Simon Goulart’s Ten Principles for Christian Pastors to Those Suffering

I’ve been reading through Scott Manetsch’s fabulous book about Calvin’s Geneva and his company of pastors, and these ten pastoral principles for suffering men and women by Simon Goulart recorded within it were worth jotting down:

1. The pastor should know and have true compassion for the person suffering.

2. The pastor should encourage the ailing Christian to adore the judgement of God and be mindful of his mercy.

3. The pastor should conduct a careful examination of the conscience of the suffering person, probing its condition, deportments, and passions, so as to apply the proper kind [of] spiritual consolation.

4. The pastor should have at hand a variety of examples of faithful Christians who faced similar afflictions and yet trusted in the grace of God.

5. The pastor should remind the afflicted Christian that other believers have remained faithful as they faced similar, or even worse, trials.

6. The pastor should listen to and affirm what the suffering person says, while gently expanding upon or correcting opinions that are confused or inaccurate.

7. The pastor should encourage the ailing person to draw God’s light from the darkness of his suffering. For example, if the patient complains of weak faith, the pastor should point out that even this desire for more faith provides assurance that God will fortify and increase it.

8. The pastor who instructs the suffering believer should employ sharp warnings, combined with consolation and words of praise—yet avoid all flattery and dissimulation.

9. The pastor who consoles suffering people should know Scripture well and be skilled in fervent prayer. Pastoral counsel should return regularly to these central truths: suffering is part of the human condition; God is faithful to his children; God promises to help believers endure temptation.

10. The pastor must employ the words of Scripture judiciously so that the afflicted person can feed on them and be strengthened by them.

(Taken from Calvin’s Company of Pastors, 295. Cf. Simon Goulart, Seconde partie des Discours Christiens, 299-301)

The Judaizing Calvin – G. Sujin Pak

The Judaizing Calvin – G. Sujin Pak

The Judaizing Calvin: Sixteenth-Century Debates over the Messianic Psalms (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), written by the G. Sujin Pak, Dean of the School of Theology and Professor of the History of Christianity at Boston University, presents an incisive look into sixteenth-century exegesis by contextualizing Martin Luther, Martin Bucer, and John Calvin alongside the late-medieval exegetical tradition. Pak seeks to offer new insights into Calvin’s location within exegetical history by demonstrating his use of traditional Jewish exegesis and redefining of the historical-literal sense of the Messianic Psalms. The book is divided into five chapters starting with the medieval and late-medieval interpretative tradition on the messianic psalms then a chapter on Luther, Bucer, and Calvin respectively. The final chapter details Aegidius Hunnius’s accusations that Calvin’s exegesis allowed room in Scripture for Arian and Jewish readings.

In this first chapter, Pak demonstrates that there is an overwhelming consensus within patristic, medieval, and late-medieval interpretations regarding the messianic psalms. She notes that this consensus relates to the identifying of the literal sense of these Psalms as being the “prophecies of Christ and their teachings concerning Trinity and the two natures of Christ” (6). She chooses a few key examples such as the commentaries of the Gloss, Denis the Carthusian, Nicholas of Lyra, and Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples to demonstrate consensus of their exegesis. Pak is insistent that none of these commentators interpret the literal sense of the messianic Psalms with respect to the historical situation of David. This exegetical contextualization is pivotal to Pak’s argument in providing a backdrop for Luther, Bucer, and Calvin.

Luther, Bucer, and Calvin are selected as Pak’s three case studies, and she suggests that Bucer represents somewhat of a mediating position between Luther and Calvin. On the first side of this spectrum, Pak sees in Luther almost overwhelming consistency with the antecedent exegetical tradition as he interprets each of these as primarily literal prophecies speaking of Christ. He sees David as a prophet speaking of Christ and does not view the literal sense with respect to David’s historical circumstances. Luther also consistently locates Trinitarian and Chalcedonian doctrines within these psalms. Frequently in Luther’s exegesis is a fierce anti-Jewish rhetoric which is used for both doctrinal purposes and for purposes of encouragement as he links the enemies of Christ and the church between Roman Catholics and the Jews. While Luther praised the Hebrew language, Luther made it a point to frequently mock and denounce the Christian use of Jewish exegesis—for in Jewish exegesis, the subject of Christian exegesis is fundamentally missed. Luther for these things, according to Pak, is proven to be in line with the antecedent tradition.

