Month: January 2018

The Abbey of St. Victor, Paris

The Abbey of St. Victor in Paris was founded around 1108. It began as an Augustinian community, and a number of very famous medieval people made their way through the abbey. Thomas Becket studied there. He was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral, so that’s a fascinating story. Peter Lombard spent some time there. He would come to be the author of the Four Books of Sentences, a standard medieval textbook on theology. It was the book that Martin Luther had to study and master. We’re going to look at three key figures who had a long association with the abbey. They’re all from the 1100s, and they are Hugh of St. Victor, Richard of St. Victor, and Adam of St. Victor.

Hugh was born around 1096 in Saxony. He made his way to Paris and died there in 1141. From 1120 through 1140, he was master of the school at St. Victor. He gets credit for books he likely didn’t write; they were probably written anonymously by others in the abbey and were later attributed to him. But one book that we know he did write was his book on the sacraments. In this book, he starts by talking about why we need the sacraments. The first line says, “Man’s first sin was pride.” From that first sin came three consequences—death, depravity of the flesh, and depravity of the mind. So far, Hugh of St. Victor is rather Augustinian in his outlook, and when he turns to Christ, he remains Augustinian. This is what he says:

From our nature he took a victim for our nature that the whole burnt offering to be offered up for us might come from that which is ours. In other words, this Redeemer, Christ, had to be us; had to be flesh; had to be truly human. This he did in order that the redemption might have to do with us by this very fact that the offering had to be taken from that which is ours. We are truly made partakers of this redemption if we, through faith, are united to the Redeemer Himself who, through the flesh, entered into fellowship with us.

We also have Richard of St. Victor. Richard was born in Scotland and also made his way to Paris. From 1162 until 1173, he was head of the abbey at St. Victor. He died there in 1173. He is classified as a mystic, but he also wanted to systematize and bring a structure to mysticism. Among his many books was a book on the Trinity. He opens that book by talking about the three ways we have of knowing: by experience, by reason, and by believing. He continues, “The main things we know, or the main reason we can know, is by faith, by believing. That is first.”

Finally, there is Adam of St. Victor. He was a theologian too, but he was also a poet. Let’s just end with a stanza from one of his poems. “Here the world’s perpetual warfare holds from heaven the soul apart; Legioned foes in shadowy terror vex the Sabbath of the heart. O how happy that estate where delight doth not abate! For that home the spirit yearneth where none languisheth nor mourneth.”

The Tyger and the Lamb

We know about the Lion and the Lamb, but what about the Tyger and the Lamb? This is a reference to two poems by the poet William Blake. Blake was born in 1757 and died in 1827. He is buried in Bunhill Fields, the Dissenter or Nonconformist cemetery in London. It’s the burial place of John Bunyan, Isaac Watts, and John Owen. Blake’s family were all Dissenters, and he too was a Dissenter. He was a poet, a painter, and an illustrator. He wasn’t appreciated in his lifetime, but after his death he has taken his place among the pantheon of the great British poets. He’s seen as a Romantic poet.

I want to talk about two collections of his poetry called Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. Songs of Innocence is a collection of nineteen poems, it was published in 1789. Five years later, Songs of Experience was published; it has twenty-six poems. The titles of these collections are a play on the works of the great English poet John Milton, who saw two states of mankind: the state of innocence involved Adam and Eve in the garden, and the state of experience involved life after the fall.

One of the poems from Songs of Experience is a poem called “The Tyger.” And you might remember this line: “Tyger Tyger, burning bright, in the forests of the night; What immortal hand or eye, could frame thy fearful symmetry?” Blake is using the tiger, much as Herman Melville used the great white whale in Moby-Dick, to remind us of the idea of God as not only the God who created the flower and the rainbow but as the God who also created the predator. “In what distant deeps or skies, burnt the fire of thine eyes? On what wings dare he aspire? What the hand, dare seize the fire? And what shoulder, & what art, could twist the sinews of thy heart? And when thy heart began to beat, what dread hand? & what dread feet?” He ends by saying, “Tyger Tyger burning bright, in the forests of the night: What immortal hand or eye, dare frame thy fearful symmetry?”

