I give thanks to my God always for you: Paul’s opening address to the Corinthians (1 Cor 1; Epiphany 2A)

We have seen that the letters of Paul each follow a recognisably similar outline, mostly including all the main sections and often adhering to the major conventions of the day. See

There are variations, of course, in each letter, so that no one letter follows this pattern exactly. This is especially so in the largest section, the “body”, in the middle of the letter. The excerpt from 1 Corinthians we hear on Sunday demonstrates this in a very clear way.

In opening his letters, Paul characteristically modified the simple verb “greetings” to read “grace and peace to you”. We find that is the case at 1 Cor 1:3. What usually followed in letters of the day was a prayer of thanks to a particular god or goddess; Paul’s letters followed this convention in most cases, with a prayer specifically to “God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Col 1:3).

This prayer often contained clear pointers to some of the key topics in the letter that follows, such as “I am eager to preach the gospel” (Rom 1:15), or “you were enriched in him with all speech and knowledge” (1 Cor 1:5), or “I thank my God…because of your partnership in the gospel” (Phil 1:5); and see also “we always give thanks to God … remembering … your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope” (1 Thess 1:3) and “God gave us … a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline” (2 Tim 1:7).

Galatians stands as a noteworthy exception, for Paul substituted a condemnation in place of the traditional thanksgiving: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you … and are turning to a different gospel” (Gal 1:6).

So as we read through the first nine verses of his letter “to the church of God that is in Corinth”, 1 Corinthians, we hear sounded some key themes in Paul’s theology, which receive attention in subsequent chapters of this letter, as the observations below indicate.

A. “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus” (1:4).

This is the same grace that Paul himself has experienced through his calling to proclaim the good news: “according to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it” (1 Cor 3:10); “by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain” (15:10).

Paul refers also to “the grace of God” as the motivator for how he has “behaved in the world with frankness and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God” (2 Cor 1:12). This grace undergirds all that Paul says and does, so he returns to it at the close of the letter with a repetition of the opening prayer, “the grace of the Lord Jesus be with you” (16:23; cf. 1:3).

B. “In every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind” (1:5).

This statement appears to be a straightforward commendation of the believers in Corinth, but actually conceals a degree of sarcasm in how Paul assesses some, at least, of them. They appear to have been enriched by God; but the depth of Paul’s feeling about this is revealed in a strident passage in chapter 4, after Paul has discussed the earlier work of Apollos and Cephas amongst the Corinthians (3:5–4:7), and the resultant formation of sectarian groups amongst the believers (1:11–12).

Paul regrets this development; earlier, he has lamented, “has Christ been divided? was Paul crucified for you? were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1:13). A note of sarcasm is already evident in his disappointment. He returns to this sarcastic tone when he berates the Corinthians: “Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Quite apart from us you have become kings! Indeed, I wish that you had become kings, so that we might be kings with you!” (4:8). Clearly, the “enriching” that the Corinthians felt they had was not in accord with Paul’s understanding of the Gospel.

That understanding is evident in 2 Corinthians, when Paul writes of “the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9), and thus of the life of the believer “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (2 Cor 6:10). The Corinthian “enrichment” needs to be corrected.

A much-loved passage in this letter, chapter 13, actually continues this sarcastic commentary on the Corinthians. A careful reading of the whole letter reveals that the various characteristics which Paul extols in “love”—patience and kindness, with no boastfulness or envy, for instance—are actually in short supply in Corinth.

C. “Just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you, so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift” (1:6–7).

Spiritual gifts come into focus in the later sections of Paul’s letter, in chapters 12 to 14. The terms “speech” and “knowledge” that appear at 1:5 pick up two of the “spiritual gifts” (1:7) that are specifically discussed in more detail in chapter 14 of the letter. The reference to “spiritual gifts” in 1:7 is initially developed in chapter 2, when Paul writes, “we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.” (2:12–13).

Paul makes a clear differentiation between “those who are unspiritual [who] do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit” and “those who are spiritual [who] discern all things” (2:14–15). So both Paul and the Corinthians exhibit spiritual gifts which have been given by God. But Paul is not happy with the way that some in Corinth are exercising those gifts, particularly in the community gatherings. So his discussion in chapters 12–14 identifies and corrects these bad practices. Thus, the opening reference to the Corinthians as “not lacking in any spiritual gift” (1:7) has a barbed undertone—perhaps not evident at first hearing, but becoming clear with the benefit of hindsight after the whole letter has been heard.

The gift of “speech” signals the exercise, within the Corinthian community, of the gifts of prophecy (speaking the word of the Lord) and its interpretation, as well as the gift of tongues and their interpretation. The fact that Paul is intending to address the way these gifts are exercised, and to offer corrections to the Corinthians in his critical analysis of chapter 14, is thus signalled explicitly in the opening prayer.

The gift of “knowledge” (1:5) receives consideration in a passage (8:1–11) which begins, “all of us possess knowledge”. This appears to be quoted by Paul as a slogan which had currency in Corinth, but which Paul wishes to critique. He ends his discussion with the punchline, “by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed” (8:11). Sadly, the kind of “knowledge” demonstrated by some believers in Corinth served to destroy the faith of others in their community.

D. “As you wait for the revealing of our Lord … he will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:7–8).

The concept of being “blameless” derives from ancient Israelite piety, which would have been taught to Paul as he grew up within Judaism. The psalmist sings, “happy are those whose way is blameless,who walk in the law of the Lord” (Ps 119:1), and prays, “may my heart be blameless in your statutes,

so that I may not be put to shame” (Ps 119:80). The sages note that “the righteousness of the blameless keeps their ways straight” (Prov 11:5) and rejoices that “the blameless will have a goodly inheritance” (Prov 28:10). In the historical sagas of Israel, those noted as being blameless include Noah (Gen 6:9), Abram (Gen 17:1), and David (1 Sam 29:9), as are Daniel (Dan 6:22) and Job (Job 1:1, 8; 2:3).

Paul therefore upheld the standard of being blameless in his upbringing (Phil 3:6) and in his behaviour (1 Thess 2:10), and he prays that believers also might be “blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (1 Thess 3:13). Paul, like many of his Jewish contemporaries, held to an eschatological view of time; “the present form of this world is passing away” (1 Cor 7:31), “the appointed time has grown short” (1 Cor 7:29), there is an imminent “impending crisis l (1 Cor 7:26).

Paul thus connects his eschatological framework with this goal of being blameless, exhorting the Philippians “to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless” (Phil 1:10), and advising the Corinthians that “the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done” (1 Cor 3:13). The judgement that comes on this day is clear; so he advises the Corinthians that a man living with his father’s wife is to be “handed over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Cor 5:5).

This Day expounded in greater detail towards the end of his letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 15:12–58). The fundamental belief is that “as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ” (15:22); accordingly that Day

will be the time when those who have sinned, but trusted in Christ, will be found blameless; “just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven” (15:49).

Paul’s affirmation of this eschatological viewpoint in the opening prayer (1:7–8) thus foreshadows one of his most extensive discussions of eschatology, Christology, and soteriology—the most theologically-complex section of this letter to the Corinthians.

E. “God is faithful” (1:9).

This is a short credal-like affirmation that Paul makes in his opening prayer, which occurs elsewhere in Paul’s writings. It may thus have been a fundamental element in Paul’s own belief system—God is the one who keeps faith with God’s people—rather than reflecting anything amongst the Corinthians. In this regard, Paul stands with the prophets of Israel, who consistently proclaimed that God do not want to abandon the expel of God, for God held steadfastly to his covenant with them.

Later in 1 Corinthians, Paul reflects this element of belief in God’s fidelity, when discussing “testing”. “God is faithful”, he writes, “and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it” (10:13). The phrase recurs in 2 Corinthians: “as surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been “Yes and No’l (2 Cor 1:18). Paul had already written similar in his earliest extant letter, 1 Thessalonians, affirming that “the one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this” (5:24).

The phrase also appears at 2 Thess 3:3; 1 Peter 4:19; and perhaps most famously at 1 John 1:9 (“if we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness”). Finally, the rider of the white horse in a vision seen by the seer on Patmos was called “Faithful and True” (Rev 19:11).

