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Saturday, March 23, 2024

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Thank you for this post, Bill, which forces us to go take a further look at scripture and to reexamine our positions on it.

Now, with regard to Matthew 5: 38 (“You have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you not to resist evil”), you propose a strict, literal meaning of the text, one that prohibits believers from any resistance to evil, thus “permit[ing] the wicked 'to do as much evil as they please'." The verses that follow 5:38 suggest, however, that Jesus is not absolutely prohibiting any active opposition to evil-doers but rather urging patience and forbearance when encountering them. This is evident from the three instances of discord that he mentions in the next verses: : “but if [1] one strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other: And if a man will [2] contend with thee in judgment, and take away thy coat, let go thy cloak also unto him. And whosoever will [3] force thee one mile, go with him other two” (Matt 5:39-41).

Notice that none of these involve violence of the sort that threatens the life or gravely wounds the believer; rather, in the case of [1] “Both Jewish and formerly pagan readers and hearers of Matthew’s Gospel would have been aware of the usual significance of being slapped in the face: humiliation” [John Granger Cook, Matthew 5.39 and 26.67: Slapping another ’S Cheek in ancient Mediterranean Culture,” JGRChJ 10 (2014) 68]. Here, Jesus’ message is that of patience and restraint in instances where one’s honor or reputation is harmed. Similarly, with [2], a dispute over material goods, and [3], one over an unreasonable service or claim, he commands moderation and conciliation in responding to the physical demands of others. This message is reinforced by Matt 5: 42 (“Give to him that asketh of thee and from him that would borrow of thee turn not away”).

Furthermore, Matthew 5 must be read in conjunction with John 18: 19-23), in which Jesus, who has been seized, is stuck by one of the servants of the Sanhedrin, who regards Jesus’ reply to the high priest as insolent. In reaction, Jesus does not simply accept the blow to his face and offer his other cheek, but instead challenges the aggressor to justify his action: “If I have spoken evil, give testimony of the evil; but if well, why strikest thou me?” The implication is clear: evil words may justify a forceful response but not good ones. This is no passive acceptance of wrongdoing but a challenge to it, i.e. do not strike me if I have done no wrong.

Finally, we have to consider Luke 22:35-38, in which Jesus says, “When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, did you want anything? But they said: Nothing. Then said he unto them: But now he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise a scrip; and he that hath not, let him sell his coat, and buy a sword.” Someone who opposes resistance to evil in any circumstance would hardly recommend the purchase of a sword, a weapon designed to cut or even kill. In this regard, the instances of the Passion where Jesus commands the putting down of swords or when he puts back the severed ear of one of those who come to seize him are not to be taken as recommendations of pacifism but rather as indications of his determination that no one interfere with his divinely ordained, salvific sacrifice.

Thanks for the stimulating comments, Vito. I hope to reply to morrow.

Vito,

Again, very stimulating comments, so stimulating that I spent two hours yesterday afternoon discussing the NT references you cited with Brian Bosse who knows the Bible much better than I do. He may jump in here, and I hope he does, but he is a very busy man.

I said (or meant to say) in the O.P. that the eremitic monk's attitude makes sense if Xianity, traditionally understood, is true, in the way it would NOT make sense for a happy, healthy individual to allow himself to be slaughtered if that person believed that this life is the only life. But if you believe that this temporal life is nothing compared to eternal life, then it would make sense to "resist not the evil-doer."

I was not arguing from NT texts, but from the metaphysics of Christianity as I understand it, which is close to how Ratzinger understands it.

But this requires further clarification. The morally obligatory is different from the supererogatory. A supererogatory act is one that is good, but 'above and beyond the call of duty.' One example might be the soldier who throws himself on a live grenade to shield his platoon members. Or consider the celibacy that Paul recommends over marriage. Celibacy is not morally obligatory but supererogatory. And likewise with the eremitic monk's allowing himself to be slaughtered. Of course, if the monk became the abbot, the moral calculus would change. Similarly oif the platoon member I mentioned were the platoon leader.