In Blake’s Songs of Innocence, we have a different poem on the Lamb. But, before we read that, let’s look at his poem called “The Shepherd”: “How sweet is the shepherd’s sweet lot! From the morn to the evening he strays; He shall follow his sheep all the day, and his tongue shall be filled with praise. For he hears the lambs’ innocent call, and he hears the ewes’ tender reply; He is watchful while they are in peace, For they know when their shepherd is nigh.” And then his poem “The Lamb”:

Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee
Gave thee life; bid thee feed.
By the stream; o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing wooly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice!
Little Lamb who made thee

Dost thou know who made thee
Little Lamb I’ll tell thee,
Little Lamb I’ll tell thee!
He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb:
He is meek; he is mild,
He became a little child:
I a child; thou a lamb,
We are called by his name.
Little Lamb God bless thee.
Little Lamb God bless thee.

That’s William Blake on the Tyger and the Lamb.

5 Responses to Modernism

Let’s look at five responses to modernism. Modernism can be defined very broadly, but for our purposes, we’ll define it as a movement that began around the beginning of the twentieth century that was marked by great optimism, antisupernaturalism, and the rethinking of a number of aspects related to the worldview of culture. It developed during the era of Darwin and alternative ideas about the origin of humanity, an era when the Bible—and religion itself—was being severely questioned. Modernism, pushed to its extreme, is basically secularism—the idea that Christianity no longer works in this modern world. We can build skyscrapers, we can cure diseases, and we can jet across the skies, and in this world, Christianity is no longer relevant. There were five responses from the church to modernism. The first was liberalism. Liberalism basically said, “Don’t throw out religion just yet. What if we accommodate it to your sensibilities? We’ll be glad to soften the edges here; we’ll be glad to downplay things there that are distasteful. You can still be modern and Christian.” Liberalism emerged around the start of the twentieth century, and it continues on to the present day, always wanting to accommodate to where culture is and striving to bring Christianity into the modern moment. That was the first response.

The second response was Pentecostalism. The Pentecostal movement today is huge—globally, the largest sector of Protestantism is Pentecostalism. The roots of Pentecostalism go back to the Asuza Street Revival in Los Angeles in 1906. The movement was in part a reaction against the naturalism and antisupernaturalism of modernism, and it stresses the supernatural to the point that it sees the Holy Spirit speaking now and revealing Himself in signs and wonders. It also stresses the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which is considered a second work of grace that empowers the Christian for service and often involves speaking in tongues. Another response to modernism was the Holiness movement. This movement is associated with Pentecostalism and also with something called the Keswick movement. The idea here is that true Christians will live on a higher spiritual plane, almost hovering over this world as they walk through it. The Holiness movement stresses personal piety and personal holiness.

A fourth response to modernism was what I’ll call hard fundamentalism. This movement stresses withdrawal from the culture. There is the sense that culture is rejecting Christianity, and therefore we need to preserve the true church in the midst of a decaying culture by separating ourselves from the world.

A fifth response to modernism is not a movement, but a man: J. Gresham Machen. Let me just give you a quick quote from his great book Christianity and Liberalism: “In the midst of all the material achievements of modern life, one may well ask the question whether in gaining the whole world we have not lost our own soul.” That’s the question Machen put to modernism. He went on: “Are we forever condemned to live the consorted life of utilitarianism, or is there some lost secret which, if rediscovered, will restore to mankind something of the glories of the past?” Machen believed there is a lost secret, but it’s not so much a secret—it’s the Bible, the Word of God. And that’s the fifth response to modernism.

Just War

Augustine of Hippo provided the church with a number of crucial phrases. We have the phrase ex nihilo, meaning that creation was made out of nothing. Another phrase that Augustine gave us is not only important for the church but actually one that’s important for political philosophy. The Latin expression is jus ad bellum, or “just war.”

Augustine’s thinking on the topic grew out of his circumstances. In 410, as the Visigoths were laying waste to Rome, the Romans blamed the Christians and their refusal to participate in the civic religion for the city’s downfall. Augustine wrote an apologetic response: The City of God. In this book, Augustine provides helpful guidance for thinking about what it means to be a Christian in challenging times. But he also sketches out his idea of a just war. He laid out two components to his theory of just war: the first concerned legitimate reasons for going to war, and the second concerned how a state or a military ought to conduct itself in order to wage war in a just manner.

