For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious

Sunday, 12 January 2014

What Does The Blog's Title Mean?

I've been meaning to write this for ages, to explain the significance of the rather obscure title for this blog, That Which Remaineth.

It is - as it appears in its context in the subtitle - a quotation from St Paul, from his second letter to the Church of Corinth, (see chapter 3) in a purple patch where he uses the rhetorical device of successive and climaxing contrasts. He contrasts the New Testament with the Old, the spirit with the letter, the fleshy "tables of the heart" with Moses's tables of stone, and hits the crescendo with the words "For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth. [That is, there is no comparison - the glory that God gave to Moses on Sinai has been eclipsed, is no glory at all, compared to Christ's glory.] For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious".

What St Paul is getting across is that the New Testament, the law that Christ has come to write into our hearts through the transforming Spirit, has set aside a prior state of things, where we looked to a set of written commandments and were blinded by the light of Moses face, the darkness of our own sins not enduring the brightness of God's holy Law. Paul is now a servant of the new order, and the people of Corinth are written on his heart, and entrusted to his care: and the new law of Christ will order and direct their loves and wills through the Holy Spirit. The glory of the new order is passed on through gazing on the face of Christ rather than Moses, and instead of being blinded at the foot of Mount Sinai, we feast our gaze without any veil at the foot of the Cross.

He concludes the passage thus: "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." Looking at Christ is like looking into a mirror and seeing Him there, and the longer we look, the more we are transformed into the image that we contemplate.

So - what about the title? Well, "that which remaineth" is a pregnant phrase for me, because it can mean a number of things in the context of this passage. I freely admit that some of these meanings are accidental to the English, and aren't there in the Greek.

1) The current state of things - the rule of Christ through the free Spirit - "remains" in the sense that it is "left over" from the old state of affairs. In other words, Christ's rule existed before in the nation of Israel, but now the barriers have been removed to its manifestation and universal sway; the symbols of the Old Testament have been interpreted and given life by the New.

2) We have now entered into the permanent state of things, into the glory that remains and will remain, for Christ has set up His everlasting kingdom, world without end. We have entered into "that which remaineth".

3) In English, the phrase carries a kind of poverty and precariousness when set on its own: "that which remains" sounds a bit like one is holding onto something preserved from the wreck of a city or a civilisation, something hard won and hardly held. Whilst there is the certainty of Christ's victory, nevertheless the glory of the "ministration of the Spirit", as St Paul calls it, feels very precarious indeed, as if it is at our whim to advance or neglect. The glory of Christ's rule is not always apparent, and introspection reveals a great part of us resistant, stubbornly refusing to submit to that gentle yoke; and the part of us given over to Him in danger of slipping back to old paths.

I mean to embrace the ambiguity of all of this in the title, and it brings together nicely (1) the typology of the Old Testament and its antitype in the New, i.e. what I conceive of as a healthy Christian Neoplatonism, (2) in the present state of things the final reality of Christ's rule is established, but this is a truth for our faith as it is not yet apparent to all (this is expressed in the blog in my interest in sacramental theology, another place for Christian Neoplatonism to flourish) and (3) the fact that we are hanging on by our fingernails at times, not primarily against a world in opposition but more our own dogged and inherent sinfulness. One desperately needs to "minister" to one's spirit, even when one is ostensibly writing about this or that piece of theology or book, and one often needs a nudge - or a shove - to remind one to rest in front of God's mirror and look at Jesus. The title is meant to remind me of that need.

I am going to put this in a permanent link on the right hand side column in the "Links to Older Posts" for any potentially bemused readers, so that when it drops off the bottom of the page in a month's time there will still be a visible explanation.

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