p. 278)

“This is what that fellow [Copernicus] does who wishes to turn the whole of astronomy upside down. Even in these things that are thrown into disorder I believe the Holy Scriptures, for Joshua commanded the sun to stand still and not the earth.” (p. 359)

“For a long time I went astray [in the monastery] and didn’t know what I was about. To be sure, I knew something, but I didn’t know what it was until I came to the text in Romans 1 [17], ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’ That text helped me. There I saw what righteousness Paul was talking about. Earlier in the text I read ‘righteousness.’ I related the abstract [‘righteousness’] with the concrete [‘the righteous One’] and became sure of my cause. I learned to distinguish between the righteousness of the law and the righteousness of the gospel. I lacked nothing before this except that I made no distinction between the law and the gospel. I regarded both as the same thing and held that there was no difference between Christ and Moses except the times in which they lived and their degrees of perfection. But when I discovered the proper distinction—namely, that the law was one thing and the gospel another—I made myself free.” (pp. 442-443)

Then somebody said, “It is nevertheless asserted in the Creed ‘he descended into hell.’” Luther responded, “This must be believed. We can’t understand it. That’s the way it is. There will be debate about how the Trinity is in the unity (when there’s no relation between the infinite and the finite), how nature can produce such a strange marvel as the God-man, etc. [While occupied thus with disputation] men will let the article concerning justification go. If only we would study in the meantime how to believe and pray and become godly! We’re not content with that which we can understand and insist on disputing about something higher, which we can’t possibly understand and which our Lord God doesn’t want us to understand. That’s the way human nature is. It wishes to do what is forbidden; the rest it ignores and then starts asking Why? Why? Why? This is what happens when philosophy is introduced into theology." (pp. 447-448) 

Source: Luther’s Works, Volume 54: Table Talk https://www.amazon.com/Luthers-Works-54-Table-Talk/dp/0800603540 

Also of interest is Martin Luther’s Table Talk: Abridged from Luther’s Works Volume 54 https://www.amazon.com/Martin-Luthers-Table-Talk-Abridged-ebook/dp/B074VSR8Y1 

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The canonical text of Scripture belongs to the church



Pastor Jeff Riddle recently did a Word Magazine episode (WM 109) discussing an article Peter Gurry wrote about the quiet Renaissance in New Testament (NT) text criticism:

WM 109: Gurry on the Quiet Renaissance in NT Text Criticism http://www.jeffriddle.net/2018/11/wm-109-gurry-on-quiet-renaissance-in-nt.html 

After 27:00, Pastor Riddle makes some important points,

“There was a consensus on the Textus Receptus, on the received text, and that consensus held among Protestants [i.e., the Protestant church] from the 16th on through to the 19 century… and I believe we had a consensus during the early church about the proper text of the Bible” 

Pastor Riddle points out that the situation we have today regarding the Greek New Testament (GNT) is something similar to Build-A-Bear stores at the mall. But instead of building stuffed toy bears people are building their own New Testaments… 

“You create the New Testament you like. You look at the different variants and the readings and you adjudicate which one you think is best. If you think the traditional ending of Mark is original you keep it in there, if you don’t like it you take that out, or you substitute the shorter ending. Or if you don’t like the woman taken in adultery just put it down in the footnotes and take it out of the text. Again, I don’t see that as an improvement I see that as creating a lot of chaos, a lot of anarchy, with the text of the Christian Scriptures and undermining the authority of Christian theology, Christian teaching, confessionalism… but other people see this as a Renaissance, as something wonderful that’s taking place.”  

I would go further and say such people are undermining the authority of the church.

Until recently, there has been something of a standard GNT (various editions of the Nestle Aland and United Bible Societies (NA/UBS GNTs), but this is changing. As Peter Gurry points out, we have arrived at the end of the NA27/UBS4 era,

"Having these new editions of the Greek text [i.e., Tyndale House GNT] may well require exegetes and teachers to pay closer attention to textual criticism than in the past. Not only will we hear “but my translation says ...” in the classroom, but we are increasingly going to hear “but my Greek edition says ...” Although there has never been a consensus on the Greek text, the end of the NA27/UBS4 era (if we may call it that) requires a renewed level of engagement from those of us who teach." (Peter Gurry, The Quiet Renaissance in Textual Criticism (click here)

As I said above, I’m thinking about the authority of the church.

I’m not surprised when Protestants like Pastor Riddle speak hesitantly about the church and the authority of the church. Protestants have an aversion to speaking about the authority of the church, especially when it concerns the church being an authority on the text of Scripture.

This aversion is, I think, an overreaction against Catholicism. 

The Protestant church does have the authority—and the responsibility—to recognize, receive, and delineate the canonical text of Scripture. 

It is the church—not the individual—who says: “These writings are canonical and no others.” 