F. “By him [God] you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1:9).

The term “fellowship” (Greek koinonia) appears later in this letter, when Paul refers to “sharing (koinonia) in the body of Christ … sharing (koinonia) in the blood of Christ” (1 Cor 10:16). Paul uses this word elsewhere to refer to the nature of Christian community (Phil 1:5; 2:1), as well as to the shared relationship that believers have with Jesus (Phil 3:10), fellowship,with the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 13:14), and the offering from Gentile believers for their “ministry for the saints” (2 Cor 9:13). At both Gal 2:9 and Phlm 6 the term refers to fellowship or community amongst believers.

In his longest letter (to the saints in Rome), Paul describes the nature of Christian community without reference to the term koinonia, but using the common hellenistic topos of “the body”: “we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another; we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us” (Rom 12:4–5).

Before writing this letter, Paul had provided a much more extensive discussion of this image in chapter 12 of his letter to “the church of God that is in Corinth”, when he wrote, “just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ; for in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor 12:12–13).

Thus, no one part of the body is superior to any other part; “God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another; if one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it” (1 Cor 12:24–26). This is the essential nature of the Christian community, a fellowship of interrelated parts.

Thus, in exploring the matter of how gifts are (mis)used in Corinth, Paul has a clear concern to ensure that all the members “build up the body” (1 Cor 14:4, 12, 26; and see earlier at 3:5–15). This concern has been clearly flagged in the final sentence of his opening prayer: “by God you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1:9).

*****

As we read through the first nine verses of his letter “to the church of God that is in Corinth”, 1 Corinthians, we hear sounded some key themes in Paul’s theology, which receive attention in subsequent chapters of this letter, as the above observations indicate.

I give thanks to my God always for you: Paul’s relationship with the Corinthians (1 Cor 1; Epiphany 2A)

In the Epistle reading offered by the lectionary for this coming Sunday (1 Cor 1:1–9), we begin a sequence of Sundays when we will read the early chapters of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. The first four chapters are offered during the season of Epiphany (although, as it is a shorter season this year, the latter part is not heard in worship).

Paul, of course, is well-known as a writer of letters. In ancient times, as today, the general format of a letter was reasonably standard. Paul, as we shall see, follows this format and includes many conventions familiar from other letters. The way that he contextualises and makes specific each letter, therefore, is quite instructive.

Each ancient letter contained a number of standard sections and there were common conventions to be followed in constructing a letter. Opening and closing sections followed a formulaic pattern (“greetings” and “farewell”); a prayer or wish introduced the main topic(s) for discussion; and practical advice was often included.

Standard Elements in the Structure of Ancient Letters

1 Opening address: Publius to Demetrius, greetings

2 Preliminary prayer or wish: I give thanks to the god… or I wish that…

3 Body (the substance of the letter; news, and topics for discussion)

4 Exhortation (practical and ethical guidance)

5 Greetings to individuals: Greet A and B

6 Greetings from individuals: C and D greet you

7 Closing prayer: Farewell

The letters of Paul each follow a recognisably similar outline, mostly including all the main sections and often adhering to the major conventions of the day. There are variations, of course, in each letter, so that no one letter follows this pattern exactly. This is especially so in the largest section, the “body”, in the middle of the letter. The excerpt from 1 Corinthians we hear on Sunday demonstrates this in a very clear way.

Openings of letters

Ancient letters began by identifying the parties involved in a short opening address; in regular letters, something like “Publius to Demetrius, greetings”. Nine of Paul’s letters began with a greeting from the writer to members of the church at the designated location. In one letter (Philemon), three individuals were named as the recipients (Philemon, Apphia and Archippus) as well as the whole church community. The three “pastoral letters” (1 Tim, 2 Tim, Titus) were addressed to an individual person.

It is often overlooked that seven of the letters specified co-writers along with Paul: Timothy (2 Cor, Phil, 1 Thess and Phlm; Col and 2 Thess), Sosthenes (1 Cor) and Silvanus (1 Thess and 2 Thess). Paul was the sole designated writer in only two “authentic” letters (Rom and Gal) and in four “debated” letters (Eph, 1 Tim, 2 Tim, Titus). So “Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians” was actually “a letter from Paul and Sosthenes to the Corinthians” (see 1 Cor 1:1).

However, later in this letter, Paul refers to his “previous letter” to Corinth (1 Cor 5:9); so it seems that 1 Corinthians was probably the second of his letters to Corinth, and what we know as 2 Corinthians might actually be 3 Corinthians! Yet 2 Corinthians then refers to a second visit which Paul made to Corinth—the “painful visit” (2 Cor 2:1)—followed by another letter from Paul to the Corinthians—the “tearful letter” (2 Cor 2:4; 7:8). So what we know as 2 Corinthians was probably the fourth letter that Paul wrote to the Corinthians, just as what we know as 1 Corinthians was probably the second letter sent by Paul (with someone else—Sosthenes) to the Corinthians.

We are able to reconstruct many elements of the profile and character of the community of believers in Corinth by reading Paul’s letters carefully and considering what it was that he might have been responding to. In addition, we know much about the ancient city of Corinth from archaeology and ancient literature. It was one of the great cities of the ancient world. If we put the letters of Paul together with this information about ancient Corinth, we can create a kind of album of snapshots in the life of an early Christian community. We can also see many elements of the hellenistic society and culture at the time when Paul was active.

Paul in Corinth

We know about Paul’s time in Corinth, not only from his letters to the church in that city, but also from the account in Acts 18:1–18. They tell us that Paul concentrated his mission in Corinth on Gentiles, non-Jews, and it would seem that he had significant success there. Paul stayed in Corinth for some time, earning his own living and working with other people in the early Christian movement, such as Peter, Apollos, and the tentmakers, Aquila and his wife Priscilla, two of the Jews expelled from Rome by Emperor Claudius in a general expulsion a few years earlier.

Paul was successful in establishing a new Christian community in Corinth. This undoubtedly caused tension with the local synagogue, as Paul was preaching that Jesus was the Messiah, whom Jews were expecting to come (Acts 18:4). This success may have led to his being dragged before Gallio, the Roman proconsul, by the local Jews, charged with heresy. Gallio dismissed the charge as a matter of concern to the Jews alone; it was not a matter for the Roman authorities to be involved with (Acts 18:12–17). Gallio was proconsul in Corinth in the years 50–51, so this provides the date for Paul’s visit there.

Soon afterwards, Paul left Corinth, accompanied by Aquila and Pricilla, bound for Antioch, but on the way they stopped over in Ephesus (Acts 18:18–21). After Paul left Corinth, he remained in contact with the community of believers there, as the two extant letters of Paul to the Corinthians attest. He indicates that he wrote the first one whilst in Ephesus (1 Cor 16:8).

Matters addressed in 1 Corinthians

In this letter, Paul spends time addressing the serious divisions emerging within the Corinthian community. Paul declares that this matter “has been reported to me by Chloe’s people” (1:11); it is thought that this must have been a verbal report passed on to Paul when he met with a group from Corinth, perhaps slaves, sent by Chloe (about whom nothing else is revealed).

A second matter is introduced by a similar phrase, “it is actually reported…” (5:1), although the informant is not named. Some scholars think that the similarity of wording suggests that this news may also have been conveyed by “Chloe’s people”. A little later on, another matter is introduced by Paul with the phrase, “now concerning the matters about which you wrote” (7:1). Clearly, there had been written correspondence with Paul as well as the verbal report already indicated.

The reference to “the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaichus” (16:17) might suggest that they visited Paul; perhaps they bore a letter from the community (or a section of it), asking for Paul’s opinions about these matters? The fact that their names are Roman names reflecting an educated status, would lend support to this hypothesis.

Regardless of who actually brought this news, Paul is willing to deal with the matters raised, introducing them in turn by the shorthand formula, “now concerning”. Such matters include “food sacrificed to idols” (8:1), “spiritual matters” (12:1), “the collection for the saints” (16:1), and “our brother Apollos” (16:12). A rather stronger formula is used to introduce a major theological issue at 15:1: “now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you…”.

These formulae suggests that the agenda for 1 Corinthians has largely been set by the news which Paul had received of the happenings in Corinth. How he deals with these matters, however, is entirely up to him; and he brings his theological and ethical insights to bear in forceful ways.

