Thursday, April 27, 2006


AMPHITRYON: Sollicita tanti pretia natales habent, semperque magno constitit nasci deum.

LYCUS: Quemcumque miserum videris, hominem scias.

AMPHITRYON: Quemcumque fortem videris, miserum neges.

AMPHITRYON: Disquiet is the price of such high births.

LYCUS: If you see someone wretched, you know him to be man [as opposed to god].

AMPHITRYON: If you see someone valiant, you must deny that he is wretched.

-Seneca's Hercules (461-464, TRAG I-87)

The tyrant Lycus has murdered Hercules' father-in-law, stolen the father-in-law's kingdom and is trying to convince Hercules' wife to marry him, as Hercules is in Hades, the realm of Pluto. Lycus argues with the foster-father of Hercules, interestingly enough, concerning theology.

Lycus makes a statement that is easily identified as pertaining to the "theology of glory." He says: "If you see someone wretched, you know him to be a man." This he argues as proof that a wretched man cannot be a god, nor can such a man be considered for divinization (remember that the pagan pantheon included many divinized characters). In the mind of Lycus, divinity is attended by power and glory and never by wretchedness. In another part of the argument, Lycus even says that it is blasphemy against Jove/Jupiter to suggest that he could father a human child. You put it together.

The real rub, however, is not Lycus. He is presented as a buffoon and a foil for Amphitryon. No, the interesting thing is the turn that Amphitryon's theology takes after the fairly promising opening to this excerpt. In response to Lycus' obvious theology of glory, Amphitryon does not affirm the wretchedness that he suggested to rightly attend deity. No. Amphitryon instead denies the wretchedness altogether.

The subtler theologian of glory will never embrace divine wretchedness without promptly erasing it.

I think Seneca's tragedy presents an amazing window into the mind of the theologian of glory. On the one hand, such a person will actually embrace the wretchedness of Christ. On the other hand, the same person will miraculously transform this wretchedness into something other than wretchedness (like water into wine). End result: Wretchedness of Christ - 0, Glory of Christ - 1.

You might be thinking something like, "Well, the glory of Christ DID win out on Easter Sunday. Jesus Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father, isn't He?" Ah, now you've hit the mark!

The theologian of glory does not overcome the wretchedness of Christ through resurrection, but through theological "sleight of hand."

The theologian of glory, like Amphitryon, looks at Christ suffering on the cross on Good Friday and ignores the pain and weakness, instead emphasizing the divinity of such endurance. They look "through the suffering" and presume to see the glorious nature of Christ. "Where there is such fortitude, such valour, such strength of will," they say, "there is no wretched man."

What does the theologian of the cross say to Lycus' argument? When someone suggests that wretchedness and divinity are mutually exclusive, we say, "No they aren't. Look at Christ." As fans of, we might say: "Whoever told you that is a complete liar! Jesus Christ can be both wretched AND totally divine." We don't try to explain away the wretchedness into something less offensive. We don't trump Christ's wretchedness with His valour and resolve. We confess Him to be God stricken, God smitten, and God afflicted - in the flesh. We confess Him to be sin condemned in the flesh - for us. We confess three truly wretched days (no glory to be found in evidence anywhere) from Good Friday to Easter Sunday.

We can confidently cling to Christ as God for us precisely because He shows us the wretched God. Christ ressurected vindicates our God as the one who lifts up the lowly, not the one who lifts up the lowly-but-really-magnificent-in-valour-in-spite-of-suffering. In the resurrection of Christ we find the reason for our confidence: God saves the lowly, the sinner, the truly wretched. Having become sin incarnate on the cross, how little does my sin appear compared to Christ's. He is more wretched, more despised, more lowly than I can ever become.

The theologian of glory seeks to transform the wretchedness of the God-man into glory-disguised-as-wretchedness. To use Aristotelian terms: the theologian of glory ascribes to the crucified Lord the accidence of wretchedness but the substance. The theologian of the cross simply confesses Christ to be wretched.

