Archive for the ‘St. Dionysius Exiguus’ Tag

Extending the Borders   1 comment

Above:  Adoration of the Magi Stamp from Latvia, 1992

Image in the Public Domain

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According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)

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Isaiah 60:1-6

Psalm 72

Ephesians 3:2-12

Matthew 2:1-12

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Lord God, on this day you revealed your Son

to the nations by the leading of a star. 

Lead us now by faith to know your presence in our lives,

and bring us at last to the full vision of your glory,

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 15

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O God, by the leading of a star you once made known

to all nations your only-begotten Son;

now lead us, who know you by faith,

to know in heaven the fullness of your divine goodness;

through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with

you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 20

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Third Isaiah, in Isaiah 60, applied motifs of the Davidic Dynasty, not to the Messiah, but to the Israelite nation as a whole.  (The “you” in Isaiah 60:1-6 is plural.)  There is no Messiah in Third Isaiah, which teaches that in the future, God will rule directly on Earth.

Yet we have this assigned reading on the Feast of the Epiphany, about Jesus, the Messiah.

Psalm 72, originally for a coronation, describes the ideal Davidic monarch.  He will govern justly, defend the oppressed, crush the extortioners, and revere God, we read.  His renown spreads far and wide, we read.  These sentences describe few of the Davidic monarchs.  They do not even describe King David.  The Christian tradition of reading Jesus into every nook and cranny of the Hebrew Bible interprets Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment of the text, though.

Call me a heretic if you wish, O reader, but I resist the tendency to read Jesus into every nook and cranny of the Hebrew Bible.  Call me a heretic if you wish; I will accept the label with pride.  I even own a t-shirt that reads:

HERETIC.

Father Raymond E. Brown, whom I admire and some of whose books I own, argued against the historicity of the birth narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  I take this point while disagreeing with another one:  Brown considered the account in the Gospel of Luke closer to reality than the one in the Gospel of Matthew.  I reverse that.  I posit that there may have been a natural phenomenon (poetically, a star) that attracted the attention of some Persian astrologers.  This scenario seems plausible.

I, being a detail-oriented person, as well as a self-identified heretic, also wince at the depictions of the shepherds and the Magi together at Bethlehem.  Even if one mistakes the germane accounts in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke for historical stories, one may notice that up to two years separated the stories.  St. Dionysius Exiguus, for all his piety, counted badly.  Herod the Great died in 4 B.C.E.  If one accepts the Massacre of the (Holy) Innocents as being plausible (as I do), then one may wish to notice that the Roman client king ordered the deaths of boys two years old and younger at Bethlehem.  This story, therefore, places the birth of Jesus circa 6 B.C.E.  Either way, St. Dionysius Exiguus still place the birth of Jesus “Before Christ.”  (This is why I use B.C.E. and C.E.)

Whoever wrote or dictated the Epistle to the Ephesians, I am grateful to St. Paul the Apostle, the great evangelist to the Gentiles.  I, as a Gentile, am happy to be in the club of Christ.  I also acknowledge that I, as a Christian, stand on the shoulders of Judaism, a faith I refuse to malign.

The Epiphany–set on the old Eastern date of Christmas–reminds us that God seeks to attract as many followers as possible.  We Gentiles, grafted onto the tree of faith, need to remember that we are a branch, not the trunk, of that tree.  The limits of divine mercy exist, but I do not know where the borders are.  I assume that Judaism and Christianity are the two true faiths.  Yet I do not presume to know who God’s “secret friends”–secret to me–are.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 17, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTONY OF EGYPT, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND FATHER OF WESTERN MONASTICISM

THE FEAST OF SAINTS DEICOLA AND GALL, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONKS; AND SAINT OTHMAR, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AT SAINT GALLEN

THE FEAST OF JAMES WOODROW, SOUTHERN PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, NATURALIST, AND ALLEGED HERETIC