After Paul

In the mass of literature which early Christianity produced in the centuries after the first century, there is a short letter allegedly from Paul to the Corinthians— this is known as 3 Corinthians. However, there is widespread consensus that this was a later creation by Christians wanting to evoke the authority of Paul. There is also a letter to the Corinthians, attributed to Clement, third bishop of Rome, written about four decades after Paul’s first letter to Corinth. Together, these letters show the significance of the Corinthians for the early church.

The voice of the Lord, made manifest in Jesus (Matt 3; Epiphany 1A)

The readings that are collected for this coming Sunday seem to gather around the theme of “the voice of the Lord”. This is one of those Sundays when the selection of four readings clearly focusses on a topic found in each of them (in contrast to the many “ordinary” Sundays where each of the four readings follow their own independent lines).

The theme of “the voice of the Lord” is sounded clearly in the psalm (Psalm 29), with a repeated refrain, “the voice of the Lord” through verses 3 to 9. First, the psalmist announces, “the voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders … the voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty” (29:3–4).

Then follows a repeated affirmation, “the voice of the Lord breaks the cedars … the voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire … the voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness … the voice of the LORD causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, ‘Glory!’” (29:5, 7–9). The message declared by the Lord God is conveyed by the natural order of things, in the elements of the creation, made by God (see Gen 1–2; Ps 104; and in this Sunday’s reading, Isaiah 42:5).

The speaking forth of God, made manifest and evident in God’s creation, is a fitting theme for the first Sunday in the season of Epiphany—a season that celebrates the shining forth, the manifestation, of God. However, this Sunday is designated, not only as the first Sunday in the season of Epiphany, but also as the day on which The Baptism of the Lord is recalled.

In the Gospel selection (Matt 3:13–17), the first evangelist reports that the Spirit of God “descended on [Jesus] like a dove” (3:16) as Jesus was baptised by John in the River Jordan. At that event, “a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased’” (3:17). The voice of the Lord is clear and prominent in this account of what was likely to have been the commissioning event for Jesus as he started into his public activities in the region of Galilee (Matt 4:12–25, and on until 19:1).

In the reading from Acts, in place of a section of an epistle, we hear Luke’s report of a speech of Peter, given in the house of the centurion Cornelius in Caesarea (Acts 1:34–43). In this speech, Peter announced how “the message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced; how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power” (Acts 10:38).

That message was to be continued by the disciples; Peter says that God “commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead” (10:42). The voice of the Lord that has been heard in the early testimony (see Acts 2, 3, 7) continues through the later apostolic proclamation (see Acts 13, 17, 20).

Linked with this is the first of the four songs found in Second Isaiah (Isa 40–55) that are linked explicitly with the Servant (42:1–9; 49:1–7; 50:4–11; and 52:13–53:12). Here, the Servant is designated as the one in whom God delights (42:1); the phrase recurs in the message of the voice from the cloud which speaks at the baptism of Jesus, declaring that he is the one “with whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17). The Servant has God’s spirit within him (Isa 42:1), something which is directly enacted in the baptism of Jesus when he “saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him” (Matt 3:16).

The work of the Servant is to bring justice to the nations (Isa 42:1, 3, 4); that will be evident in the work of Jesus (Matt 12:18–21, quoting directly these verses from the first Servant Song). Through the Servant, the Lord calls people “in righteousness” (Isa 42:6); that call is echoed by Jesus as he calls his followers to demonstrate righteousness (Matt 5:20) and exhorts them to “strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (6:33). Indeed, the baptism of Jesus narrated by Matthew is said to have taken place “to fulfil all righteousness” (3:15).

Through the Servant, God establishes God’s people “as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations” (Isa 42:6); that charge is repeated by Jesus, who came as light shining in the darkness (Matt 4:15–16) and who equips his followers to be “the light of the world” (5:14–16), whose whole body will be “full of light” (6:23).

Through the Servant, God announces that “the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare” (Isa 42:9); this is exemplified, according to Jesus, by “every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven [who] is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matt 13:52).

The identity of the Servant was debated in Israel; was this an individual, or a symbolic representation of the whole nation? The many resonances of the Servant Song in the story of Jesus indicate why Christian interpreters have identified Jesus as this servant. The story of his baptism provides a most appropriate occasion for underlining this connection. The shapers of the lectionary have thus linked these two passages on this Sunday, and set them into the context of passages declaring how “the word of the Lord” has been made manifest. It is a compelling start to the season of Epiphany.

We Three Kings: exegeted, explained, and exposed

A carol-commentary for the Festival of Epiphany
(a little weird, a little forced, perhaps a little sin-ical ?)

WE: the first person plural subject of the song, suggesting this comes straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak

THREE: or perhaps four, or maybe seven, or even twelve, or some other indeterminate number, since the initial story does not specify the precise number of subjects in the story

KINGS: or some say wise men, or others say sages, which they offer as an interpretation of the term magus, used in the initial narrative … so perhaps the subjects of the song are Zoroastrians, for whom star-watching was a highly-developed skill.

OF ORIENT: or, lands east of Israel, so perhaps Babylon, or even further to the east, in Parthia, where the Zoroastrian faith was dominant

ARE: the main verb, denoting the existential state of being of the subjects

BEARING: adverbial participle, descriptive of the activity of the aforesaid subjects of the song

GIFTS: by tradition, three of them [see below], which goes to explain why you might think there are three of the subjects [see above] … and providing grist for the mill for the idea that these subjects were kings, since Psalm 72:10-11 speaks about kings bringing gifts to the King of Israel

WE TRAVERSE AFAR: presumably on camels, the deluxe form of transportation of the time … although ………

FIELD AND FOUNTAIN, MOOR AND MOUNTAIN: a little bit of poetic excursus, a selective account of the natural phenomena encountered on the journey, arranged in alliterative couplets (it feeds the creative imagination of the listener/singer, you see)

FOLLOWING: another adverbial participle, providing a second description of the activity of the subjects

YONDER STAR: a bright celestial phenomenon, shining in the eastern sky but apparently moving or pointing in the direction of Israel, which was dutifully followed by the subjects

star on a dark background

O Star of wonder, star of night / Star with royal beauty bright /
Westward leading, still proceeding / Guide us to thy Perfect Light:
more poetic extrapolation, as befits the season

*****

Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain / GOLD I bring to crown Him again /
King forever, ceasing never / Over us all to reign:
which explains the claim that the subjects of the song are kings, as the gift of gold was what the kings of the nations bring to the Lord God when they travel to Jerusalem, according to Isaiah 60 verses 3 and 6–bearing in mind the injunction of Exodus 20:23, that this gift of gold not be in the form of any idol

O Star of wonder, etc …

*****

FRANKINCENSE to offer have I / Incense owns a Deity nigh /
Prayer and praising, all men [oops!] raising / Worship Him, God most high:
in relation to the gift of frankincense, as already noted above, the kings of the nations bring this to the Lord God when they travel to Jerusalem, according to Isaiah 60 verses 3 and 6 … and, ahhh, presumably there has been a divine change of mind since Isaiah 1:13, where the Lord God declared that “bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me” ?

***

MYRRH is mine, its bitter perfume / Breathes of life of gathering gloom /
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying /Sealed in the stone-cold tomb:
curiously, there is no scriptural tradition about kings bringing myrrh to the Lord

Nevertheless, myrrh certainly featured as a gift in the religious practices of Israel, according to Exodus 30:23–27 (The LORD spoke to Moses: “Take the finest spices: of liquid myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet-smelling cinnamon half as much, that is, two hundred fifty, and two hundred fifty of aromatic cane, and five hundred of cassia—measured by the sanctuary shekel—and a hin of olive oil; and you shall make of these a sacred anointing oil blended as by the perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing oil’ — an oil to anoint “the tent of meeting and the ark of the covenant, and the table and all its utensils, and the lampstand and its utensils, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the basin with its stand”)

As the song signifies, it points forward to a moment in the passion of Jesus as narrated at Mark 15:23, where it is mixed with wine [but in that case, the gift was not accepted] and to the burial scene as reported at John 19:39, where it is mixed with aloes.

And let’s not make any link to the scene in Revelation 18:11-13, where the merchants of the world lament the fact that nobody is purchasing their goods any longer … goods which include, amongst many options, gold, and frankincense, and myrrh …

O Star of wonder, etc …

*****

Glorious now behold Him arise / King and God and Sacrifice /
Alleluia, Alleluia / Earth to heav’n replies:
adhering to the Golden Evangelical Rule of always taking the opportunity to smuggle Easter and the Cross and the Sacrifice of Jesus into any song or sermon or worship service or, even, Christmas/Epiphany Carol!