Pak next showcases Martin Bucer’s mediated position between Luther and Calvin. Key components of Bucer’s exegesis are his competence  as a Christian Hebraist, his use of Jewish exegesis, and his use of historical typology to demonstrate these Psalms with reference to Christ and the church. Bucer, according to Pak, positively uses Jewish exegesis to root his theological readings of these Psalms. While promoting the cause of reform with his Psalms commentary, Bucer sought to provide a more robust understanding of the Psalms via their “simple sense” which grounds his typological and pietistic readings of the Psalms. For Bucer, historical exegesis was primarily used as a vehicle for its typological end. However, in Bucer’s historical exegesis we can see three interpretations of these psalms, those being, Christological readings via typology, literal prophecies of Christ via David as prophet, and ecclesiastical readings which view the church as the fulfillment of certain Psalms. Therefore, while Bucer does stress historical context, he remains in line with the antecedent tradition insofar as he stresses those latter two interpretations. Like Luther and traditional exegesis, Bucer is also comfortable using these Psalms to stress certain doctrinal points. It is on Bucer’s stressing of historical context which we see overlap with Calvin, but these two still demonstrate notable exegetical divergences.

The end of the spectrum among Pak’s examples is John Calvin. Having set the stage and exegetical backdrop for Calvin’s interactions with the royal Psalms, Pak showcases Calvin as primarily reading these Psalms through the lens of the example of David. Calvin frequently diverges from the antecedent tradition by the “lack of prominence he gives to the Christological reading” (79)—that is, Calvin identifies the historical-literal sense not as prophetic but as concerning David’s own historical circumstances. Most of Calvin’s Christological interpretations are typological and firmly grounded in a historical reading of the text and when Christ uses the words of the Psalm in reference to himself. Calvin is also opposed to a Christological reading of a Psalm which destroys the simple sense of the psalm. Out of that same concern, Calvin breaks with the tradition with his avoidance of doctrinal exegesis. Calvin still retains some reference of these Psalms to Christ—though the primary feature of the Psalms for him is to showcase David’s piety for the sake of “doctrinal messages and pastoral messages for the church…” (100). In the final chapter of this book, Pak introduces Aegidius Hunnius’s (1550-1603) critique of the “judaizing” Calvin in whose exegesis—while not necessarily being Arian or Jewish per se—opens up these sorts of readings to the text. The core of this critique, simply put in Hunnius’s own words, is this: “For the Jews clamor in this same sense as Calvin when he says this to be the simple and natural sense!” (106).  In following this sort of Jewish exegesis, Calvin goes against apostolic exegesis and undermines Scriptural foundations for Christ’s divinity. David Pereus (1548-1622) defends Calvin in his double-down defense of the simple sense and affirmation of simple and composite types. In this debate, we see clearly the charge leveled against Calvin for being a “judaizer” of Scripture.

In the conclusion to her book, Pak recommends some areas for future research, some commentary on different Protestant “schools” of exegesis, and provides three final takeaways pertaining to Calvin’s exegesis. She argues that Calvin’s exegesis can contribute positively to the history of Christian-Jewish relations, that Calvin redefines the literal sense in the Old Testament, and that Calvin should be located in the pre-critical tradition—even while there are still certain elements of his exegesis which show forth in later exegetical history.

Pak’s robust historical background work and familiarity with the Christian exegetical tradition has made for a deeply compelling book. Her methodology offers a concise yet incisive glimpse into biblical interpretation in the sixteenth century, and I believe she offers some convincing insights pertaining to the location of Calvin’s own exegesis within exegetical history. While I do not disagree with Pak on Calvin’s placement in the pre-critical exegetical tradition, I do wonder, however, if her research has provided evidence somewhat at odds with her own conclusions at points. More specifically I wonder if by viewing Calvin’s exegesis as diverging with traditional exegesis (especially with respect to the literal sense) has Pak not effectively suggested that Calvin is in some part a forerunner to modern exegesis? Or does Calvin’s exegesis exist in a world to itself? That quibble aside, this remains an approachable and compact book that I would heartily recommend to students and teachers of church history, biblical studies, and theology alike.