THE FEAST OF SAINT PACHOMIUS THE GREAT, FOUNDER OF CHRISTIAN COMMUNAL MONASTICISM

THE FEAST OF RUTHERFORD BIRCHARD HAYES, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

THE FEAST OF THOMAS A. DOOLEY, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC PHYSICIAN AND HUMANITARIAN

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Adapted from this post

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The Forerunner   Leave a comment

Above:  St. John the Baptist

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART VI

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Luke 3:1-20

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In what we call 533 C.E., (which started as 1286 A.U.C.), St. Dionysius Exiguus created the dating system we know as B.C./B.C.E.-A.D./C.E.  In so doing, he rewrote the Christian calendar and made life easier for historians and archaeologists.  In antiquity, however, dating was relative, as in Luke 3:1.  Establishing a precise range of dates for what follows Luke 3:1 has proven impossible because relative dating was inexact and competing calendars coexisted.  According to the Roman Calendar, Luke 3:1 established the setting of chapter 3 as being between August 19, 28 C.E. and August 18, 29 C.E.  However, according to the Syrian manner of calculating time, the timeframe was between September-October 27 C.E. and September-October 28 C.E.  To complicate matters further, assuming that the birth of Jesus occurred closer to 6 B.C.E. than to 4 B.C.E., Jesus would have been in his middle thirties during Luke 3.  However, Luke 3:23 defined Christ’s age as “about thirty years old.”

Keeping track of time can be complicated.

St. John the Baptist was in full prophetic mode, condemning social injustice, calling out unrepentant sinners, and resembling Elijah.  St. John was also baptizing for repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  This baptism was related to the ritual bath in Judaism.

A few thoughts regarding St. John the Baptist come to my mind:

  1. His teaching included themes Jesus used in his teaching.  How much of an influence was St. John the Baptist on Jesus?  Had Jesus been a disciple of St. John the Baptist?  Or did the two men simply draw from the same influences?
  2. If St. John the Baptist had told people he was the Messiah, he would have had a messianic following.
  3. St. John’s advice to tax collectors, if followed, put them out of business.  Tax collectors lived on the excess funds they collected.
  4. St. John’s preaching led to him becoming a political prisoner.  Herod Antipas had violated the Law of Moses by marrying Herodias, his half-niece and the ex-wife of his half-brother.

St. John the Baptist was humble.  He knew who he was and whose he was.  St. John had an assigned part to play in life.  He played it faithfully.  St. John was humble, not mousy.  His courage led to his incarceration and execution.  He was more than inconvenient to Herod Antipas.

“Humble” derives from the Latin humilis, meaning “lowly” and related to “earth” (humus).  To be humble is to be down to earth, literally, “close to the ground.”  I explain this for the sake of clarity.  When two people use the same word yet define it differently, they talk past each other.

An old joke tells us that How I Achieved Humility is a short book.  I do not lie to you, O reader; I know about intellectual arrogance firsthand, from inside my skull.  My intellectual arrogance is the fruit of being better informed and more widely read than most of the people around me most of the time while growing up.  I recall that most people around me most of the time while I grew up treated me as the smartest person in the room.  Regardless of the objective verdict on that supposition, I prefer the company of people whom I understand know more than I do and who have read more widely than I have.  I have questions, too.

I regard arrogance with empathy.  How many geniuses have been humble?  I do not profess to be a genius, but I grasp that they are intellectually superior to most people and tend, predictably, to be arrogant.  How are they supposed to be otherwise?

Foibles of human psychology aside, we are all “but dust” (to quote the Book of Psalms) before God.  Humility before God is crucial.  Our greatest accomplishments are microscopic in God’s eyes.  The mythology in Genesis 11:1-9 tells us that God had to “come down” (v. 5) to see the great city and the Tower of Babel.  One may imagine, in literary terms, God squinting in Heaven then coming down to get a good look.  Lest we–collectively and individually–think we are all that and a bag of potato chips compared to God, we err.  Yet we are the apples of God’s eyes because of grace.