O Star of wonder, etc …

*****

So: Merry EndofChristmas and HappyEpiphany!!!

And for more exotica on the Magi, see

The twelfth day of Christmas

And so we come to the twelfth day of Christmas, 5 January—the day that ends with Twelfth Night, the Eve before Epiphany. And what a gift-giving bonanza it has been! Birds of various kinds, jewellery, milkmaids, dancing ladies, leaping lords, and a bunch of pipers, have been marshalled and then gifted by “my true live” to a deserving recipient. And celebrated in song! It has been quite an extravaganza.

We sing about this every year in “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. That popular song itemises the giving of gifts over those twelve days, mounting cumulatively day by day. The total number of gifts given is quite amazing—it actually totals 364! Each day’s gift is given, not only on that day, but on each of the subsequent days.

To calculate the total number of gifts, we need to multiply each gift by the number of times it recurs in a full round of the song. If we do this, we will soon realise that the gifts’ recipient would have to rent a storage unit and gain access to a lake, to contain the bounty, including 12 partridges (one each day for 12 days), 22 turtledoves (2each day for 11 days), 30 French hens (3 each day for 10 days), 36 colly birds, 40 gold rings, 42 laying geese, 42 swimming swans, 40 milking maids, 36 dancing ladies, 30 leaping lords, 22 pipers piping, and 12 drummers drumming.

And just think, how much all of this would cost! In fact, the cost each year has been calculated by the Christmas Price Index, published by the US bank PNC Wealth Management (only in America would a bank be called a “wealth management” company 😳). See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_Price_Index

The Christmas Price Index chose the items in this popular Christmas carol as its market basket, calculating their cost by using local sources of information—purchasing the pear tree from a local Philadelphia nursery, assessing the costs of the partridge, turtle dove, and French hen prices as determined by the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden.

The price for the gold rings was guided initially by Gordon Jewelers (subsequently taken over by the Zale Corporation), and an assumption was made that the maids were unskilled laborers earning the federal minimum wage. The ten “lords a-leaping” are valued by using the cost of hiring male ballet dancers instead of real lords, since “lordships are a title of nobility not recognised in the United States”!

In 2012, the “true love” would have to spend $107,300 to buy all 364 presents. PNC Wealth Management has calculated the cost of the gifts every year since 1984–in that year, the same gift assortment would have cost $61,300. Those determinedly mobile swans were the most expensive item, at $1,000 each in 2012.

By 2019, the total cost would have been $38,993.59, but the next year, the cost dipped, because of the pandemic and associated restrictions. In 2020, the index did not include nine Ladies Dancing, ten Lords-A-Leaping, eleven Pipers Piping, or twelve Drummers Drumming due to COVID-19 restrictions on live performances. The total cost was $16,168.14. But in 2021, with performances in the USA once again possible, it rose to $41,205.50, and then to $45,523.27 in 2022.

So: as well as being a noisy enterprise (all those birds squawking, pipers piping, and drummers drumming) requiring large storage facilities, it’s an expensive business for the “true love” to keep this up, each and every year!

See also

Further critically-informed assessments of Pope Benedict XVI

Following on from Noel Debien’s Obituary/Evaluation of the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI that I posted yesterday, I have collated some further comments that I’ve found in the media relating to the legacy of Benedict.

Former priest and media commentator Paul Collins assesses the papacy of Benedict as follows: “Benedict’s most important act was his resignation because in one fell-swoop he relativised the papacy and drained it of its ‘mystery’. It showed him as a normal man who admitted that he had ‘come to the certainty that my strengths, due to advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.’ That required humility; the last pope to have resigned was Celestine V in 1294.”

Theologian Ben Myers explores the theology of Ratzinger-the-academic who became Benedict-the-pope:

“For over half a century Ratzinger has challenged the subordination of truth to communal belonging. From his academic career in the 1950s and 60s to his papal ministry as Benedict XVI, one of Ratzinger’s most consistent themes has been the priority of reason and truth over communal identity. In his analysis, the most urgent theological task is the recovery of reason. It is, he thinks, the most urgent social and political task too.

“Ratzinger sees the split between faith and reason as inimical to both religion and secular society. Religion becomes pathological when its claims are reduced to private exhortations to insiders with no link to a universally accessible rationality or a shared conception of the human good. And reason, for its part, becomes pathological when it is confined to the sphere of fact, measurement, and technical manipulation with no accountability to moral considerations of justice, goodness, and the ends of human life.

“Ratzinger calls for faith to be animated by rationality and for reason to be open to its transcendent foundations as revealed to faith. Faith and reason alike, he argues, arise from the manifestation of the divine Logos, who is ultimately revealed as Love: a rationality that is living, personal, and directed toward us for our good.”

https://d1wqtxts1xzle7.cloudfront.net/96669999/Ratzinger_essay-libre.pdf?1672637577=&response-content-disposition=attachment%3B+filename%3DTruth_Not_Custom_Joseph_Ratzinger_on_Fai.pdf&Expires=1672721748&Signature=eYNE84gl~z74oLfO8i2k5J9HGJxtdE79XJg5aGy2nxrREmenszJxZwWx18fFqX0sEp5pU847JqOSfUp~t0glj8WTTy563aHZBdG~Qq6hOaZuQQyzQPV44WSbj36sCyJ7p0MaOu3ESQ3it0moekmJYL1zguaAlf3l5qc1WLSLu7gRbL30YI4wSqky5b3fP0lsDOwndq-vwTT9HzMKcrA664lIpJWVdcaLUmXwsfjYV9C3wPWVikjNQ71iznWvWYWGe6RRlmkgkW7vaX63wO5anL6tDx2zDZeMbReimG4vyUi6zf0Lp4C6nY2lkvxct1Xg179nAZkPf3VDLJuweMrRHw__&Key-Pair-Id=APKAJLOHF5GGSLRBV4ZA

Writing in the National Catholic Reporter, Jamie Manson (president of Catholics for Choice) notes that “over the course of nearly 50 years, Benedict produced more than 65 books in theology, Christology and liturgy, as well as three papal encyclicals and three papal exhortations.”

However, she continues, “whatever contributions he made in his prolific and distinguished career may ultimately be overshadowed by the years he spent monitoring, and sometimes suppressing and silencing, the work of other Catholic theologians and ethicists. Though Benedict resigned from his papal,office in 2013, many theologians in the U.S. still struggle to separate the pope from his tenure as the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog.”

The uncovering of the extensive sexual abuse committed by religious in the Roman Catholic Church (and many other churches, community organisations, and institutions around the world) has been a major factor in the leadership of the church for a number of years now. A year ago, in January 2022, a report on sexual abuse in Germany’s Munich diocese on Thursday faulted retired Pope Benedict XVI’s handling of four cases when he was archbishop in the 1970s and 1980s.

The law firm that drew up the report said Benedict strongly denies any wrongdoing. Writing for APNews, Geir Moulson wrote that “The findings were sure to reignite criticism of Benedict’s record more than a decade after the first, and until Thursday only, known case involving him was made public. … Benedict’s legacy as pope had already been colored by the global eruption in 2010 of the sex abuse scandal, although as a cardinal he was responsible for turning around the Vatican’s approach to the issue.”

Moulson continued, “Benedict gained firsthand knowledge of the global scope of the problem when he took over at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1982, after his time in Munich. Ratzinger took the then-revolutionary decision in 2001 to assume responsibility for processing those cases after he realized bishops around the world weren’t punishing abusers but were just moving them from parish to parish where they could rape again.”

https://apnews.com/article/pope-francis-pope-benedict-xvi-reinhard-marx-germany-europe-c75f721f469f969d05348703c093e53d

Writing immediately after the news of his death was announced, Journalist Nicole Winfield has advocated for a favourable assessment of Benedict’s actions, noting that “it was the then-Cardinal Ratzinger who took the revolutionary decision in 2001 to assume responsibility for processing those cases after he realized bishops around the world weren’t punishing abusers but were just moving them from parish to parish where they could rape again.

