The Didache

Richard Beck's post about the Διδαχή (Didache), or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, got me re-interested in that early Christian text, and so I read Tony Jones' translation (linked to in Dr. Beck's post) in about twenty minutes. I thought I'd jot down a few quick thoughts on different verses that struck me:
  • 2.5-6: I've always wondered about how absolutely we should apply commands like "Give to every one who asks you." For example, should I give money to a homeless person if I know that person will use the money to buy cigarettes or liquor? The saying in v. 6 - "Let your alms sweat in your hands until you know to whom to give them" - suggests that it is wise to use discretion with our almsgiving. This discretion should not lessen our generosity, but it should focus it.
  • 2.2: Notice the prohibition of abortion.
  • 2.7: "Hate no one; correct some, pray for others, and some you should love more than your own life."
  • 3.3: Filthy talking is put on the same level as lust.
  • 4.2: Daily fellowship! Apparently, they needed it, too.
  • 4.6: Hmm...  
  • 4.8: This comes close to saying that Christians shouldn't have private property (echoing Acts 2). We could probably do a lot better in sharing what we have; after all, if we will share everything in Heaven (as the author argues), why not share everything on Earth?
  • 4.9: Spare the rod and spoil the child!
  • 4.10-11: It seems that the early Christians had servants - or slaves, for the Greek word (δοῦλος) translated "servants" here and "slaves" in Ephesians 6 (among others) is the same. This is something worth keeping in mind (not to condone modern institutionalized slavery).
  • 4.14: Confess before you pray!
  • 6.2: "For if you are able to bear the entire yoke of the Lord, you will be perfect; but if you are not able, then at least do what you can." Perhaps a reference to martyrdom?
  • 6.3: It seems that the author(s) weren't aware of 1 Corinthians 8. This is interesting for determining how authoritative we should consider early Christian texts to be (in this case, this particular text seems to go against Paul's writings)  and for understanding how doctrinally and theologically united the early Christians were.
  • 7.4: Already, the Christians seem to be moving away from the immediate baptisms of Acts. I am not sure if this is a good thing; after all, we take our time as well!
  • 8.2-3: We probably do not focus enough on the Lord's Prayer.
  • 9.4: This is a side of Communion that we almost certainly neglect: the communal aspect. For the author(s) here, the Eucharist (i.e., Communion) symbolizes the Church's desire for unity. (And, of course, the Eucharist was originally part of a meal - a social event.)
  • 9.5: Baptism marked the entry of Christians into the Church - not faith. Notice that candidates for baptism (i.e., catechumens) - people who were presumably believers - were not yet considered full members of the Church.
  • 10.6: I love this.
  • 11.1: Teachers have a distinct role in the Church.
  • 11.3ff: "Apostles" and "prophets" seem to be used relatively interchangeably. Also, the different tests for evaluating the legitimacy of prophets are interesting.
  • 11.7: Probably a reference to the unforgivable sin (cf. Matthew 12.31-32, Mark 3.29-30). Not sure what to make of that.
  • 12.1: Discretion!
  • 12.4: "[A] Christian should not live idle in your midst."
  • 13.1-3: Yeah, full-time ministry! (Seriously, though, that's what it sounds like.) Notice that teachers are entitled to support just as much as prophets.
  • 14.1: cf. 4.14.
  • 14.2: This is something Jesus commands as well - and yet I have never (to my knowledge) seen it practiced today. Maybe we should have a time for reconciliation and confession before every Communion.
  • 15.1: Bishops (what we would call "elders") and deacons (literally "servants") are appointed by their churches - not by some higher central authority. And they "render to [us] the service of prophets and teachers."
  • 16: A lot of interesting things here about the last days, imminent eschatology, and all that jazz.
  • 16.2: cf. 4.2. We come together "seeking the things that are good for [our] souls."
  • 16.4: Anti-Christ?
Overall, I find this glimpse into the practices of the first-century Christians quite illuminating. Nonetheless, I cannot help but agree with most of the early Christians that the Didache is non-canonical; it just doesn't have the right feeling about it. But it is very instructive, and worth the twenty minutes.


The Great Divorce

The Great Divorce is an awesome book. You should read it.

Rather than writing a long blog post about it that wouldn't do it justice, I thought I'd just go through some of my favorite excerpts. Don't let these fool you into not reading it! What matters aren't the quotations as much as the characters.