May we be good apples for God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 24, 2021 COMMON ERA

CHRISTMAS EVE

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Two Annunciations and a Visitation   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of the Magnificat

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART III

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Luke 1:5-46

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Consensus among scholars of the New Testament holds that the first two chapters of the Gospel of Luke are the that work in miniature.  Luke 1 and 2 introduce themes the rest of that Gospel develops.

Luke 1:5 grounds the audience in time and place.  We read the name of the Roman client king:  Herod (the Great).

Herod the Great (r. 37-48 B.C.E.) married into the Hasmonean Dynasty and founded his own.  The Herodian Dynasty held power (under the Roman aegis) until 70 C.E.  Herod the Great, the Governor of Galilee (47-37 B.C.E.), became the King of the Jews in 37 B.C.E.  He had authority in Judea and Galilee.

Consider calendars, O reader.  Judaism had its calendar.  The Romans had their calendar, which started with the founding of Rome–on the B.C.E./B.C.-C.E./A/D. scale, 753 B.C.E./B.C.  The B.C.E./B.C.-C.E./A.D. scale dates to what we call the 500s C.E./A.D., when St. Dionysius Exiguus introduced it.  I notice that he miscalculated, for St. Dionysius attempted to place the birth of Jesus one week before the beginning of the year 1 Anno Domini (In the Year of Our Lord).  Yet Herod the Great died in 4 B.C.E.  Consider the account of the Massacre of the Innocents (Matthew 2:16-18).  I contend that a tyrant who had been dead for three years could not have ordered that slaughter.  I conclude, therefore, that St. Dionysius miscalculated.

I use “Before the Common Era” (B.C.E.) because I refuse to refer to the birth of Jesus as having occurred “Before Christ.”

Much happens, on the surface and beneath it, in these verses.  Some of these are:

  1. We read the identification of St. John the Baptist with Elijah (verse 17), indicating eschatological expectations regarding Jesus.
  2. St. Elizabeth is reminiscent of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1.
  3. The Song of Hannah (1 Samuel 2) is the model for the Magnificat.
  4. We read that St. John the Baptist will go before “him” (verse 17), indicating YHWH, not Jesus.
  5. We are also supposed to think of Abram/Abraham and Sarai/Sarah (Genesis 15 and 17).
  6. Being disturbed or afraid when encountering an angel is a Biblical motif.
  7. The Holy Spirit is a major theme in Luke-Acts.  It makes its Lucan debut in 1:35.
  8. In Hebrew angelology, there are seven archangels.  1 Enoch 19:1-20:8 names them:  Gabriel, Suru’el, Raphael (who features in the Book of Tobit), Raguel, Michael, Uriel (who features in 2 Esdras/4 Ezra), and Sarafa’el.  An alternative text of 1 Enoch mentions another name, Remiel.  Seven, being the number of perfection, may be symbolic.  Or Remiel may be an alternative name for one of the archangels.
  9. The Lucan theme of reversal of fortune is prominent in the Magnificat.
  10. I recommend consulting Raymond E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah--Updated Edition (1993), 358-360, for a detailed, line-by-line breakdown of the Magnificat, with citations from the Hebrew Bible, 2 Esdras/4 Ezra, Sirach/Ecclesiasticus, and the Psalms of Solomon.
  11. Childlessness was, in the culture, always the woman’s fault, regardless of biology.
  12. St. John the Baptist was certainly just kicking (1:41).  Unborn children kick.
  13. Verses 5-56 are about what God did and how people responded.

Underneath it all is a celebration of God.  God has taken the initiative–God the Lord, the saviour, the Powerful One, the Holy One, the Merciful One, the Faithful One.  God is the ultimate reason to celebrate.

–N. T. Wright, Advent for Everyone:  Luke–A Daily Devotional (2018), 89

I agree.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 21, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTY-FOURTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAINT THOMAS THE APOSTLE, MARTYR

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