“And from 2004 to 2014, the Vatican defrocked 848 priests and sanctioned another 2,572 to lesser penalties, a get-tough approach to remove predators outright that went unmatched by Francis. Benedict met with victims across the globe, wept with them and prayed with them. Under his leadership, the Vatican updated its legal code to extend the statute of limitations for cases and told bishops’ conferences around the world to come up with guidelines to prevent abuse.

“And most significantly, Benedict reversed his beloved predecessor by taking action against the 20th century’s most notorious pedophile priest, the Rev. Marcial Maciel. Benedict took over Maciel’s Legionaries of Christ, a conservative religious order held up as a model of orthodoxy by John Paul, after it was revealed that Maciel sexually abused seminarians and fathered at least three children.”

https://apnews.com/article/pope-benedict-xvi-a-life-remembered-ed6ddf20f696d84ffe0680e1ef0bab0f

However, an article in The Conversation (first published in October 2021, updated after Benedict’s death in January 2022) collates many articles examining the crisis over the years – both its roots and the potential routes for reform. The perspective of the five authors is that this is work-in-progress for the Roman Catholic Church—whilst Benedict and Francis have taken various steps towards addressing the situation, it is still not clear that the Roman Catholic Church as a whole has fully reformed its practices as a global institution most highly implicated in this matter.

https://theconversation.com/amp/pope-benedict-accused-of-mishandling-sex-abuse-cases-4-essential-reads-175430?fbclid=IwAR0Jd5d_CWOyH888BDoWN1N3QqkHmV695Lu-IMVzoxvKnMF8hhCWC3xXeoI

This matter will continue to figure prominently in all assessments of Benedict as Pope—and, indeed, Ratzinger in his Vatican role prior to this. And whoever follows Francis will need to take further, decisive steps—a call that will be hard to meet in the complex institutional framework of the church. Yet this will be the litmus test for how faithful the church as a whole, and its key leadership, holds to the scriptural injunctions to seek righteousness, practice justice, care for the vulnerable, and uphold the two great commandments, to love others as well as to love God.

See also

An informed Roman Catholic perspective on the death of Pope Benedict XVI

The following Obituary for the recently-deceased Pope Benedict XVI was written by Noel Debien, a theologically-astute, practically-involved, faithful practising Roman Catholic Christian, who works as a Religion and Ethics Specialist for the ABC.

As a Protestant, I don’t share the same understanding of Roman Catholicism or hold to the same perspective on the Pope that Noel demonstrates in what he has written. It seems to me that the late Pope Emeritus was a complex character, in a difficult leadership role, in a larger, diverse, unwieldy institution that (like all churches, and all organisations) was facing multiple challenges, to which it responded in various ways, both helpful and unhelpful, both constructive and reactive.

But what Noel writes is worth our reading and our consideration. I do appreciate the clear insights and thoughtful analysis that he offers in this piece, and am sharing this with his permission. I think that this piece would merit its own nihil obstat as a good explanatory piece to those of us outside Roman Catholicism 😁

OBITUARY: Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger
Born: 16/4/27 Marktl am Inn, Diocese of Passau, Germany
Benedict XVI (19/04/2005–28/02/2013)

He was the first pope to step down in 600 years.

He had chosen his papal name to honour both Pope Benedict XV who led the church through World War I, and St Benedict of Nursia, European monastic leader. He said the name Benedict reminds us “to hold firm Christ’s central position in our lives”. He was deeply critical of the European union when, in its 2008 50th anniversary it failed to include Europe’s Christian heritage in its declaration.

The same pope Benedict XVI canonised our first Australian saint, Mary MacKillop in 2010. During his 2008 World Youth Day visit to Australia he reached millions, establishing him firmly in Australian awareness. He also consecrated the new permanent altar of St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. It was also during this visit that he made more world news with his first public apology to victims of child sex abuse by Catholic priests and religious. Over 4,444 survivors in Australia from Catholic religious leaders alone. Many more from other religious institutions.

He said his 8-year long pontificate was all about ensuring continuity and avoiding disruption. This was indeed a “continuity” with his predecessor John-Paul II. He was a traditionalist, yet his resignation and retirement marked him as a genuinely modern pope. A man who was generally averse to “novelty” ended up establishing that the retirement of modern popes is normal. He chose to serve as pope only while his health allowed.

As a smoker, he’d had an embolism in the eye in 1984, recovered from a stroke in 1991 – and was eventually completely blind in his left eye. While he was accused of “secularising” the papacy by stepping down “as if someone in public office”, he firmly rejected this allegation. He remarked that “Even a father’s role stops… he does not stop being a father, but he is relieved of concrete responsibility”. After he retired, he decided to be known as “Pope Emeritus”.

On clerical sexual abuse, he was relatively decisive. His interpretation of the abuse crisis was also “outside the usual model” of church response, as something that came from the outside secular culture. In a “culture war” perspective, he included the views of the broader world, not just internal church views.

More bishops were required to resign under Benedict than any previous pope. One of his first actions was to accelerate the investigation into Fr Maciel Degolado. Degolado, founder and head of the Legionaries of Christ was a drug-addicted sexual predator. Pope John Paul II had refused to believe horrendous allegations about Degolado, and even as this previous pope lay dying, the future Benedict XVI was already moving on Degolado. Still, critics point out that despite Benedict’s determination, Degolado was never arrested and charged.

As a 35 year-old professor of theology, Joseph Ratzinger participated in the 2nd Vatican Council. He was actively there, and lived right through it. He helped German Cardinal Josef Frings prepare for it. He accompanied Frings to the council as a “peritus” (expert). Along with famous names like Yves Congar, Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Jean Daniélou and Henri de Lubac, Ratzinger was deeply engaged in that momentous church reform. But his criticism of Vatican II started already when he took distance (like Rahner and de Lubac) from the theology of GAUDIUM ET SPES. He became Archbishop of Munich-Freising in 1977 at age 50, and a Cardinal in the same year.

Born in 1927, Benedict was the longest-lived person ever to have been pope. As pope, he was an absolute monarch, yet he had also known starvation during World war II. His family were anti-Nazi. His own 14 year old cousin (with Downs syndrome) had been murdered by the Nazis in 1941 in their “eugenics” program. He spent time as a reluctant German soldier (he deserted!), and then as a prisoner of war in a US camp at Ulm. He resumed his studies for priesthood as soon as World War II ended. This was in the midst of a devastated Germany.

Over his long life, he observed the repression of Christianity in China, the Cold War, the Cuban Missile crisis, man on the moon, the collapse of Soviet Communism and the American sub-prime mortgage crisis . He also presided over the increasingly shocking clerical sexual abuse crisis that brought large parts of his church to its knees.

He did try to deal with interfaith relations, and had some success, but the relative disaster of the speech he made in Regensburg on Islam (September 2006) was not particularly helpful for his overall record. His words sparked international controversy (to be fair, he accurately quoted the besieged Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos) “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached”.

German cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, waving to the crowd
from the central balcony of St Peter’s Basilica, at the Vatican,
after his election as Pope in April 2005

German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had been elected pope on April 19th, 2005 at the age of 78. He said this was to his great surprise. “The falling of the guillotine” he called it. But it was his later decision to step down from the papacy at age 85 that helped define the type of active leadership he offered. He had seen his predecessor’s shocking mental and physical decline right to the end, and determined he himself would never die slowly and dramatically in office while leaving others to govern. As the conservative he was, he emphasised precedent from previous resignations of popes.

His theological contribution was immense – especially throughout Vatican Council II. He was a genuine intellectual. At age 39, he became the chair for dogmatic theology at the University of Tübingen in 1966. He wrote and spoke German, French and Latin fluently- so much so that he preferred Latin to Italian- a language he was less comfortable in academically. While describing himself as “shy” and “less emotional”, he was deeply influenced by the intellectual rigour, spiritual teaching and emotional struggle of Augustine of Hippo, the 4th Century North African Bishop and Doctor of the Church. He was a genuine “Augustinian”, who told of his wish to move past classical Thomism, the foundational Catholic theological contribution of St Thomas Aquinas. Thomism had been criticised as “frozen” and “manual-bound”.

Among many other things, St Augustine of Hippo defined “original sin” as Christian doctrine. Baptism was required to cleanse this world-sin though God’s gift of grace. Pope Benedict was deeply conscious of this original sin-of-the-world, and deeply cautious that human passions ought to be ordered and managed. His answer was doctrinal purity and adherence to Christian teaching. His experience of Nazi Germany and its post-war destruction left him in no doubt of the consequences of the “ways of the world”. By strategic appointments, he re-structured the worldwide membership of Catholic bishops to reflect his own views, and this can be seen (for example) among the conservative majority among the current members of the American Episcopal conference.