This Easter season, we celebrate the Resurrection of the Truly Wretched One, and look forward with confidence to the resurrection of all truly wretched ones, each gladly confessing: "Among sinners I am the chief."


There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

-Saint Paul to the Romans (8:1-4, ESV)

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


Quis est iste qui se profitetur omnibus legibus innocentem? Ut hoc ita sit, quam angusta innocentia est ad legem bonum esse! Quanto latius officiorum patet quam iuris regula! Quam multa pietas, humanitas, liberalitas, iustitia, fides exigunt, quae omnia extra publicas tabulas sunt! Sed ne ad illam quidem artissimam innocentiae formulam praestare nos possumus. Alia fecimus, alia cogitavimus, alia optavimus, aliis favimus; in quibusdam innocentes sumus, quia non succesit.

"Where is that man who professes himself innocent of all the law? Even if such a man could be found, what a narrow innocence it is whose standard is the law! How much broader is that principle of duties than the rule of the law! How many are the demands of duty, humanity, generosity, faithfulness - all of which are outside of the public code of law! But even according to the more restricted measure we are not able to claim innocence. Some transgressions we have commited, some we have contemplated, some we have coveted, some we have goaded others to commit; in yet others we can claim innocence only because we were unsuccessful in bringing them to completion."

-Seneca's De Ira, Book II (xxviii.2-3; ESS 1-225)

Here is an ingenius excerpt from Seneca's essay. The pagan philosopher can perceive quite easily both the desire of man claim innocence for himself - not by increasing virtue but by decreasing the demands of the law - and the inability of man to claim innocence even under this narrow definition of the law.

My brother has recently hosted a discussion concerning the identity and definition of the Pharisees and the nature of their peculiar perversion of the Law of the Lord (so often criticized in the Gospels by our Lord Jesus Christ). Seneca has here identified the root of their perversion:

If man restricts the demands of the Law, it will become easier to profess innocence of transgression.

It is ironic that the Pharisees are perceived by many to have greatly expanded the legal code of the Hebrew people, while they in fact had worked only to limit it. How? Just as Seneca refers to the publica tabula, a technical term in the Roman Empire for the written and codified civil "table of duties," the Pharisees sought to codify and regularize the Torah by making it into a publica tabula, by nature a more limited expression of the Law.

Seneca's essay itself demonstrates that this tendency was not and is not restricted to the Pharisees of Jesus' day. Indeed, the desire to limit the Law by codification can be seen everywhere. My good friend, Der Bettler, referred to the expression of this tendency in the local Protestant bookstore as: books in which "the Law is not God's demand of perfection, but some cheap checklist that we are likely capable of keeping, if only in the most grotesque outwardly manner." Many modern Christians take pride in abstaining from alcohol, dancing, and playing cards as though this legal code is the sum of the Law. Catholics and Protestants alike have filled entire libraries with books on "Moral Theology" and "Christian Ethics" respectively, some more valuable than others.

Once codified (and thus limited), it should be easier both to live a life in accordance with the Law and to quantify transgressions, or so the reasoning of man's sinful tendency goes. While the Pharisees almost certainly were not consciously trying to make the Law easier to follow, Seneca pulls back the curtain and reveals the true motivation of any comparable action to be rooted in man's evil desire to justify himself - declare himself innocent. With a deft stroke of the pen, Seneca also slices to bits even this false declaration of innocence:

"Even according to the more restricted measure we are not able to claim innocence."

Of course it is not inherently evil to codify the Law or write on "Moral Theology" and the like, but we must always ask the questions: Where then is justice? Where fidelity? Where humanity, generosity, love? As Saint Paul writes: "For these there is no law." No, the true Torah of YHWH is wordless and yet is heard as a mighty sound everywhere (Psalm 19). Here is the true power of God's Law, its incredible majesty and its awesome power to kill and make alive:

The Torah - the Law and Will of God - is powerful to break any chains placed upon it.