Augustine on “Lead us not into Temptation” and the Lord’s Prayer

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Will this again be necessary in the life to come? Lead us not into temptation, will not be said, except where there can be temptation. We read in the book of holy Job, Is not the life of man upon earth a temptation? What then do we pray for? Hear what. The Apostle James says, Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God. He spoke of those evil temptations, whereby men are deceived, and brought under the yoke of the devil. This is the kind of temptation he spoke of. For there is another sort of temptation which is called a proving; of this kind of temptation it is written, The Lord your God tempts (proves) you to know whether ye love Him. What means to know? To make you know, for He knows already. With that kind of temptation, whereby we are deceived and seduced, God tempts no man. But undoubtedly in His deep and hidden judgment He abandons some. And when He has abandoned them, the tempter finds his opportunity. For he finds in him no resistance against his power, but immediately presents himself to him as his possessor, if God abandon him. Therefore that He may not abandon us, do we say, Lead us not into temptation. For every one is tempted, says the same Apostle James, when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed. Then lust, when it has conceived, brings forth sin; and sin, when it is finished, brings forth death. What then has he hereby taught us? To fight against our lusts. For you are about to put away your sins in Holy Baptism; but lusts will still remain, wherewith ye must fight after that you are regenerate. For a conflict with your own selves still remains. Let no enemy from without be feared: conquer your own self, and the whole world is conquered. What can any tempter from without, whether the devil or the devil’s minister, do against you? Whosoever sets the hope of gain before you to seduce you, let him only find no covetousness in you; and what can he who would tempt you by gain effect? Whereas if covetousness be found in you, you take fire at the sight of gain, and art taken by the bait of this corrupt food. But if he find no covetousness in you, the trap remains spread in vain. Or should the tempter set before you some woman of surpassing beauty; if chastity be within, iniquity from without is overcome. Therefore that he may not take you with the bait of a strange woman’s beauty, fight with your own lust within; you have no sensible perception of your enemy, but of your own concupiscence you have. Thou dost not see the devil, but the object that engages you you see. Get the mastery then over that of which you are sensible within. Fight valiantly, for He who has regenerated you is your Judge; He has arranged the lists, He is making ready the crown. But because you will without doubt be conquered, if you have not Him to aid you, if He abandon you: therefore do you say in the prayer, Lead us not into temptation. The Judge’s wrath has given over some to their own lusts; and the Apostle says, God gave them over to the lusts of their hearts. How did He give them up? Not by forcing, but by forsaking them.

Sermon 7 on the New Testament, Section 9, as found at https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/160307.htm

Wounds as Tethers

Every so often I find myself back at Paul’s words to the Corinthians where he proclaims that if he is to boast in anything it would be only in his weaknesses. To keep him from swelling with pride due to the revelations given to him, he says a thorn was given to him by God. In that wound Paul sees himself tethered to the power of Christ.

It’s perhaps an uncomfortable thought that Christ’s power would work most powerfully in those areas that we perceive to be our greatest shortcomings and sources of shame especially when so much of our time and energy is frequently expended at trying to overcome them or hide them from ourselves or others.

I’m on the cusp of my thirtieth birthday, and I kind of expected that I’d be a bit, I don’t know, more stable or well-adjusted at this point in my life, but life remains about as (if not more) pressurized and frustrating as it felt in my early twenties. One thing I’ve learned though this past decade is that our wounds are not supposed to be ignored. Those places we feel most vulnerable are very often the places that can draw us back to the wounds of Christ and the deep well of love he has for us. My own wounds have felt to me like tethers that keep me from going too far into a life of pride or detachment – I suppose pain has a way of reminding us.  

But not all is glum. Humor and pain are intimately connected, and it’s almost like humble acknowledgement of weakness can prevent one from taking himself or herself too seriously. At the end of the day, I can laugh because frankly laughter feels like a pressure valve for my pain. Joy and laughter are not independent of weakness, and the best friendships are frequently birthed out of shared sorrow.