The “Vati-leaks” scandal that began in 2012 did nothing to allay Pope Benedict’s mistrust of “the world”. His own personal butler, Paolo Gabriele, later admitted (and was convicted) of stealing documents from within the papal household and leaking them. Those documents revealed Vatican intrigue, corruption and in-fighting. Pope Benedict was deeply distressed by this betrayal from one so trusted. He remarked the events “brought sadness in my heart”. It is impossible to know how seriously this personal betrayal affected him, but it is true that he resigned just a year later.

He drove forward many corrections of undesired Vatican Council II outcomes, including (with the help of Cardinal George Pell) a retranslation of the Roman Missal (the church’s key prayer book). Particularly in the English translation, its language was made much more literal to the Latin original – and correspondingly less English in idiom. German Catholics had rejected similar reforms, but they were nevertheless carried out for other language groups including English.

The English retranslations were controversial, and reflected his conservative approach. In January 2009, he had lifted the previous excommunication for renegade “Latin Mass” (“Tridentine”) bishops, one of them a Holocaust denier. It was not a particularly helpful moment for the wider church.

He also re-introduced the old Latin Tridentine rite of mass, the one he celebrated as a young priest. It had been banned by Pope Paul VI in an attempt to modernise worship. He liberalized the use of the Latin Mass in the pre-Vatican II rite alongside the existing one in the vernacular, and in this way he boosted the neo-traditionalist movement against Vatican II especially in the English-speaking world.

Benedict characterised his papacy by stressing “continuity”. He determined that the church in his time should be continuous with the church before the Second Vatican Council, and not ruptured from it. The Liturgy was one of his great loves, and in particular the Mass. Among others, his election as pope delighted traditional Catholic liturgists and musicians around the world. Progressives, and many Catholic bishops not ideologically labelled, were less enthusiastic. He once remarked that the reason he knew Pope John Paul II so well was not through his books, but by observing him celebrate the Eucharist. John Paul II was widely regarded as a mystic, and Josef Ratzinger was attuned to this.

Usually a bit tedious to read, Papal Encyclicals changed. These Papal letters to the world became masterful under Benedict. “CARITAS IN VERITATE” (on global development and progress towards the common good) was a particular success. His were accessible, clear and moving. Many expressed surprise that such an intellectual could hone language so simply and speak so clearly. Million and millions actually read his encyclicals – in itself a papal triumph of public relations. For a renowned University lecturer and writer of academic tomes, he also knew how to write for the people.

He played keyboard and sang, and he deeply enjoyed music. Although he was modest about his own voice (“pitch” he commented once). He had a deep knowledge and abiding interest in sacred music. Under his pontificate his own Sistine Chapel Choir was improved greatly. He was proud that his priest-brother Georg directed the world-famous “Cathedral Sparrows” choir in Regensburg (Germany)– and went to worship with them whenever he was able. Church musicians around the world took delight in his informed encouragement. However, the shadow of abuse later fell over even his beloved Regensburg Choir school.

As a Cardinal, he had been nicknamed the “Enforcer”. This was during his time heading the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” (once known as the “Inquisition”). He was a man of rules. The career of many a Catholic theologian ended under his supervision. He was key to the deeply controversial teaching document “Dominus Jesus” in the year 2000. Critics described it as a ‘Public Relations Disaster’ for Ecumenism because it made clear that his Vatican did not consider Protestant churches to be authentic churches, yet supporters of “DOMINUS JESUS” praised it for its Catholic “clarity”. Overall, his was not a particularly ecumenical career, especially in terms of Protestant churches.

In 2009, he alarmed many Anglicans when he created an “Anglican Ordinariate”, designed to receive disaffected Anglicans into the Catholic church while keeping many of their own traditions. It had limited success, receiving many clergy who objected to the ordination of women. Nevertheless, his state visit to the United Kingdom one year later, the first such UK state visit of a Roman Pontiff, was hugely successful. During that visit he beatified the former Anglican Divine (and convert), Blessed John Henry Newman.

As a Cardinal he was also central in the drafting of the Catholic Catechism of 1992 – the worldwide standard source for Catholic teaching. Concerning his enforcer role, he saw it as “service”, and was satisfied someone had to admonish and to warn the church. He was not afraid of unpopularity, and there was a contrarian spirit in him typical of an academic more than a pastor. But his enforcement was not always decisive in outcome, such as with United States nuns in 2012. Pope Francis ended the investigation into the USA Leadership Conference of Women Religious relatively discreetly in 2015.

As a Cardinal, Joseph Ratzinger was known as the “enforcer”. As Pope and bridge-builder, Benedict XVI was required to be the “unifier”. His was a pontificate of intended continuity, but yet may prove to have been strained by competing factions, both within the church, and by the more general culture wars of the West.

(Noel James Debien, 2 January 2023)

Saint Basil: scholar and gift-giver

Today (1 January) is the feast day of Saint Basil the Great in the Eastern churches. Basil wrote many theological works and is remembered (along with the two Gregorys, of Nyssa and Nazianzus—pictured below) as one of the Cappadocian Fathers, who played an influential role in the development of patristic thinking about the triune God.

It is said that Basil was tall, thin, partly bald, with a long beard. (He is the one on the left in the icon above.) He ate no more than was absolutely necessary for his survival; he never ate meat. It is said that he had only one worn undergarment and one overgarment.

Basil said that prayer was the seasoning for our daily work, as we season food with salt; that sacred and holy songs can only inspire us and give us joy and not grief. His philosophy fits well into the Christmas Season, when we season our lives with carols!

At the age of 28, Basil “left the world” and became a monk; at 35 a priest, then at 41, the Bishop of Caesarea. It is said that Basil, being born into a wealthy family, gave away all his possessions to the poor, the underprivileged, those in need, and children.

For Greeks and others in the Orthodox tradition, St Basil is the saint associated with Santa Claus. In Greek tradition, he brings gifts to children every January 1 (St Basil’s Day). It is traditional on St Basil’s Day to serve vasilopita, a rich bread baked with a coin inside.

It is also customary on his feast day to visit the homes of friends and relatives, to sing carols for the New Year, and to set an extra place at the table for Basil.

The celebration of St Basil on 1 January marks the day of his death. In the Western Church, because 1 January commemorates the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, Basil shares his saintly commemoration on the next day, 2 January, with Gregory of Nazianzus.

St Basil’s Hymn is one of many traditional Greek carols (often referred to as calanda) that are still sung by children on St Basil’s feast day (New Year’s Day). In the tradition still practiced to some extent in modern times, Greek children roam the neighborhoods from house-to-house on St Basil’s Day, playing instruments and singing songs, bidding New Year’s tidings to everyone, and receiving gifts of sweets and pastries from householders.

Here is the hymn (in a quirky and rather stilted translation):

It’s the beginning of the month
beginning of the year
High incense tree
Beginning of my good year
Church with the Holy Seat
It’s the beginning of our Christ
Saint and spiritual
He got out to walk on earth
And to welcome us
St. Basil is coming from Caesarea
And doesn’t want to deal with us
May you long live, my lady
He holds an icon and a piece of paper
With the picture of Christ our Saviour
A piece of paper and a quill
Please look at me, the young man

John Wycliffe: heretic? or hero?

One of the gifts that is treasured by many believers around the world is the ability to read the scriptures on their own language. It is something that we take for granted; but it is not something that has always been available to people of faith.

On this day it is good to pause and remember that we have the Greek and Hebrew and Aramaic writings of scripture translated into English and available for us to read. On this day perhaps we English-speaking people might spare a thought for the 14th century theologian and preacher, John Wycliffe (1328–1384), who is remembered as the person who made the first English translation of the Bible.