In this season of Easter, Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Christ, not the second Law-giver, but the true Man in Whom there can be made no division between the will of man and the will of God - the true union of God's Law and the flesh of humanity. This union took place without violence to the Law nor the flesh of man, while we creatures must confess that we cannot approach the Law of God without doing it violence.

Meditate on this: the unbound Law of God was and is bound to the flesh of our Brother, Jesus Christ, and we to Him. The Torah that is powerful to break any chains placed upon it could not be held by death nor the grave.


For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

-Saint Paul to the Romans (7:22-25, ESV)

Sunday, April 09, 2006


Lacrimae nobis deerunt ante quam causae dolendi. Non vides, qualem nobis vitam rerum natura promiserit, quae primum nascentium hominum fletum esse voluit? Hoc principio edimur, huic omnis sequentium annorum ordo consentit. Sic vitam agimus, ideoque moderate id fieri debet a nobis, quod saepe faciendum est... Nulli parcendum est rei magis quam huic, euius tam frequens usus est.

Our tears will fail us before that which causes us pain. Can't you see what kind of life nature has bequeathed to us, that decrees the first human act of the newborn to be weeping? With such an act we are brought forth and all the following years are so patterned. Thus we carry out our lives, and so that thing ought to be done with moderation that is often done... Nothing should be more economically used than that which is so frequently needed.

-Seneca's "To Polybius on Consolation" (IV.3; ESS 2-367)

I find myself lamenting the state of the Church quite often, both aloud to others and quietly to myself. Seneca wisely reminds us that "our tears will fail us before that which causes us pain."

This reading occurs following Seneca's advice to Polybius that he refrain from mourning that serves no useful purpose. It is natural for Christians - especially those who are very concerned about their Church - to lament the problems that plague her both within and without. The question that should be asked often is: Does this lamentation serve a purpose?

Often lamentation does serve a purpose. It gives very human expression to the deepest hurts and injustices that our world is filled with. Christ Himself lamented over the state of Jerusalem during Holy Week - the city "that kills the prophets and stones those that are sent to it." His ministry, however, was not a continuous lamentation. He took time to engage in sorrowful and public reflection; He did so in a way that spoke condemnation and judgment on His opponents so that "when the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them." In short, Christ lamented in a useful manner, and was not distracted from His profitable labour.

Jesus lamented well. As we are oft reminded: we are not Jesus. It is very easy for sinful people to fall into the trap of lamenting INSTEAD OF working and calling it "a prophetic ministry." It is very easy to fall into the HABIT of lamentation. Seneca wisely points out that something so often necessary as lamentation should be engaged in economically, sparingly, miserly. The tears of lamentation, if over-indulged, eventually run dry and leave only bitter and angry persons. We should all guard against this.

Seneca also advises Polybius that there are many causes for tears, and that any human being can find countless causes for sorrow without searching long or hard. So many are the legitimate grievances that surround mankind that a certain relative value should draw forth lamentation, lest the mourner look foolish. After all, what is it to mourn a missed meal while overlooking the countless children who starve to death every day in this world? What is it to lament the splitting of a congregation and overlook the countless splitting families that sit in that congregation's pews every week?

The Church is both Divine and Human. It suffers from many causes for lamentation both within and without. Nevertheless, we should be sparing with our tears. We should use our cries wisely. Discipline fails, self-seeking clergy bring shame on the Church, absolution becomes promiscuous, tradition is despised, and the list could go on forever; Seneca observes that there simply isn't enough time nor have we enough tears to lament them all. Let us pause to weep - even complain - but no more than is useful. Always, when our lamentation is complete, our tears are dried, and our mourning is ended, we should draw a deep breath and take up our cross and follow Christ as He walks through the city of lamentation this Holy Week. There is time for human weeping, but there is also work to be done.


"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'"
-St. Matthew the Evangelist (23:37-39)