 My wounds are in some strange way tethered to Christ and his body, and so they aren’t to be ignored. And perhaps they may even offer consolation to those who also feel a sort of similar nagging pain. Henri Nouwen once wrote that “that which is most personal is most universal,” and there are few quotes which have stuck with me as much as that one. It’s a good reminder especially when it feels like our wounds put us at odds with others rather than in connection with them, but here we are wounded together.

Life has not grown easier but who even set that expectation? It’s like Gandalf once said, “there are some wounds that cannot be wholly cured,” and perhaps that’s intentional.  

An excerpt from John Henry Newman

God beholds thee individually, whoever thou art. {125} He “calls thee by thy name.” He sees thee, and understands thee, as He made thee. He knows what is in thee, all thy own peculiar feelings and thoughts, thy dispositions and likings, thy strength and thy weakness. He views thee in thy day of rejoicing, and thy day of sorrow. He sympathises in thy hopes and thy temptations. He interests Himself in all thy anxieties and remembrances, all the risings and fallings of thy spirit. He has numbered the very hairs of thy head and the cubits of thy stature. He compasses thee round and bears thee in his arms; He takes thee up and sets thee down. He notes thy very countenance, whether smiling or in tears, whether healthful or sickly. He looks tenderly upon thy hands and thy feet; He hears thy voice, the beating of thy heart, and thy very breathing. Thou dost not love thyself better than He loves thee. Thou canst not shrink from pain more than He dislikes thy bearing it; and if He puts it on thee, it is as thou would put it on thyself, if thou art wise, for a greater good afterwards. Thou art not only His creature (though for the very sparrows He has a care, and pitied the “much cattle” of Nineveh), thou art man redeemed and sanctified, His adopted son, favoured with a portion of that glory and blessedness which flows from Him everlastingly unto the Only-begotten. Thou art chosen to be His, even above thy fellows who dwell in the East and South. Thou wast one of those for whom Christ offered up His last prayer, and sealed it with His precious blood. What a thought is this, a thought almost too great for our faith! Scarce can we refrain from acting Sarah’s {126} part, when we bring it before us, so as to “laugh” from amazement and perplexity. What is man, what are we, what am I, that the Son of God should be so mindful of me? What am I, that He should have raised me from almost a devil’s nature to that of an Angel’s? that He should have changed my soul’s original constitution, new-made me, who from my youth up have been a transgressor, and should Himself dwell personally in this very heart of mine, making me His temple? What am I, that God the Holy Ghost should enter into me, and draw up my thoughts heavenward “with plaints unutterable?”

John Henry Newman in volume 3, sermon 9 as found here: https://www.newmanreader.org/works/parochial/volume3/sermon9.html

Augustine on Receiving Criticism and Being a Good Critic

Discourse right now is a mess. It’s not hard to spot critics driven by spite or those criticized driven by a certain woundedness. St. Augustine wrote in one of his most acclaimed works, de Trinitate, about his desire for certain types of readers and critics, and we’d do well to consider his words as we read those with whom we disagree or as we engage with those who sharply disagree with us. What Augustine is of course more concerned with is a clarity of truth that comes as a result of charitable criticism and response rather than one’s own ‘rightness.’

“[I will not] be diffident about expressing my sentiments, since my eagerness to have them scrutinized by the fairminded outweighs my fear of their being chewed to pieces by the spiteful. The keen eyes of the dove are most acceptable to Charity’s modest beauty, while the teeth of the snarling dog are neither dodged by Humility’s caution or broken on the solid hardness of Truth.” Augustine, de Trinitate II.i

St. Augustine, de Trinitate II.i

What I desire for all my works, of course, is not merely a kind reader but also a frank critic. This is peculiarly my desire for this work, treating as it does of so tremendous a subject, in which one wishes as many discoverers of truth could be found as it certainly has contradictors. But the last thing I want is a reader who is my doting partisan, or a critic who is his own. The reader will not, I trust, be fonder of me than of Catholic faith, nor the critic of himself than of Catholic truth. To the first I say: “Do not show my works the same deference as the canonical scriptures. Whatever you find in scripture that you used not to believe, why, believe it instantly. But whatever you find in my works that you did not hitherto regard as certain, then unless I have really convinced you that it is certain, continue to have your doubts about it.” To the second I say: “Do not criticize what I write by the standard of your own prejudices or contrariness, but by the divine text or incontrovertible reason. If you find any truth in it, then it does not belong to me just by being there, but rather to both of us by being understood and loved by both of us. If you catch me out in anything that is not true, then I must own it for making the mistake; but from now on by being more careful, we can both repudiate its ownership.”