This copy is a facsimile reproduction of the very first translation of the Scriptures into the English language. The Wycliffe translations were hand-written manuscript Bibles, pre-dating printing by 70 years [Gutenberg, 1455].
https://digitalcommons.cedarville.edu/preserved_by_hand/7/

That is the legend; in fact, scholars believe that Wycliffe translated the Gospels, oversaw the translation of the rest of the New Testament, and outsourced the translation of the Old Testament to a team led by Nicholas of Hereford; the whole was later edited and revised by John Purvey. See https://kingscollections.org/exhibitions/specialcollections/bible/first-english-bible/wycliffe-bible

In fact, the Anglican Church designates today, 31 December, as a day to recall John Wycliffe. See https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-and-worship/worship-texts-and-resources/common-worship/churchs-year/calendar Wycliffe is also often honoured as “the father of English prose”, because the clarity and the popularity of his writings and his sermons in the Middle English dialect did much to shape our language today; see https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-3/john-wycliffe-did-you-know.html

From his theological writings, it has been deduced that Wycliffe believed that “scripture was the only authoritative reliable guide to the truth about God”. That was a view that was later expressed by the key figures in the various Reformations that took place in the 16th century. Wycliffe therefore maintained that all Christians should rely on the Bible rather than on the teachings of popes and clerics—a position that drove Martin Luther two centuries later, in his criticisms of the church.

It follows from this, that all Christians should have direct access to those scriptures to nurture their own faith. “Englishmen learn Christ’s law best in English”, he wrote; “Moses heard God’s law in his own tongue; so did Christ’s apostles.” The many translations of the Bible into English that were made in the ensuing centuries stand on the foundation of Wycliffe’s work.

Blogger MJH writes that, as a translator of the Bible, “John Wycliffe and his successors such as Tyndale and Coverdale stand in line with Christian tradition, with the anonymous Latinisers and Jerome, with the anonymous translators of the Coptic Bible and the Syriac Peshitta, with Cyril and Methodius.” See https://thepocketscroll.wordpress.com/2012/12/30/sixthy-day-of-christmas-commemoration-of-john-wycliffe/

Certainly, the long list of people who translated the scriptures into their own vernacular attest to the importance of contextualising scripture and making it widely available to the people of God—a commitment that has enriched the lives of believers over the centuries. My own denomination continues that commitment with an affirmation that “the Uniting Church lays upon its members the serious duty of reading the Scriptures [and] commits its ministers to preach from these” (Basis of Union, para.5).

As a pre-Reformation protestor, Wycliffe said that there was no scriptural justification for the papacy (as did Luther). He also taught predestination (as did Calvin and Zwingli) and the consubstantiation of the elements in communion (as is sometimes attributed to Luther), in distinction from the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. His theology also prefigured the Reformers in his affirmation that “faith in our Lord Jesus Christ is sufficient for salvation” (cf. Luther’s sola fide).

All of this, of course, set Wycliffe up for conflict with the authorities in the Roman Catholic Church. The “Constitutions of Oxford” of 1408 were issued after a synod called by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas of Arundel. This decree aimed to reclaim authority in all ecclesiastical matters, and specifically named John Wycliffe as it banned certain writings, and noted that translation of Scripture into English by unlicensed laity was a crime punishable by charges of heresy.

In May 1377, Pope Gregory XI issued five bulls against John Wycliffe for heresy. In all, the Catholic Church in England tried him three times, and two Popes summoned him to Rome, but Wycliffe was never imprisoned nor ever went to Rome.

Three decades after his death, the Council of Constance declared Wycliffe a heretic on 4 May 1415, and banned his writings, effectively both excommunicating him retroactively and making him an early forerunner of Protestantism. Many Protestants consider Wycliffe to be something of a hero, for he stood against the Roman Church by insisting that the scriptures should not be locked up in Medieval Latin, but rather should be available in the vernacular—in his case, Middle English.

So, John Wycliffe: Bible translator and theologian, preacher and pre-Reformation protestor, a Roman Catholic declared a heretic whose name is remembered and highly valued by Protestants … how do you assess him: heretic? or hero?

Convicted (5): Nathan Taylor

My ancestor Nathan Taylor arrived in the colony of New South Wales on the ship Adelaide 173 years ago, on 24 December 1849. He had been sent to the Colony as a convict. For reasons that are explained below, Nathan was granted a Ticket of Leave just six days after his arrival in the Colony, on 30 December 1849—173 years ago today.

Nathan was my great-great-great-great-grandfather on my mother’s paternal line. He is the fifth reason that I was born in Sydney (along with Joseph Pritchard, Bridget Ormsby, and James Jackson, all from my father’s line, and Elizabeth Lawrence and her daughter Louisa, from my mother’s line.)

Nathan Taylor was born on 7 January 1815, the seventh of ten children born to Joshua and Mary Taylor, of Longwood, a village near Huddersfield in Yorkshire. Joshua and Mary were “non-conformists”, who attended the Salendine Nook Baptist Chapel at Quarmby-cum-Lindsey, a village to the west of Huddersfield,
in West Yorkshire.

This Chapel had grown out of the meeting of a group of Scottish dissenters, who came to England seeking religious freedom just over a century before. A meetinghouse was built between 1739 and 1743, and worship has continued there for nearly three centuries.

Entry in the register of the Salendine Nook Baptist Chapel,
for the birth of “Nathan Taylor”, to Joshua and Mary Taylor

The Chapel register contains the records for the birth of ten children to Joshua and Mary, over the period of 1803 to 1824 (see below). All ten children have biblical names, reflecting the strong religious convictions of these Baptist parents. (Notice the spelling “Nathen”.)

Marriage and children

At the age of 24, Nathan Taylor married Elizabeth (Betty) Clegg, the daughter of John and Betty Clegg, at Almondbury, a village to the south-east of Huddersfield. The marriage took place on 15 September 1839; it was conducted by the vicar, George Hargreaves, in the Parish Church, and their place of residence is listed as Almondbury Bank. It seems that the Clegg family were members of the established Church of England.

Extract from the UK Register showing the 1839 marriage
of Nathan Taylor and Betty Clegg.

A son, William, was born in 1839. (Perhaps he was the reason that Nathan and Elizabeth married?) Sadly, William later would die by drowning at the age of 18. Then a daughter, Mary, was born in 1841.

The returns for the 1841 Census for the division of Upper Agbrigg (Agbridge) in Huddersfield, Yorkshire (pictured below) list a family of Nathan Taylor, 25, Clothier, his wife Elizabeth, 20, a daughter, Mary, aged 5 months, living in Schofield Lane in the township of Huddersfield.

There is no mention of a son, William, in this record. However, it does appear to be the correct Taylor family, for in the building next door in Schofield Lane, there is recorded a family which is most likely to be the family of origin for Elizabeth (Betty).

This family comprised the mother, Elizabeth Clegg, aged 45, and children John, 20, Sarah, 15, William, 15, Robert, 2, and Taylor, 2. Elizabeth’s father, John Clegg, would appear to have died by the time of the Census.

A second son, John, was born to Nathan and Betty in Huddersfield on 7 January 1845, and then a further son, Ben (presumably short for Benjamin) was born on 19 January 1847. The record of baptisms in the parish of Huddersfield (see below) indicate that John and Ben were both baptised on 7 March 1847, by the parish priest, Rev. J. Haigh.

John was given the maiden name of his mother, Clegg, as his middle name, and he consistently appears in official records as John Clegg Taylor. (That’s a neat connection for me, as my middle name is Taylor, my mother’s maiden name—John Taylor Squires, the same pattern as my gtgtgtgtgrandfather, Nathan Clegg Taylor!)

The surname Clegg appears to have a local origin in northern England. It appears in earlier records from north Lancashire, initially with a prominent family at Clegg Hall at Rochdale, about 20 miles from Huddersfield. The name is most densely concentrated today in Oldham (near Rochdale) and Holdfirth (just south of Huddersfield). See https://www.jacksoneditorial.co.uk/yorkshire-surnames/#clegg

Active as a Chartist

However, within two years, the family, was torn apart. On 6 March 1847, at the age of 33, Nathan Taylor was tried at the York Assizes, on the charge of “Warehouse breaking”. He was sentenced to ten years imprisonment. Also tried with him that day were John Johnson, 33, and Thomas Waddington, 37, both of whom received the same sentence for their crime of “Robbery in company with violence”. (See the court records below.)

Intriguingly, on the day immediately after this (as noted above), the two sons of Nathan and Betty, John and Ben, were baptised in Huddersfield!

John Johnson, Thomas Waddington, and Nathan Taylor were amongst 302 convicted men who subsequently were transported to the colony of New South Wales on board the ship Adelaide. They were Chartists.

