Tag Archives: Bible

But what did monks DO all day? The holy routines of medieval monasticism


monks_singing_medieval hymn

What did monks do all day? Columba Stewart tells us in his marvelous little book Prayer and Community: The Benedictine Tradition (Orbis, 1998):

The Work of God

At the center of the Benedictine life was the daily round of liturgy called by Benedict the “Work of God” (opus dei). The Rule specified eight such ‘offices’ per day. The first, very early in the morning, was “a comparatively long service of psalms and readings called Vigils.” Then came Lauds [“lawds”] followed almost immediately by four other brief offices during the day—Prime, Terce ["terse"], Sext, None [rhymes with "bone"], an evening office (Vespers) and a brief bedtime office (Compline ["COMP'-lin"]). All told, this amounted to nearly four hours per day spent in communal prayer, during which the monks would work their way through all of the psalms once each week.[1]

Important to the monastic life was the slow, meditative reading of scripture, called the lectio divina. Continue reading

Paralyzed by grace? What we can learn from monastic discipline


discipline-of-prayer-the

We wonder today why we are spiritually anemic. This post from the monasticism chapter of my forthcoming Medieval Wisdom: An Exploration with C S Lewis moves on from the first of the “principles of mastery”–passion–to the third–discipline:

Holiness is not optional, and it requires effort

All this talk of passion may make us think that what is required it the single big, heroic action: casting ourselves into harm’s way for the sake of our loved one. But wise teachers of the spiritual life have reminded us of something we have sometimes forgotten: our lives as Christians are not all about single crisis experiences—single events that change our lives. The imagery of sawdust-trail conversions and emotional “altar calls” may sometimes lead us to think in that way, seeking a sudden, emotional experience as the solution to all our ills—but it just ain’t so.

John Wesley, to take just one example, reminded us that those powerful moments of repentance and coming to faith are just the “porch” or the “door” into the Christian life. The substance of the Christian life, which lasts as long as we live, is holiness. Wesley had a favorite phrase to explain holiness. Continue reading

How important was the closing of the NT canon to the early church?


St Athanasius at Clarence Gate

St Athanasius at Clarence Gate (Photo credit: Lawrence OP)

In a recent short paper on the topic of Scripture and tradition, a student of mine wrote the following:

“While combating the Arian heresy, Athanasius, the Egyptian bishop of Alexandria, was exiled under false pretenses.  In 367, just returning from exile, he wrote perhaps the most important document to the early church, the Festal Letter. In it was a list of Christian books he said were inspired of God. Christians had long debated which books should make up the New Testament, but Athanasius’s list of 27 writings marks the first time a church leader identified the very books Christians today called the New Testament. (Stephen M. Miller, “How we got our Bible A Gallery of Mavericks and Misfits,” http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/1994/issue43/4318.html). The books, which were declared as ‘sacred scripture,’ “were confidently believed to be inspired writings, divinely dictated word by word.”[1]“

This insistence that the Festal Letter was the most important document of its age seemed to me a typically Protestant misemphasis. Not that the books of the New Testament were unimportant. They were central to the life and thinking of the early church–indeed, in ways that we can only palely imitate. However, I wrote in the margin:

“Note that many other documents, including proto-creeds, were considered more important to the church at the time than the Festal Letter, which was something of a “blip” on the early church’s radar. Canon formation was just not a major issue for Christians of the time; they felt comfortable that the bishops, the church itself, the Holy Spirit superintending, the “rule of faith” in the proto-creeds . . . all of these would guarantee apostolic truth. It wasn’t that important to them whether this or that book was declared “canonical.” They were all edifying. They all had a certain authority. Whether some were of the highest authority or not (canonical) was a matter open to discussion, but they didn’t feel this threatened the integrity of the faith.”

I based my response to the student on understandings gained from Baptist patristics scholar D. H. Williams (Baylor University). I don’t think I am overstating the case: tradition, including the rule of faith and the teaching role of the bishops, was simply the primary guarantor of apostolic truth in those early years. Canon had not yet taken on that role, as it does with Protestants today.

What do you think? Did I overstate my case in the response to this student? I am not a Patristics scholar–hence my reliance on Williams (and other things I have read). I am open to correction and constructive debate on this.


[1] Evans, G.R., Faith in the Medieval World. 49.