Exchange between a sinner in Hell and a murderer in Heaven who (of course) repented:
"Aren't you ashamed of yourself?"
"No. Not as you mean. I do not look at myself. I have given up myself."
Later on:
"But I got to have my rights same as you, see?"
"Oh no. It's not so bad as that. I haven't got my rights, or I should not be here. You will not get yours either. You'll get something far better."
Once we understand grace, we will stop insisting on our rights.
"I'm not asking for anybody's bleeding charity."
"Then do. At once. Ask for the Bleeding Charity. Everything is here for asking and nothing can be bought."
After the sinner describes himself as a "decent man":
"You weren't a decent man and you didn't do your best. We none of us were and we none of us did."
The repentant murderer confesses some sin:
"Murdering old Jack wasn't the worst thing I did. That was the work of a moment and I was half mad when I did it. But I murdered you in my heart, deliberately, for years."
"You mind your own business, young man.... Because I'm not taking any impudence from you about my private affairs."
"There are no private affairs."
And then the ultimate expression of pride:
"I'd rather be damned than go along with you."
Next is a discussion with a liberal theologian which you'll just have to read in its entirety.

One Ghost (people in Hell are Ghosts) says, "If they wanted to rescue us they could do it." But all that must happen for us to be rescued - and the only thing that can rescue us - is our willingness to be rescued: our willingness to repent.

Another great exchange:
"I wish I'd never been born. What are we born for?"
"For infinite happiness. You can step out into it at any moment...."
On shame:
"Don't you remember on earth - there were things too hot to touch with your finger but you could drink them all right? Shame is like that. If you will accept it - if you will drink the cup to the bottom - you will find it very nourishing: but try to do anything else with it and it scalds."
This latest Ghost is unwilling to repent:
"You've no right to ask me to do a thing like that. [...] And now - please, please go away!"
"Friend. Could you, only for a moment, fix your mind on something not yourself?"
A bunch of pearls of wisdom from Lewis' spiritual mentor (and guide through the afterlife) George MacDonald:
"[Y]e cannot in your present state understand eternity.... But ye can get some likeness of it if ye say that both good and evil, when they are full grown, become retrospective."
"They say of some temporal suffering, 'No future bliss can make up for it,' not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. [...] The good man's past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven."
An interesting take on Heaven and Hell:
Hell is a state of mind.... And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind - is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakable remains."
Some metaphysics:
"Ye cannot fully understand the relations of choice and Time till you are beyond both."
Why do people go to Hell?
"The choice of every lost soul can be expressed in the words 'Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.' There is always something they insist on keeping, even at the price of misery. There is always something they prefer to joy - that is, to reality."
"There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.' All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened."
"The whole difficulty of understanding Hell is that the thing to be understood is so nearly Nothing."
"[A] damned soul is nearly nothing: it is shrunk, shut up in itself. Good beats upon the damned incessantly as sound waves beat on the ears of the deaf, but they cannot receive it. [...] First they will not, in the end they cannot, open their hands for gifts, or their mouths for food, or their eyes to see."
How sinful pleasures lead us astray:
"[T]he time comes on when, though the pleasure becomes less and less and the craving fiercer and fiercer, and though he knows that joy can never come that way, yet he prefers to joy the mere fondling of unappeasable lust and would not have it taken from him. [...] He'd like well to be able to scratch: but even when he can scratch no more he'd rather itch than not."
On bad emphases:
"There have been men before now who got so interested in proving the existence of God that they came to care nothing for God Himself...as if the good Lord had nothing to do but exist! There have been some who were so occuped in spreading Christianity that they never gave a thought to Christ."
On conversion:
"Those that hate goodness are sometimes nearer than those that know nothing at all about it and think they have it already."
"It's only the little germ of a desire for God that we need to start the process."
"[T]he whole thickening treatment consists in learning to want God for His own sake."
"Nothing, not even the best and noblest, can go on as it now is. Nothing, not even what is lowest and most bestial, will not be raised again if it submits to death."
On the danger of art:
"Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from love of the thing he tells, to love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him."
One Ghost is offered to drink from a special fountain:
"When you have drunk of it, you forget forever all proprietorship in your own works. You enjoy them just as if they were someone else's: without pride and without modesty."
A Fountain of Humility! Would I drink of it?