A whole group of a Chartists had been sentenced to ten years, and then sent to the Colony, under special arrangements (as detailed below).

Chartism was a movement in Britain during the period of 1838 to 1857 which was initiated by the promotion of a Peoples Charter in 1838. The Chartists held mass protest meetings and collected petitions which were presented to Parliament. There were protest activities by Chartists in many English cities. It was especially strong in the northern regions of England—precisely where Nathan Taylor was living.

The Chartists were seeking a series of reforms to the political system (reforms which were eventually adopted, and which are taken for granted in modern democracies)—the vote for all adult males, the use of a secret ballot, the removal of a requirement for property ownership by Members of Parliament, payment of Members of Parliament, electorates with equal numbers of electors, and annual Parliamentary elections.

The arrangement concerning convicted Chartists was that such men would be sentenced to ten years and then sent to the colonies, and if they exhibited “exemplary” behaviour on the voyage to the south, they would be pardoned on arrival. This appears to have been what was done in relation to Nathan Taylor. See https://www.digitalpanopticon.org/A_Guide_to_Researching_Political_Prisoners

Transported on the Adelaide

The Adelaide departed London on 17 August 1849, with John Johnson, Thomas Waddington and Nathan Taylor amongst the 302 convicted men who were on board. The Adelaide was a wooden ship which had been built in 1832 and was used three times as a convict transport (1849, to New South Wales; 1855, to Western Australia; and 1863-64, to Gibraltar.)
See https://convictrecords.com.au/ships/adelaide

An extract from the ship’s record, listing the convicts on board, including Nathan Taylor.

The Sydney Morning Herald 30 November 1849 published this report from England:

Portland, England. On Monday morning, a party of 132 well-conducted convicts left the convict establishment, and were embarked for Port Phillip in the ship Adelaide, which had been some days waiting for them. We understand that, upon arriving in the colony (should their conduct on board be proved exemplary), they will each be presented with a ticket of leave which will entitle them to work for themselves, being comparatively speaking, free.

In addition to the above, there were 170 selected from Pentonville, the hulks, and Parkhurst prisons, who will be allowed a similar indulgence. A guard, composed of 50 soldiers, will accompany them on the voyage, selected from her Majesty’s 63rd, 65th, and 99th regiments of foot. There is an experienced surgeon on board, who has the care and management of the convicts, and also a religious instructor. The Adelaide was still in the roads on Tuesday night, waiting for a fair wind. See https://www.jenwilletts.com/convict_ship_adelaide_1849.htm

The last convict ship

The Adelaide duly arrived in Hobart on 29th November, where 40 men were disembarked. The ship sailed on to Port Phillip, with the intention of offloading more men, but it was refused entry and sailed on northbound to Port Jackson.

The settlement at Port Phillip had received around 1,750 convicts sent as political prisoners (often referred to as “Exiles”) in the years 1844 to 1849, but resistance to their presence grew in those years and was strong by 1849, as it attested by the failure to offload all the men on the Adelaide.

The Adelaide eventually arrived in Port Jackson on 24 December 1849, after a journey on the high seas that had lasted for 129 days. The Adelaide was the last convict ship to arrive in Sydney. Transportation, which began in 1788, had ended in Moreton Bay (Brisbane) in 1839, but continued to Van Diemen’s Land until 1853, and to Western Australia until 1868.

Arrival in the colonies

Once the ship had docked in Port Jackson, three prisoners were sent to the Hospital at Sydney and three were sent to Cockatoo Island on the recommendation of the Surgeon. The remaining prisoners on board were discharged daily as they were hired, commencing ship on 31 December 1849 and concluding on 9 January 1850.

The relevant page of the ship’s record relating to Nathan Taylor

Ticket of Leave

Within a week of arrival in the colony, the prisoners on board the Adelaide were given Tickets of Leave, by order of the Secretary of State. Nathan Taylor’s Ticket of Leave, number 49/1450, was granted on 30 December 1849 (see below).

Nathan was permitted to remain “in the district of Port Macquarie”, which stretched well north of Sydney, and included the northern rivers region (which is where later records place Nathan). From this point on, Nathan Taylor was once again a free man.

The journey of Betty and children on the Ramillies

His wife, Elizabeth, and two children, William and John, were still in Yorkshire. (Mary appears to have died by this time.) However, records indicate that Elizabeth and her two sons sailed to New South Wales on the ship Ramillies, which departed from Plymouth on 18 April 1850.

The Ramillies was a 757 ton barque ship which had been built at Sunderland in 1845. The Hobart Courier reported on 24 July 1850:

Arrived the ship Ramillies, 757 tons. [Master] Carvell, from Plymouth 18th April, with 271 bounty emigrants, and the following cabin passengers — Peter Nicholls, Esq., James Murphy, Esq., Mr. and Mrs. Linnell, one servant; Surgeon Superintendant, Dr. Fletcher. Cargo general. Health good, a few cases excepted. The ship’s records report that there were 97 women, 84 men, 31 boys and 23 girls who travelled in Steerage as Bounty Emigrants.
See http://marinersandships.com.au/1850/08/013ram.htm

The records of the Assisted Immigrants Passenger Lists identify the passengers by name. These records include specific reference to Elizabeth Taylor, 34, House Servant, of Huddersfield, Yorkshire, daughter of John and Elizabeth Clegg, “both dead”; along with William, 11, and John Clegg, 5, as arrivals on board the ship Ramillies (see below).

In the column “Relations in the Colony” is written, “Husband Nathan Taylor, ‘Adelaide’, Huddersfield, 1847, present address Unknown” (presumably the year refers to the time of Nathan’s activity which caused his arrest). Elizabeth, William and John were all in a good state of “bodily health, strength and usefulness”, and they had no complaints about their treatment on the ship.

An additional annotation reports “£5.0.0 paid by self and £10.0.0 paid by the Relieving Officers of Huddersfield”. Relieving Officers were appointed under the Poor Law Act of 1834, to oversee the administration of relief to the poor. It appears that the system was such that Elizabeth was able to petition to be reunited with her husband in the Colony.

Life together in the colony

The Ramillies duly arrived at Port Jackson on 11 August 1850, at which time Elizabeth made enquiries regarding the whereabouts of her husband, Nathan, and ultimately Nathan was reunited with his wife and children.

Indeed, records indicate that, over the next decade, a further five children, three daughters and two sons, were born to Elizabeth and Nathan, all in the Richmond River region in northern New South Wales. Sadly, one of those sons, Charles, died in 1860, during the first year of his life; whilst William, the firstborn, had died by drowning three years earlier, in 1857.

Nathan himself appears to have lived a full life in the Northern Rivers Region, where he was employed initially as a Labourer. In 1856 he bought land in East Ballina, and in 1862 additional land in Casino (see record below).

Nathan was appointed as a Foot Constable in the Northern Police District, on 22 November 1858. Police records describe him as 5’8” tall, with light brown hair, brown/grey eyes, and a sallow complexion. He worked as a Constable for six years (Number 782) before resigning on 31 October 1864.

After this, Nathan conducted a store and then was licensed as the publican of the “Horse Shoe Inn” in Lismore in the 1870s. He later bought the warehouse and hotel of Henry Brown, which he kept until his death.  

Extract from the Police Gazette for 1873,
listing publicans licensed in the Casino District.

The final years

Elizabeth died of apoplexy in Lismore on 25 June 1871, and Nathan married Caroline Penelope Browning three years later on 28 May 1874, in the Lismore Presbyterian Church. Caroline had been married to Henry Johnson Brown in 1846 and had given birth to fourteen children over the period of 1847 to 1867. Henry died a year later, in 1868, aged on 47 years.

Record of the death of Nathan Taylor, Publican, on 7 August 1874

Soon after this marriage to Caroline, Nathan’s lungs became inflamed, and he died just ten weeks after his marriage, in Lismore, on 7 August 1874. He is buried with Elizabeth in the North Lismore Cemetery. (See his death certificate, above, and their tombstone, below.) Caroline subsequently married, for the third time, in 1878, and lived on until 1894.

My line of descent from Nathan and Betty Taylor is through their second son, John Clegg Taylor (1846–1878), who married Eliza Jane Wotherspoon; their son Herbert Taylor (1871–1936), who married Ada May Lee; and their son Jack Leslie Taylor (1897–1968), who married Hazel May Barron; they are the parents of my mother.

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See also