So I am not committed to saying saying that every Xian qua Xian is morally required to be a pacifist. If I were committed to that, then I would be committed to saying that no Xian could join the military, or any police force, or defend himself with lethal forces against a lethal threat.

But what I do say in the O.P. does at least tangentially raise the question of whether a Christian is obliged by Christ's teaching and example to be a pacifist. We should discuss this.

Your answer is in the negative. Well, here's a challenge for you. For Xians, Christ is the Model, the Examplar, the Paradigm of human perfection -- "Be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" -- the one to be imitated (imitatio Christi, etc.) But Christ allowed himself to be slaughtered. And that fact trumps the bit about the swords mentioned at Luke 22:35-38.

So it looks to be an open question whether Xian morality requires pacifism (in a sense that would rule out defending oneself with lethal force against a lethal threat) or permits the taking of human life in certain circumstances.

Question for Buddhists: does Right Livelihood rule out being a member of a military unit, or a gun-totin' householder? Just asking.

“Well, here's a challenge for you. For Xians, Christ is the Model, the Examplar, the Paradigm of human perfection – ‘Be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect’ -- the one to be imitated (imitatio Christi, etc.) But Christ allowed himself to be slaughtered. And that fact trumps the bit about the swords mentioned at Luke 22:35-38.”

While I certainly do not deny that “Christ is the Model, the Exemplar, the Paradigm of human perfection and, as such, the “one to be imitated,” I question whether this call to follow his words and deeds extends to a willingness to be slaughtered, rather than to resist evil-doers. And I believe this for several reason, but here I will just mention one.

As I indicated in an email to you just after Good Friday 2022 (which you posted, but which I cannot locate in your back issues), Christ confronts his impending suffering and death as a divine, omniscient being. Since ‘the admixture of the divine and human natures of Christ are conjoined in his Person, we cannot assume, without falling in heresy, that one of those natures, with its inherent intellectual capacities, ceases to be operational at certain moments, so that [in the days leading to his Passion and during it, as well as] on the Cross only the human nature is present. If both natures are present, then the divine nature of Christ [and hence his person] faces death with the divine knowledge of those things that are hidden from other men, in particular the certainty of God’s existence and the knowledge of His nature, the [survival] of the soul after death [Luke 23:43] … [along with, his own Resurrection in glory on the third day, and his Ascension to the Father]. Thus, while Christ’s physical suffering is comparable to ours, his emotional suffering is not: He is in a unique and privileged existential position, one that derives from his absolute knowledge of all things, which permits him to die [in horrific] pain but without the terrors of the unknown that plague us ordinary human beings. Given this, it would seem that the analogy of his suffering and ours holds but only to a certain point and not absolutely.” The great mystery and terror of death for us mere mortals make it unreasonable to expect that the call to imitate him extends to the willingly be slaughtered, the supererogatory act par excellence.

>>Thus, while Christ’s physical suffering is comparable to ours, his emotional suffering is not: He is in a unique and privileged existential position, one that derives from his absolute knowledge of all things, which permits him to die [in horrific] pain but without the terrors of the unknown that plague us ordinary human beings.<<

But then Christ is not fully human. The orthodox line is that he is fully human and fully divine. To be fully human, however, he has to experience the horror of abandonment which is worse than physical suffering. The scripture indicates that he does: "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" On the cross, Christ experiences the terrifying doubt that he was deluded in thinking himself the Son of God or perhaps even that there is a God in the first place. If he didn't experience at least the first of these, then the Incarnation is not 'serious' and he didn't become one of us in full measure.

I don’t have a response to this argument, which seems sound.

“Your answer is in the negative. Well, here's a challenge for you. For Xians, Christ is the Model, the Examplar, the Paradigm of human perfection -- "Be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" -- the one to be imitated (imitatio Christi, etc.) But Christ allowed himself to be slaughtered. And that fact trumps the bit about the swords mentioned at Luke 22:35-38.”