Ibid., III.i.

Let us embrace the fact that we are all fallible, and let us be charitable and honest in the giving and receiving of criticism for the sake of truth.

A Quick Review: Dan Doriani’s “Work That Makes a Difference”

Dan Doriani, Professor of Biblical Theology at Covenant Theological Seminary, has proven himself to be a worthy contributor, yet again, to the world of faith-and-work writing with his latest book, Work That Makes a Difference. This short book invites a wide audience to engage (ideally as a cohort) their own experiences as workers through a broader biblical theology of work. Dan has managed to provide an accessible book—fit for a variety of different readers of practically any station—that takes seriously the difficulties of work in a fallen world while attending to the inherent dignity of work in creation.

In so doing, he has managed to avoid one of the common pitfalls of faith-and-work writing which often quickly paves over the everyday futility of menial labor. This book is not simply for those who find themselves with different sorts of options and trajectories of new work but for those who find themselves stuck in ordinary, trivial work. Whatever the situation, Dan provides a helpful framework for discerning what one might consider next and how to do honest work faithfully.

This attentiveness to a wide-scope of jobs and callings (and the frequent dissonance between the two!) demonstrates a clear familiarity with the lives of many in a plethora of different working contexts. Though Dan is an academic, this book models a certain on-the-ground level of dialogue and experience which I expect has much to do with his robust pastoral background and managing of The Center for Faith and Work in St. Louis. I heartily recommend this book to the worker frustrated, content, or confused in his or her work as this book is sure to provide encouragement, wisdom, and direction for those deliberating upon what God has for them in their current work or ministry.

An Augustinian Prayer for the Overthinking

This prayer comes at the end of Augustine’s famous de Trinitate (XV.51). As someone whose thoughts don’t ever seem to quit, I hope this encourages you as it did me:

“Deliver me, my God, from much speaking which I suffer inwardly in my soul, which is so wretched in your sight and flies to your mercy for refuge. My thoughts are not silent even when my voice is. And of course, if I thought nothing but what is pleasing to you, I would not ask you to deliver me from this much speaking. But many of my thoughts are of the kind of which you know the thoughts of men that they are vain (Ps 94:11). Grant me not to consent to them, and if ever they delight me grant that I may reject them and not linger over them in a kind of doze. Let them not so prevail over me that any action of mine proceeds from them, but let my judgement at least be preserved from them, and my conscience, with you to preserve me. A wise man was speaking of you in his book which is now called Sirach as its proper name, and he said, We say many things and do not attain, and the sum of our words is, he is all things (Sir 43:27). So when we do attain to you, there will be an end to these many things which we say and do not attain, and you will remain one, yet all in all, and we shall say one thing praising you in unison, even ourselves being also made one in you.

Oh Lord the one God, God the Trinity, whatsoever I have said in these books is of you, may those that are yours acknowledge, whatsoever of myself alone, do you and yours forgive.

Amen.”

A Quiet Strength in A Quiet Place

It was nice to be back in a theater again getting to see a movie which I was planning to see on my birthday back in March of 2020 before everything decided to hit the fan. There was something special getting to see it with friends who have helped, in their own particular ways, keep each other sane during this past year. Things seem to be slowly coming back to normal, and as they do, I find myself increasingly thankful for the people who demonstrate that even the most abnormal seasons are worthwhile.

———

It did not take John Krasinski’s “A Quiet Place” long to find good reception among an assortment of different audiences. While it markets itself as a horror film, many have found that it does not quite check that box. It is an apocalyptic family film which somehow manages to be both wholesome and frightening in equal parts. And while the modern, apocalyptic genre often reeks of nihilism, A Quiet Place concerns itself with an unsuspecting and upside-down virtue of quiet self-sacrificial strength.

Regan, the family’s daughter played by Millicent Simmonds, is deaf in a world where making any noise may result in almost instant death by quadrupedal creatures who hunt with their super-sensitive hearing. Her father, Lee (John Krasinski), is driven to helping her regain her sense of hearing but who ultimately fails to do so—but not without helping provide the tool necessary to expose the ultimate weakness of the predators who have sent them into a life of quiet terror.