On loving God first (a lot to think about here):
"Human beings can't make on another really happy for long. [...] You cannot love a fellow-creature fully till you love God."
On fulfillment in Heaven:
"Lust is a poor, weak, whimpering whispering thing compared with that richness and energy of desire which will arise when lust has been killed."
On feelings:
"[N]o natural feelings are high or low, holy or unholy, in themselves. They are all holy when God's hand is on the rein. They all go bad when they set up on their own and themselves into false gods."
Repentance is freeing:
"That's what we all find when we reach this country. We've all been wrong! That's the great joke. There's no need to go on pretending one was right! After that we begin living."
On Heaven:
"Don't you know that you can't hurt anyone in this country?"
"Here is all joy. Everything bids you stay."
"Everything becomes more and more itself. Here is joy that cannot be shaken. Our light can swallow up your darkness: but your darkness cannot now infect our light."
"If it would help you and if it were possible I would go down with you into Hell: but you cannot bring Hell into me."
"The Happy Trinity is her home: nothing can trouble her joy. [...] He fills her brim full with immensity of life: he leads her to see the world's desire."
"[A]ll loneliness, angers, hatreds, envies and itchings that it contains, if rolled into one single experience and put into the scale against the least moment of the joy that is felt by the least in Heaven, would have no weight that could be registered at all."
As sinners, we misunderstand love:
"When your own heart's been broken it will be time for you to think of talking. But someone must say in general what's been unsaid among you this many a year: that love, as mortals understand the word, isn't enough. Every natural love will rise again and live forever in this country: but none will rise again until it has been buried. [...] There is but one good; that is God. Everything else is good when it looks to Him and bad when it turns from Him."
"[W]hat we called love down there was mostly the craving to be loved. [...] We shall have no need for one another now: we can begin to love truly."
It is amazing how we have confusing love with this craving.

False religion is dangerous and deceptive:
"The false religion of lust is baser than the false religion of mother-love or patriotism or art: but lust is less likely to be made into a religion."
On pity:
"Pity was meant to be a spur that drives joy to help misery. But it can be used the wrong way round. It can be used for a kind of blackmailing. Those who choose misery can hold joy up to ransom, by pity."
"Either the day must come when joy prevails and all the makers of misery are no longer able to infect it: or else for ever and ever the makers of misery can destroy in others the happiness they reject for themselves."
"[True pity] leaps quicker than light from the highest place to the lowest to bring healing and joy, whatever the cost to itself. [...] Every disease that submits to a cure shall be cured: but we will not call blue yellow to please those who insist on still having jaundice...."
And finally, on Freedom:
"That thing is Freedom: the gift whereby ye most resemble your Maker and are yourselves parts of eternal reality. But ye can see it only through the lens of Time, in a little clear picture, through the inverted telescope. It is a picture of moments following one another and yourself in each moment making some choice that might have been otherwise. Neither the temporal succession nor the phantom of what ye might have chosen and didn't is itself Freedom. They are a lens."


Fish Tank Post: Magic


Is David Too Vindictive?

To me, at least, that can often appear to be the case. Consider, for example, Psalm 35.8-9:
"Let destruction take them by surprise!
Let the net they hid catch them!
Let them fall into destruction!
Then I will rejoice in the Lord
And be happy because of his deliverance."
On the face of it, David seems to be rejoicing in the destruction of his enemies. And, of course, there are countless passages in the Psalms similar to this one.

Notice, however, what David writes a few verses later (vv. 13-15):
"When they were sick, I wore sackcloth,
And refrained from eating food.
(If I am lying, may my prayers go unanswered!)
I mourned for them as I would for a friend or my brother.
I bowed down in sorrow as if I were mourning for my mother.
But when I stumbled, they rejoiced and gathered together;
They gathered together to ambush me.
They tore at me without stopping to rest."
David - long before Jesus exhorted anyone to love his enemies - prayed and fasted for his enemies as though they were his friends. That strikes me as remarkable - and it should give us all pause when we think about David and Old Testament morality in general.


The Importance of Insight

A miraculous story is not terribly difficult to fabricate. I imagine that considerations like that explain the ease with which many people reject the historicity of the Resurrection and other supernatural claims made in the Bible.

To a point, I am sympathetic to such skepticism; the Bible itself warns against false prophets and instructs us to test the spirits (1 John 4.1). But I ultimately find myself less than compelled by such worries, because other features of the Gospels do not strike me as the sort could be easily fabricated.

One such feature is the remarkable moral insight of the Gospels and New Testament writings. It does not take a genius to devise the Golden Rule - or even a particularly good man. But what the Apostle Paul says about (for example) godly sorrow and worldly sorrow - how contrition, in and of itself, is meaningless and even dangerous - is something that I have found to be remarkably true in my own life, and also something that I never would have understood on my own. What the Bible has to say about pride has struck at the central problem of the human condition unlike anything else I have ever known. And such wisdom, I think, is not the mark of "cleverly devised myths" (2 Peter 1.16), but of the Truth.


Fish Tank Post: The Myth of Individual Christianity

Here it is.