As Bruce Metzger put it,
“The Church did not create the canon, but came to recognize, accept, affirm, and confirm the self-authenticating quality of certain documents that imposed themselves as such upon the Church.” (Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance (p. 287)

When Protestantism came into being, what was the Protestant canonical text of Scripture? 

The Protestant canonical text of Scripture was that text which the Protestant religious community—the church—regarded as authoritative. 

“A biblical canon or canon of scripture is a set of texts (or ‘books’) which a particular religious community regards as authoritative scripture.” (Wikipedia)
“The status of the sacred text is canonical: as well as being normative for a community or tradition, it is also that community or tradition’s canon or canonical text. The term ‘canon’ has a variety of meanings, but in the context of sacred texts it means the defined groups of texts for the community or tradition . . one does not add to or subtract from them.” (Ninian Smart and Richard D. Hecht, edd., Sacred Texts of the World: A Universal Anthology (p. xiii-xiv.)

What was the canonical New Testament (NT) text of this Protestant church?

“Finally it is undisputed that from the 16th to the 18th century orthodoxy’s doctrine of verbal inspiration assumed this Textus Receptus. It was the only Greek text they knew, and they regarded it as the original text.” (Kurt Aland, The Text of The Church (click here)

What is the canonical text of the Protestant church today?

This is the question.

But first we must ask, “What is the Protestant church today?” The answer to this question is not as clear cut as it was from the 16th through the 19th centuries. There were minor difference in doctrine in those days, but none regarding the canonical NT text (i.e., Textus Receptus).

Today many Protestants don’t agree on major doctrines, and most Protestants have rejected the Textus Receptus as the canonical NT text. 

There are a variety of Protestant religious communities today, ranging from those who completely reject Christianity to those who hold traditional 16th and 17th century Protestant doctrines.

In short, the Protestant church (or Protestantism) today is in a state of confusion and chaos. Questions like “What is doctrine?” and “What is the Bible?” receive various answers, depending upon which Protestant and which Protestant community we ask. 

Likewise, the question “What is the Protestant church” also receives various answers, depending upon which Protestant and which Protestant community we ask.

The following are some concise truths about these issues and how they relate to the authority of the church vis-à-vis the individual:   

We cannot divorce canon from text.

We cannot divorce the canonical text from the church. 

It’s not up to the individual to decide what the canonical text is. 

We cannot divorce doctrine from the canonical text. 

We cannot divorce doctrine from the church. 

It’s not up to the individual to decide what doctrine is.

Until we realize these are the issues we are facing we won’t be able to organize our thinking on this important subject (i.e., the canonical text). 

As I see it, skirting the issue of the authority of the church (as I believe Pastor Riddle did in his recent audio) by referring to it as “Christian theology”, “Christian teaching”, or “confessionalism” isn’t moving us forward. It’s avoiding an important—albeit uncomfortable—subject: the authority of the church.  

There's a reason for why Theodore Letis referred to the canonical text as the ecclesiastic text, and for why Jeff Riddle refers to the canonical text as the traditional or confessional text. 

Letis knew that the answer to the question “What is Scripture?” is, in the final analysis, answered by the church. Not by a church hierarchy, nor by church councils, but by a consensus of believers led by the Holy Spirit who form the Protestant church. It is this church that recognizes Scripture as Scripture, defines and delimits the Protestant canonical text, and formulates its doctrines based upon that canonical text (sola Scriptura).  

Pastor Riddle carefully avoids speaking about the church (I think) because he believes that by mentioning the authority of the church he will come too close to the error of the Catholics (i.e., church authority over and above Scripture) and perhaps fall into it.  

Notice how carefully he speaks of theology, tradition, and confessionalism instead of speaking about the church… I can almost hear him thinking to himself, “Don’t make the mistake of saying ‘church’ while you’re explaining this!”…

“Again, I don’t see that as an improvement I see that as creating a lot of chaos, a lot of anarchy, with the text of the Christian Scriptures and undermining the authority of Christian theology, Christian teaching, confessionalism…”

Who but the church gives us authoritative Christian theology?
Who but the church gives us authoritative Christian teaching?
Who but the church gives us authoritative confessions?

All of these have Scripture as their foundation (sola Scriptura) but Protestant theology, teaching, and confessions have been brought into being by the Protestant church. 

The authority of these—theology, teaching, confessions—rests first upon Scripture and second upon the church. 

Those who are joined to Christ by the Holy Ghost are united to his church; are under the authority of his church; and his church is under the authority of Scripture (and ultimately Christ). 

New believers are taught by his church: 1) what Scripture is; and 2) what Scripture teaches. 

I’m sure when a new Christian joins Pastor Riddle’s church she’s told 1) what the Bible is, and 2) what the Bible teaches.

And herein lies the authority of the church regarding both Scripture and doctrine. 