These were important questions for Christians. Many Christians up until Augustine’s day were pacifists, based on their reading of the sixth commandment—“Thou shalt not kill.” Augustine thought about the issue a little bit differently. His reading of the New Testament, and particularly regarding Christians’ obligation to the state as outlined in Romans 13, led him to believe that the state does have an obligation in waging war. So he moved away from a pacifist understanding of war. But how are we as Christians to approach the topic of war from a Christian perspective? This is where Augustine helps us. The first thing he does is ask how we are to think about war and about the point of war. It sounds counterintuitive, but this is what Augustine says: “We wage wars because we are interested in peace. It is ultimately peace that we seek, not war, and war is a means not to itself, but it is a means to peace.” He goes on: “For it is the wrongdoing of the opposing part which compels the wise man to wage just wars, and this wrongdoing, even though it gave rise to war, should still be a matter of grief to man because it is man’s wrongdoing. Let everyone, then, who thinks with pain on all these great evils—so horrible, so ruthless—acknowledge that this is misery.” Augustine is saying that war is misery, but it is necessary for peace.

In thinking about war, Augustine lays out criteria for a just war, reasons why a nation should go to war. He makes the case that, first of all, war should be a last resort. Are there other options? States should exhaust diplomatic options before going to war. He then asks, what are the parameters of war? He talks about whether the war will end once the cause for the war is avenged and the reason for the war is accomplished. He asks if there has been a wrong committed that warrants a war. Then he asks, is force used properly? In a war, there should be a distinction between combatants and noncombatants, and civilians should be protected. In asking these questions, Augustine helped us as Christians to think about just war.

Esther Edwards Burr

Esther Edwards Burr was the third of eleven children born to Jonathan and Sarah Edwards. She was born on February 13, 1732, in Northampton, Mass. She lived through the Great Awakening as an eight- to ten-year-old, and it’s fascinating how that event formed and shaped her. In 1752, she was married after a whirlwind courtship to Aaron Burr Sr.

Aaron Burr was the pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Newark, N.J., and president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) in Newark. He went to Massachusetts with the goal of proposing to and marrying Esther Edwards. After five days, she said yes to his proposal, and he returned to Newark. Two weeks later, she came to Newark, accompanied by her mother. When she got to Newark, she and Burr got married.

In 1752, she had a visit from a friend named Sarah Prince. Sarah was the daughter of Thomas Prince, who was pastor of Old South Church in Boston and a supporter of Edwards through the Great Awakening. Esther and Sarah were about the same age, and they became friends over the course of Esther’s many trips to Boston, during which she spent time in the Prince household. Sarah would also visit Esther in Newark, but eventually she was no longer able to do so. Sarah and Esther decided that they would keep journals and that they would periodically share those journals with each other as a way to continue their friendship. So, from October 1, 1754, until the fall of 1757, Esther Burr kept a detailed diary of most of her days and what was happening in her life.

Some of the accounts and entries are very short. On Monday, January 12, 1756, all she says is, “Mr. Burr gone to New York and I as busy as a bee.” Some of them are a little bit more full and give insight into the life she had. One of them tells the story of when she visited Princeton when they were building the new home of the College of New Jersey. She says, “Soon after breakfast we went up to the college to take a more particular view of that,” that is, the college building, “and our house. The college is a famous building, I assure you, and the most commodious of any of the colleges as well as much the largest of any upon the continent.” And that was true. At the time of Nassau Hall’s construction, it was the largest building in the American Colonies. Esther Edwards Burr goes on to say, “There is something very striking in it and a grandeur and yet a simplicity that can’t well be expressed. I am well pleased with the house they have begun for us. You have a room in it,” she says to her friend Sarah Prince. On another day, she talks about soldiers being quartered in the house. She says, “In the evening, fifty soldiers to sup at this house and lodge, which surprised me much. But they behaved better than I expected considering they came from Rhode Island.” I’m not sure what that means, so I’m just going to leave it at that. “They are going for recruit,” she adds. “How many difficulties one meets in a journey just so with our journey through this life.”

Esther Edwards Burr gave birth to Aaron Burr Jr., the future vice president of the United States, on February 6, 1756. Aaron Burr Sr. died in the fall of 1757. Jonathan Edwards came down to be president of Princeton, and he died in the spring of 1758. And on April 7, 1758, Esther Edwards Burr died of a fever. She was the third child of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards, the wife of Aaron Burr Sr., the mother of Aaron Burr Jr., and a Colonial diarist.