One might suspect in a world falling apart that the way to survive is the way of brute force, yet what we find in this movie’s moral fabric is that one’s weaknesses may in fact be a conduit for strength and that survival for survival’s sake is ultimately a dead-end. Like in Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”, the question is posed: what is the point of surviving if there are not still some of us who “carry the fire”? Apocalypse may mean, in a classical sense, an unveiling, but in this film what is unveiled is the surprising moral fortitude of each member of the Abbott family.

Some have commented about the strikingly “pro-living” message of the film in that a baby is joyfully conceived in a world in which having a loud, screaming baby might very well be a death-sentence. It costs each member of this family something to care for this child, but it is a task each one takes up hopefully and in earnest. To have a child in a world seemingly falling apart requires its own quiet strength. And to lay down one’s life in the ordinary routine of life often suggests that one may just be willing to lay down one’s own life even unto death.

A Quiet Place Part 2—while I will try to keep this as spoiler free as possible—takes up exactly where the first film leaves off. The family attempts to survive with one less member but who are still as animated by the virtues of love and self-sacrifice that their father sought to embody. Each bears an even greater load with the loss, and a new character, Emmett (Cilian Murphy), is introduced. Emmett is broken by his own set of losses and has given in to the sort of cynicism and despair one might naturally conclude is only sensible in such a world as theirs. Interestingly, it is Regan and Emmett who make the sequel as emotionally resonant as the first film.

The silent strength of the family (but particularly Regan) has an almost infectious effect on Emmett who in his own isolation of self-survival is reminded that there are indeed people still worth saving even at tremendous risk to himself. The virtue of self-sacrifice is not exclusive to family, but perhaps is demonstrated even more profoundly in a bond without such innately expected loyalty.

The quiet strength of this family is slowly but surely cultivated, and in the film’s fitting conclusion, the hope of this virtue, the fruit of this faithful family, is shown to be boldly carried forth. I hope I don’t give away too much when I say that Lee would certainly be proud.

A Quiet Place Part 2 proves itself to be a worthy sequel. It does what any good sequel should do: it complements and helps reach conclusions of the first film without betraying the moral, logical, or emotional consistency of the original. While I am not entirely convinced there is room for a Part 3, I would be lying if I told you I wouldn’t still be excited for it.

On Loving Rightly

Invariably in friendships are imbalances of give-and-take. Perhaps a practical outworking of “laying your life down for your friends” is not allowing this calculus to dictate how we love our friends but to give out of charity, to love as we have been loved. In other words, to love rightly is to love in reference to something greater than ourselves or our own finite lovers.

St. Augustine in his On Christian Teaching differentiates between loving for the sake of enjoyment and for the sake of use. What he means is that our loves towards things are either towards their own ends or for the sake of a greater end, respectively. We should not think of “use” here as a negative thing unless we so “use” ourselves or others for something less than the ultimate enjoyment and ultimate Good.

The proper end of our love is the Triune God who is unchangeable and eternal, and directing our loves towards this ultimate end should be the reference point of all our loves—whether that be the love of ourselves or the love of our friends or spouses. When we make ourselves or another finite thing the final end of our loves, we settle for something ‘changeable’ instead of the ‘unchangeable good.’ Our loves need something more than a temporary end, and perhaps this is no greater misery than committing one’s life to an improper end of love—however right that may feel in the moment. This is not to say we are to see others or ourselves as less than good but rather that in delighting in ourselves and others we must keep sight of the Good behind that good. Or as Augustine says: “any other object of love that enters the mind should be swept towards the same destination as that to which the whole flood of our love is directed.”

To love ourselves and our friends rightly is in one respect to love them in light of God. Jesus told us that the greatest commandment in the law is “to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and the second greatest is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:37-39). He also told us that, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Each love has its own place, but to love rightly is to keep our loves in order: neither should we place our love of friends over God or place our love of self over our friends. There is a new calculus to gospel love, and Jesus demonstrates this by calling us his friends, laying his life down for us, all so that we might enjoy the Triune God forever. And he invites us into this new pattern of love.