An Inconsistently Applied Assumption

“Isn’t Grandpa coming up the spire with us?” asked the boy.

“No,” said his mother, “He doesn’t think he’ll be able to manage the stairs.”

“He does the stairs at home,” said the boy introspectively, “And at his house.”

“Yes,” said his mother with a laugh, “But there are only 14 steps in our stairs, and there are 223 steps up the spire. It would be too much.”

“I see,” said the boy, nodding as he filed away this new and interesting fact.

 

 

“But,” the runner said to her new manager in dismay, looking up from her race schedule, “Those Marathons are on the same day. Didn’t you check the dates?”

“Yes, of course I did. But they are close together – you should be able to get from one course to another in time. So that will be three races on the 2nd, and another three on the 3rd. Should be fine.”

The runner looked blank. “I can’t possibly run six Marathons in two days.”

“Why not?” asked the manager. “You have a consistent finish time of less than three hours.”

The runner looked utterly bewildered. “But…” she stuttered.

She turned to her trainer, who had just come in.

“What’s this?” said her trainer. He looked at the schedule.

“Don’t be ridiculous. Of course she can’t run six Marathons in two days. It would be far too much.”

 

Three new students were enjoying their first field trip to a barely visible ruin. Most of the old walls were gone, their former whereabouts only clear from lines of darker grass, but periodically, a long ridge of a broken flint and stone wall still stood, running from one side of the site to the other like a miniature terrace.

One of the students, a girl with black curly hair, was using an electronic-assist manual wheelchair. She carried crutches on the back, but they looked new.

“Oh dear,” she said, as they approached the fourth of the walls, an impassable step for wheels. One of her companions looked at her in surprise.

“We can lift the chair over like we did the others,” he said.

“Yes, if you get out and use the crutches,” said the other student with them, who was wearing jeans and a floaty top.

The girl with curly hair shook her head. “I can’t keep on doing that. It gets too exhausting,” she said.

The girl in jeans looked at her crossly. “But you did it just now.” The boy nodded assent.

“I really can’t go on doing it,” said the girl with curly hair. “You go on without me. There’s plenty to look at back the way we came.”

“You’re just making a silly fuss,” said one of the others crossly, and they walked off.

The girl with curly hair sighed, and turned round to go back the way she had come. If she was fortunate, this would just blow over. If not – she knew well the spite and difficulties that would come her way once her fellow students had decided she was just pretending to get sympathy.

Her lecturer came striding across the grass. “On your own?” she asked. “I’m sure you were with some others a moment ago.”

“I sent them on without me,” she explained. “I can’t go on clambering over these walls on crutches. It gets too much.”

Cold, hard suspicion and anger entered the lecturer’s eyes. “But I know you can do it,” she said, “I saw you.”

 

Cherry Foster

Exsultet

This is the night like to no other night,

When things of heaven are wed to those of earth,

Exult! The Pascal Lamb has won the fight.

The Star the flame for ever doth ignite,

The bread of heaven takes away our dearth,

This is the night like to no other night.

This time of darkness as the day is bright,

O wondrous night of overflowing mirth,

Exult! The Pascal Lamb has won the fight.

Defeated is the Devil’s bitter spite,

Let all rejoice around the world’s wide girth,

This is the night like to no other night.

The King of Glory leads us out in might,

Our Lord and Saviour vindicates his worth,

Exult! The Pascal Lamb has won the fight.

Behold! The Crucified has claimed his right,

O blessed night! Our night of heav’nly birth.

This is the night like to no other night,

Exult! The Pascal Lamb has won the fight.

 

Cherry Foster

 

Resurrection_(24) Photo credit Surgun source Wikamedia Commons no copyright
Resurrection – this icon shows Christ bringing Adam and Eve up from Hades. Photo credit: Surgun; source: Wikamedia Commons

What He Gave

“They shall become by grace what Christ is by nature”*

Wüger_Kreuzigung
Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

I am not worthy of the price Thou paidst,

All dust, and ash, and sin and shame and grief.

What trace is left of that which Thou hast made?

Of Thy work’s good a vandal and a thief.

 

What dost Thou here? Wherefore hast Thou such care,

O Love beyond the maddest folly gone,

To enter thus our life and choose to bear

A death so much unseemly for God’s Son?

 

But Grace, by grace, Who speaks and it shall be,

By folly or by wisdom still divine,

Hath made thee precious by redeeming thee,

Who chose that all is His should thus be thine.

 

For by His choice at absurd price to save

He made the worthless worthy what He gave.

                                                                                                           Cherry Foster

 

 

 

 

 

 

*I don’t know the origin of this way of putting it, but I have come across this phrase in the mouth or writing of several Eastern Orthodox priests talking about Theosis.

Posting the Donkey

Donkey_1_arp_750px Adrian Pingstone wikapedia commons no copyright.jpg
Photo credit Adrian Pingstone; source, Wikimedia commons

 

The donkey features prominently in the coming Sunday’s festival: Palm Sunday, the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem riding on a donkey.

 

Old Testament texts quoted in connection with the Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem include the prophesy in connection of the kingship that belongs to the tribe of Judah in Genesis 49:10-11 (1):

“The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people beBinding his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes” (2)

 

And Zechariah 9:9:

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.” (2)

An interesting sidelight on this is the comment on horses in the next verse:

“And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off: and he shall speak peace unto the heathen: and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth.” (2)

 

In the New Testament, the three words translated “ass” or “donkey” appear nine times (or possibly eight (3)), six of which refer to the Palm Sunday entry. (Two of the others refer to Jesus’s comments that if it is all right to rescue/water animals on the Sabbath, it is all right to heal people on the Sabbath). Luke, in the corresponding passage on the entry into Jerusalem refers four times to a “colt” (polos) but not to a donkey (hypozygion, onos, or onrion(4)).

