Richard Rohr Meditation: Redefining Success

Much of the teaching and culture that has emerged in recent Christianity has much more to do with Greek philosophy and Roman mythologies than the Gospel. This is not all bad, but we must acknowledge these influences. The ego is naturally attracted to heroic language, and so we focused on the heroic instead of transformation: Zeus instead of Trinity, Prometheus and Ulysses instead of the Suffering Servant foretold by Isaiah.

.. The scandalous thing about Jesus is how free he is. He is not a ritualist, legalist, or into any form of priestcraft. The things we usually associate with religion are not what Jesus emphasizes—at all.

N.T. Wright: Paul and Caesar: A New Reading of Romans

We have moved away quite rapidly in recent years from the old split, which was assumed by and built into the fabric of Western biblical studies, between ‘religion’ and ‘politics’. We have come to see that trying to separate the two in the ancient world, not least in the Middle East, is as futile as trying to do so in certain parts of the modern world.  There is a quantum leap now being made from the old way of reading the Bible, in which certain political ‘implications’ could be drawn here and there from texts which were (of course) about something else, and the occasional concentration on rather isolated texts — one thinks of the ‘Tribute question’ in the synoptic tradition, and of the notorious first paragraph of Romans 13 — as being the only places in the New Testament at least where real ‘political’ issues came to the fore.

.. Now, however, we have all been alerted to the fact that the kingdom of God was itself, and remained, a thoroughly political concept; that Jesus’ death was a thoroughly political event; that the existence and growth of the early church was a matter of community-building, in conflict, often enough, with other communities.

.. There is of course a danger, not always avoided in recent studies, of seeing the New Testament now simply the other way up but still within the Enlightenment paradigm: in other words, of declaring that it’s all ‘politics’ and that to read it as ‘religion’ or ‘theology’ is to domesticate or privatize it.

.. Nearly a quarter of a century ago, Pauline studies received a shot in the arm which still continues to invigorate — or, depending on your point of view, a deep wound from which it is still trying to recover.

.. Sanders’ main thesis, which I regard as securely established in outline if not in all its details, is that the picture of Judaism assumed in most Protestant readings of Paul is historically inaccurate and theologically misleading: first-century Jews were not proto-Pelagians, and Paul did not attack them as such.

.. it was in some ways a plea to see Christianity from a modernist comparative-religion perspective rather than a classic theological one.

.. In the Mediterranean world where Paul exercised his vocation as the apostle to the Gentiles, the pagans, the fastest growing religion was the Imperial cult, the worship of Caesar.

.. With a long tradition of ruler-cults going back at least to Alexander the Great, local cities and provinces were in many cases only too happy to demonstrate their loyalty to the emperor by establishing a cult in his honour, and in need by vying for the privilege of looking after his shrine.

.. you don’t need such a strong military presence to police an empire if the citizens are worshipping the emperor.

.. where Rome had brought peace to the world, giving salvation from chaos, creating a new sense of unity out of previously warring pluralities, there was a certain inevitability about Rome itself, and the emperor as its ruler, being seen as divine.  Rome had done — Augustus had done — the sort of thing that only gods can do.

.. where Rome had brought peace to the world, giving salvation from chaos, creating a new sense of unity out of previously warring pluralities, there was a certain inevitability about Rome itself, and the emperor as its ruler, being seen as divine.  Rome had done — Augustus had done — the sort of thing that only gods can do.

.. None that I know of (myself included) have suggested that it must have been heard in Rome, and that Paul must have intended it, as a parody of the imperial cult.

.. The root of Jesse shall appear, the one who rises up (ho anistamenos) to rule the nations; in him shall the nations hope.’ Jesus’ Davidic messiahship, once more, is confirmed by his resurrection, and means that he is the true ruler of the nations.  This cannot, I suggest, be other than a direct challenge to the present ruler of the nations, Caesar himself.

.. I now realize that this tendency also represents part of a depoliticizing of Paul, a desire to move his theology away from confrontation with the powers of the world and into the safer sphere of a faith, a religion, a theology in which the only thing one needs to say about the rulers of the world is that God has ordained them and that they must in principle be obeyed.

.. I have written elsewhere of how Philippians 2:5-11 and 3:19-21 can be seen to have explicit reference to the imperial cult and theme, with, once more, the main thrust that Jesus Christ is the true kyrios of the world, so that of course Caesar is not.

.. in 1 Thessalonians run the same way: when people say ‘peace and security’, then sudden destruction will come upon them unawares (1 Thes. 5:3).  And ‘peace and security’, it has been argued, was part of the Roman propaganda of the first-century empire.[15]

.. Rather, I suggest that Paul’s anti-imperial stance is part of a wider strain in his thinking which has also been marginalized in many systematic treatments of his thought, but which should be acknowledged and rehabilitated: the confrontation between the gospel and the powers of the world, between the gospel and paganism in general.

.. Our struggles over the integration of faith and history, of church and society, of natural and supernatural, simply did not look like that in the first century.

Edward Gibbon and the importance of great writing to great history.

How did this preposterous little man—a snob with often ludicrous opinions who was known as he grew older and fatter as Monsieur Pomme de Terre—produce The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, a panoramic work of roughly a million and a half words with some 8,000 footnotes, covering 1,300 years of history?

.. Nietzsche said that a married philosopher is a joke. A married historian, productive in the way Gibbon was, is not so much a joke but perhaps an impossibility. One can be the author of a vast historical work of the kind of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which was 20 years in the composing, or be happily married, but one is unlikely to bring off both.

.. “I am persuaded that had I been more indigent or more wealthy, I should not have possessed the leisure or the perseverance to prepare and execute my voluminous history.”

.. to a true writer, no experience is wasted.

.. No one who has read it will forget his capping sentence after describing the battle of Salice toward the close of the fourth century, where dead soldiers were left on the ground without burial: “Their flesh was greedily devoured by the birds of prey, who, in that age, enjoyed very frequent and delicious feasts . . . ” His hatred of war was genuine. “Military discipline and tactics,” he reminds us, “are about nothing more than the art of destroying the human species.”

.. “The novelist is the historian of the present and the historian the novelist of the past.”

.. He produced such biographies through his erudition but did so concisely through his unparalleled powers of formulation. Pope Boniface VIII “entered [his holy office] like a fox, reigned like a lion, and died like a dog.”

.. Through 20 years of solitary labor, this chubby little man also proved that the first, if not the sole, criterion for a great historian is to be a great writer.