Bill, I hope that I am not dragging this out, and, if I am, don’t feel the need to respond, but the question greatly interests me, so I would like to suggest another approach, one that does not implicitly threaten the orthodox position of the full divinity or full humanity of the Person of Christ. Specifically, I would suggest that when we speak of Christ’s humanity, we are referring to a human nature that is not deformed by original sin. Thus, the human nature that he shares with us is the prelapsarian one intended by God. Might it then not be possible that only this untainted, undistorted human nature, which Christ possesses purely but we possess only in a wounded form, explains his acceptance of being slaughtered and our understandable inability to imitate him in this regard?

Hello Bill and Vito,

For the record, I am not a pacifist. I think good arguments can be made for the civil use of the sword from passages like Romans 13. (Bill, I presented some of this to you on Sunday.)

With that said, the general overall tenor of the New Testament concerning the heart-attitude of the Christian life is well captured in such representative passages as found in the Sermon on the Mount, Romans 12, and 1 Peter. An AR-15 carrying Jesus with Luke 22:36 as a subtitle clashes with this New Testament picture.

Vito, it seems you infer from Luke 22:36 that Jesus is advocating the use of force. (This was the disciple’s understanding.) Bill and I spent some time talking about this last Sunday, and I presented to him a symbolic interpretation around the idea of preparedness rather than an advocation of the use of force.

The main reason I take the passage symbolically is because a literal reading seems to go against the main thrust of New Testament teaching. If Jesus truly was advocating the use of force, then why do we not have any New Testament record of His disciples ever doing this or commending this? When the disciples produced two swords, Jesus did not say, “Well, you need to get ten more…there are twelve of you after all.” Rather, He said, “It is enough!” or, “That’s enough!” This verbal ejaculation signifies that the disciples have given a mistaken literal meaning to a figurative intention. Darrell Bock, a respected New Testament scholar says...

Two events [are] commentary on this verse [36]: Jesus’ rebuke of the use of a sword against the high priest’s servant (22:49–51) and the church’s nonviolent response to persecution in the Book of Acts (4:25–31; 8:1–3; 9:1–2; 12:1–5). In fact, Acts 4:25-31 shows the church armed only with prayer and faith in God. Luke 22:36 sees the sword as only a symbol of preparation for pressure, since Jesus’ rebuke of a literal interpretation (22:38) shows that a symbol is meant. It points to readiness and self-sufficiency, not revenge.

Regarding this misunderstanding, the late Roman Catholic New Testament scholar Raymond Brown noted...

One may add that [the disciples] have not been the only ones to misunderstand: This text has been (mis)-used as a general declaration of the right of Christians to bear arms; as support for the right of the medieval papacy to exercise both material and spiritual power (two swords); and as proof that Jesus encouraged armed revolution!

Regarding the two swords reference above, Brown had in mind Pope Boniface VIII's papal encyclical Unam Sanctam.

Lastly, Vito, your comment about understanding Christ’s humanity as prelapsarian, is good, and that is how I would take it. Christ was tempted, but He was not tempted the way Bill describes it. All our temptations are temptations within the context of a fallen nature. Jesus never was tempted in this way being perfect. As for the struggle in Gethsemane, Jesus did not doubt the existence of God or question His divinity. Rather, sin was about to be imputed to Him followed by God’s wrath being poured out on Him against that very sin. This was the bitter cup Jesus contemplated during His travail in the Garden.

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. – Is. 53:4-11

I am so thankful for the Savior and His sacrifice. Happy Easter.

Brian,

Thank you for this thoughtful and knowledgeable comments on Luke 22:36. Your point about the early Church in Acts makes particular sense to me. However, I still find some discordance between Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:38 and John 18: 19-23, with the latter indicating his rejection of a passive response to wrongdoing.

Thinking further about Christ’s humanity as prelapsarian, I am looking again at Thomas V. Morris’ The Logic of God Incarnate, since to my untrained philosophical mind at least, I find that his distinction of “essentially” human and “merely” human might be a fruitful approach to explain the unfallen state of his human nature.

Happy Easter to you.

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