 

The average size of a donkey is just over a metre(5).  They are mammals and members of the order Perissodactyla (odd toed ungulates) which includes the rhinoceroses and tapirs, as well as the horses, donkeys, and zebras. They are hindgut fermenters, digesting tough plant material primarily in the intestine, unlike ruminants such as cows, which ferment food in their foregut (6).

Donkeys are more efficient at metabolising their food than ponies and are highly social: which needs to be respected with regard to their welfare.  It is apparently rather easy to overfeed donkeys in the UK (7).

The donkey is descended from an African wild ancestor, initially domesticated about 6000 years ago in the North of Africa (8).

Pictures from the tomb of Tutankhamun depict a wild ass hunt (9).

Donkeys appear in quite a few of Aesop’s fables, including “The Man, the Boy, and the Donkey” and “The Ass bearing a Shrine”.

In Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Bottom the Weaver is magically given an ass’s head (10).

 

1. Joseph Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth, part two, Incorporated Catholic Truth Society 2011, p. 4.

2. King James Version

3. According to the notes in the RSV, Luke 14.5 reads “son” in some ancient manuscripts and “donkey” in others (RSV p. 66).  The Holy Bible; Revised Standard Version, second Catholic edition; Ignatius Press 2006; p.66

4. Clinton Morrison, An Analytical Concordance to the Revised Standard Version of the New Testament, The Westminster Press, 1979, p. 40 and 104. 

5. https://www.britannica.com/animal/donkey

6. https://www.britannica.com/animal/perissodactyl and following page

7. https://www.ed.ac.uk/vet/services/equine-services/practice/fact-sheets follow link to PDF on “Donkey Care”

8. https://www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk/what-we-do/knowledge-and-advice/about-donkeys

9. https://www.thoughtco.com/the-domestication-history-of-donkeys-170660

10. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act Three, Scene One.

Donkeys in an Egyptian tomb painting, Maler_der_Grabkammer_des_Panehsi_001 wikamedia commons no copyright
Donkeys in an Egyptian tomb painting. Source, Wikimedia Commons

 

Cherry Foster

Water into Wine? Why it isn’t illogical for a Christian to believe in miracles.

“There are still people who actually believe that Jesus changed water into wine.”

This was spoken in a philosophy seminar I once attended on, ironically, Wittgenstein’s later epistemology (theory of knowledge), in a context and tone that suggested that accepting the possibility of miracles was illogical on a par with believing that 2+2=5.

I didn’t challenge it at the time – the discussion went in a different direction – which was a bit of a pity because the way in which I would have challenged the comment was relevant to various things Wittgenstein says about horizons (if I recall correctly).

Whatever criticisms one might level at the belief that Jesus of Nazareth changed the water in six ginormous stone jars into wine, at a wedding feast in Cana in Galilee at some point in the earlier half of the first century AD, that it is inherently illogical is not one of them.

It might be contingently illogical for a particular person to believe it. In fact, I think probably many “people in the pew” who have never been offered adequate Christian education (bee-in-bonnet-issue!) do hold it in an illogical way. Or, indeed, deny the possibility it actually happened with a similar lack of logic.

The reason for this is that what it is or isn’t logical to believe depends entirely on what else you believe.

In this case, if you hold – as Christians do – that Jesus of Nazareth is “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God… of one being with the Father”; “Through [whom] all things were made; without [whom] nothing was made that has been made”*; i.e. the Being which has created the entire world from nothing, it would in fact be highly irrational to suppose that he could not change water into wine at his mere decision. He created these entities and the processes by which they ordinarily relate. All that is depends on Him for its being and nature. It makes no sense at all to say that He could not alter them at his choice.  He, and not those ordinary processes, is the ultimate reality.

Of course, this does not answer historical questions (“did it happen?”, as opposed to “could it happen?”). Nor does it answer questions about believing in God and the Incarnation in the first place (though the rationality, and indeed correctness, of those beliefs is easily defensible, once the proper limits of what the scientific method can actually tell us are established**). But it does point up the extent to which rational belief in or against something like a miracle, follows from what else is believed.

Those who hold the Christian world view, with its belief in a loving creator, are completely logical in holding a belief in miracles and would normally*** be illogical to deny the possibility.

Giotto_-_Scrovegni_-_-24-_-_Marriage_at_Cana Wikamedia Commons
Giotto Scrovegni; Marriage at Cana. Source: Wikamedia Commons.

 

*The Nicene Creed; John 1:3 NIV. The KJV, which is the translation I usually quote from, has “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being”.

**This is a comment that would need pages of writing to justify in detail, but in summary, I have come to distinguish between scientific knowledge, and the extrapolation of scientific knowledge into metaphysics. That is, science can tell us what the internal workings of the physical world are. It cannot tell us whether or not that world is the ultimate reality (i.e. that the “seen” physical world is all that exists) or part of a greater one dependent on a different type of reality. It is possible to put forward a metaphysical theory along the “physical is everything” lines. However, to do so is to use the methods of philosophy (human reason and what makes sense) not those of science (human reason and experiment and observation). In the process of studying philosophy, I came to the conclusion that the degree to which the paradigm shift of the Christian faith’s world view offers the possibility of explaining many things that a “seen is everything” view has to more or less dismiss as unintelligible is considerable, and therefore, concluded that Christianity is at least superior in explanatory power to an atheist viewpoint.

***I say normally, because one can always come up with ingenious modifiers which transpose the entire symphony. It is my belief, however, that it is not in fact possible to come up with any such modifiers on this particular point that could be defended within the Christian intellectual tradition itself, as opposed to within an (uncomfortable) syncretism between the Christian world view and modern Western secular beliefs and culture.