The Taser's Edge

Some History, and then Some More History, and then Some Future
October 23, 2008, 6:13 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

For my class Slavery and Obedience I had to read William Tyndale's The Obedience of a Christian Man.  He has some great (or otherwise thought-provoking) things to say:

To plenty of American Christians today:
"Prosperity is a right curse and a thing that God giveth unto his enemies.  Woe be to you rich saith Christ (Luke 6[:24])."

While riffing on Galatians 3:28:
"In Christ there is neither French nor English: but the Frenchman is the Englishman's own self, and the English the Frenchman's own self."

On grace (and his syntax can be dense [so I helped out]):
"It is [one] thing to believe that the king is rich and [another to believe] that he is rich unto me, and that my part is therein: and that he will not spare a penny of his riches at my need."

But, since he's writing as a Protestant in 1528, it predictably sometimes has a harsh and anti-Catholic outer layer which needs stripped away to find something beautiful:
"We are called, not to dispute as the Pope's disciples do, but to die with Christ that we may live with him, and to suffer with him that we might reign with him."

Not to entirely let him off the hook, but everybody was anti-everybody else, religiously speaking, for a while there (coming up on 500 years and counting).  If I had owned a first edition of the book at the time, I could have literally been burned at the stake for it under English law.  In fact, Tyndale (who you might know better as the translator from whom the great majority of the King James Bible was 'borrowed') was himself burned at the stake, but only after having his fingerprints filed off.  This was a formal way of saying that he was being stripped of his priesthood and thus could no longer perform the Mass.  If they had only read his book, they would have known that he didn't really want to perform the Mass anymore.  That's a heck of a quote (whether real or legendary) coming from his mouth in the picture that heads this entry.  ("Lord ope[n] the King of England's eyes," if you can't quite make it out.)

One problem with Tyndale and a lot of those early Protestants, however, is that sometimes they dumped important things along with the corruption that had occurred in Christianity, out of overzealousness.  For instance, Tyndale does a lot of work arguing against the sacrament of confession.  That loss is something we should mourn.  Although I think he was only exaggerating and not entirely fabricating the extortion which could be practiced with confessed information, confession is part of the Church that we need.  And to show how it could and apparently once did look…

Behold, an excerpt from Sozomenus' Historia Ecclesiastica (early 5th century):
"It requires divine, rather than human, nature never to commit a fault, and yet God has commanded that the repentant be forgiven…priests considered it, from the first, improper that guilt should be proclaimed openly, as if in a theatre with the whole congregation standing round.  Consequently, they appointed a priest conspicuous for the purity of his life, his wisdom, and his ability to preserve a confidence…In Western congregations it is carefully observed, especially in the Roman church.  There, the place for penitents is in public view; they stand there, sorrowful and (as it were) in mourning.  When the ceremony of the Mass is finished those who are excluded from the communion [note: by their own consciences]…throw themselves flat on the ground with groans and wailing.  Then the bishop, in tears, comes toward them and falls to the ground himself; and the whole church cries out together, bursting into tears."

That last sentence is what gets me.  After this part of the ceremony in the ancient church, the bishop would stand first and then lift each penitent to his or her feet.  I guess I kind of wonder if maybe that's what Judgment Day will look like.  Christ comes toward us in tears that match our tears, we all cry out together, and then he lifts us up to our feet and leads us home.

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