 

Sneak peek: Christian History magazine reborn with special KJV anniversary issue


Well, it’s finally about to go to the printer, and within a month it will begin mailing. It’s the special 100th issue of Christian History magazine, reborn after a two-year hiatus. This one is on the King James Version of the Bible: all the personalities, intrigue, opposition, and finally unsurpassed worldwide success that played out in the history of this English masterwork.

I’ve learned a lot in editing this issue–not just about Bible translation, but also about the Puritan-Anglican brawls of the 17th-century, American literature, what happens when you translate ancient Hebrew expressions word-for-word into English, what was really up with the Gunpowder Plot, how the KJV over the years has been hampered by an entertaining array of printers’ errors (“Thou SHALT commit adultery”??), and, as they say, “much, much more.” Continue reading

MORE words in the King James Version that now mean something else


The first page of the Book of Genesis from the...

The first page of the Book of Genesis from the original 1611 printing of the King James Bible

Since my first list of such words has generated so much interest, here is a second:

furniture saddle, Gen 31:34. Pity the poor horse whose rider gets this one confused!

gin contraption, snare, Job 18:9; Pss 140:5; 141:9; Isa 8:44; Amos 3:5. Perhaps the reason we get “cotton gin” for “a machine used in harvesting cotton”?

halt lame Matt 18:8; Mark 9:45; Luke 14:21; John 5:3. halt(eth) (ed) (1) is (was) lame, Mic 4:6,7; Zeph 3:19. (2) limped, Gen 32:31. One can at least see the connection here . . .

harness armor, 1 Kgs 20:11; 22:34; 2 Chr 9:24; 18:33. harnessed armed, Exod 13:18. Pity the poor knight whose groom got this one confused! Continue reading

The King James Bible in America–


Cover of "The Bible in English: Its Histo...

A goldmine on the KJV in America

Overwhelmingly, the King James Version has been the “Bible of America”–and although there are plenty of other versions to choose from now, this is a relatively recent phenomenon. In other words, American language, religious thought, and literature, where it has derived from an English Bible, has derived almost exclusively from the KJV.

[On the KJV in African American Churches, see here.]

No one has chronicled this better than David Daniell, in his 900-page doorstop of a book (and I mean that in a good way), The Bible in English: Its History and Influence (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003). The following are some glimpses into the goldmine of research Daniell has given us in that book, into how the KJV rose, proliferated, and dominated in America.

“The Bible the settlers brought with them, even some years after the King James Bible was first issued in 1611, was far more likely to have been a version of the 1599 annotated Geneva Bible than, to coin a phrase, the marginally challenged Bishops’ [Bible].” (409)

But although the Pilgrims and Puritans of the mid-1600s brought with them their beloved Geneva Bibles, this was not to be the translation of the future in the New World, any more than it was in the Old World. No, the future belonged to the King James Version–and this became clear with the printing of the very first Bible on American soil: Continue reading

Both clear and rich: The language of the King James Bible (The making of the King James Bible, part II: Glimpses from Adam Nicolson)


Cover of "God's Secretaries: The Making o...

Nicolson's penetrating book on the King James Bible

Throughout his book God’s Secretaries, Adam Nicolson probes the culture of Jacobean England (that is, England under James I) for clues to the nature of the King James Bible—in particular the political, spiritual, and aesthetic commitments of those who translated it, and how those emerged in the way it was written, the rhetorical and poetic qualities of the language. Here are a few of those clues, which amount to a penetrating portrait of the language of the King James Bible–its sources and nuances:

“[James I’s] troubled upbringing had shaped a man with a divided nature. Later history, wanting to see him as a precursor for his son’s catastrophe, has chosen only the ridiculous aspects of James: his extravagance, his vanity, his physical ugliness, his weakness for beautiful boys, his self-inflation, his self-congratulatory argumentativeness. Some of that had been in evidence at Hampton Court. But there was another side to James which breathed dignity and richness: a desire for wholeness and consensus, for inclusion and breadth, for a kind of majestic grace, lit by the clarity of a probing intelligence, rich with the love of dependable substance, for a reality that went beyond show, that was not duplicitous, that stood outside all the corruption and rot that glimmered around him. These were the elements in James and in Jacobean court culture that came to shape the Bible which bears his name.” (60-61)

“[T]he method, staffing and manner of the King James Bible stemmed from James himself. Continue reading