The 16th century Protestant church has handed down to us both its Bible and its doctrine. 

We can call this Christian theology, tradition, confessionalism, or whatever else we want to call it but, in the final analysis, what we are saying is: the church. 

This is why Letis speaks of the ecclesiastical text. The text we use today is the canonical text the church has used and has handed down to us. 

The traditional canonical text we use today is not the modern critical text the academy uses.  

The ecclesiastical text is the confessional text; it is the traditional text; it is the text the Protestant church handed down to us, just as the Protestant church handed down to us its doctrines. 

I believe we need to stop shying away from speaking about the authority of the church because, at the end of the day, only the church can answer the questions: “What is Scripture?” and "What is doctrine?"

Is Scripture self attesting? Yes, it is. Is the Holy Sprit guiding us to recognize Scripture? Yes, he is. Who should we join ourselves to when we join a church? We should join to those whom the Holy Ghost has led to formulate similar doctrines and to recognize similar canonical texts (and translations thereof). 

Is this always possible? No, it’s not. But, in a sense, those of us who recognize the authority of the traditional Protestant canonical text do form a particular religious community, even if we can't always occupy the same physical space.  

There are as many religious communities—churches—as there are canonical texts.

Those religious communities that use the modern critical academic text and the translations based upon them form particular religious communities. Why? Because their canonical text is particular to them.

By definition, a church that uses the English Standard Version of the Bible and adopts the criticism of the academy is not the same church as one that uses the King James Version and rejects the criticism of the academy. 

These churches may have many similarities but they are not on the same page regarding the questions: “What is the canonical text?” and “What is doctrine?”

Protestants have a choice: embrace the historic and traditional Protestant canonical text and doctrine, or reject it.

It seems most Protestants today have chosen to reject this canonical text. And those who have chosen to do so have also rejected at least some of the traditional Protestant doctrines by doing so (e.g., providential preservation; verbal, plenary inspiration). 

Many more Protestants are rejecting even more doctrines (e.g., eternal punishment, vicarious atonement). And this is no surprise. In so doing they are, in fact, creating new religious communities… new churches… while still claiming to be Protestant.

This is all the more reason to cling—not only to traditional Protestant doctrine but—to the Protestant, confessional, traditional, ecclesiastical, canonical text.   

“Unto this catholic visible Church Christ has given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God…” (Westminster Confession of Faith (25:3)

The “oracles” the confession speaks of here are the holy Scriptures, which are the church’s “infallible oracle and rule of faith and practice.” (A.A. Hodge, A Commentary on the Confession (p. 408).

The Protestant canonical text doesn’t belong to Bible publishers, academic critics, Christian theology, tradition, or confessionalism.

The Protestant canonical text of Scripture belongs to the Protestant church. 

“The defense of the Textus Receptus, therefore, is a necessary part of the defense of Protestantism.” (E. F. Hills, The King James Version Defended (p. 193)

“If Catholic interpretation gives a preeminent place to religious authority, and if mainline Protestantism does the same for technical expertise, evangelical interpretation assigns first place to popular approval. Another way of putting these differences is to say that the magisterium for Catholics has been, at least officially, the church’s teaching officers who, it is true, regularly solicit the counsel of scholars and acknowledge the sentiments of the people. Mainline Protestantism, on the other hand, has given magisterial authority to ‘scientific’ study proceeding from university-level research, while attempting to adapt such learning to the needs of the pew and while recognizing the importance of popular leaders as mediators of the technical expertise. Evangelicals, by contrast, regularly speak of ‘the church’ in its entirety as the magisterium… And while the evangelical community respects its scholars, it also expects them to communicate the results of research in a style that is both understandable and supports treasured beliefs. The root of this evangelical bent toward democratic interpretation is the Reformation teaching on the priesthood of all believers.” (Mark A. Noll, Between Criticism and Faith: Evangelicals, Scholarship, and the Bible in America (pp. 150-151)

“The dangers of the Bible slipping from the ecclesiastical life in which it gives its life’s blood, namely the church, however you conceive that... the Bible slipping out of the hands of the church and into the hands of Bible societies and profit making Bible and book publishers so that now the church, if we can speak in broad terms of that, and those confessional and conservative Christians throughout the world who still find the Bible authoritative are now in bondage to profit making publishers who reconfigure the canon of Scripture to make it marketable so that the actual content and parameters, the borders and the boundaries of the text of Scripture itself is no longer determined within the believing community, it’s being determined by extraneous corporate entities. I call them the Bible landlords. They now control the Scriptures and dictate to believers and the institutional church what they will accept as Scripture. This is a deplorable state of being and is, perhaps, the last gasps of the life of Protestantism as we know it. It’s an indication of the disarray of worldwide Protestantism.”  (Theodore P. Letis, Lecture on The Woman Taken in Adultery (audio here)