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

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Back to the Bible

Reading this interview on Fr Tarazi's The Rise of Scripture, who preaches an almost Barthian notion of encounter with God in the sacred Scripture, I was surprised to find how much this resonated with a current in my thinking. Maybe my fundamentalist background predisposes me to this kind of thought, as I leave my reactionary twenties ever further behind and my inheritance comes back to claim me.

My discovery three or four years ago of Margaret Barker's "temple theology" and the realisation of just how deeply the various strands of Christian creedal orthodoxy might possibly have reached in the early Christian sect into a living liturgical temple tradition, have made me question just how necessary the "advanced" creeds really are to the life of the Christian. What I am driving at is the following: just supposing things like the divine sonship of Christ, his pre-existence, the Spirit (i.e. orthodox Trinitarian and Christological doctrines) are simply continuations of pre-Christian worship transfigured by the coming of Christ? The more conceptual creeds such as the Athanasian and the definitions of the early councils are in one sense an unnecessary and in certain respects a misleading Hellenisation of truths that we should be participating in and living out through the Scriptures primarily.

These statements of Christian orthodoxy ought to be relativised and questioned by the holy Scripture, once we have grasped the key to the whole (which is: Temple - Christ). Our understanding is not meant to terminate in a series of definitions that we grasp, but to appropriate and participate in the rich images of Scripture, being transformed in our minds in the mirror of the Word, and by participating in the sacraments.

I have read that in the debates leading up to the definitions of the council of Trent, that the decrees about holy Scripture and tradition were framed to fit in the arguments of some bishops that by "tradition" was to be understood only a handful of apostolic traditions such as the use of the sign of the Cross in baptism and the establishing of the threefold order - traditions which I think can probably be traced back to the temple and its rites in any case, but which had now been transfigured in Christ. For example, the sign of the cross "X" was originally the ancient form of the Hebrew letter Tau, with which the High Priest was anointed, and which was an abbreviation of the Tetragrammaton: the use of this sign in Christian baptism was a radical act, asserting (1) that the divine Name was in fact Jesus and had now been uttered and (2) that each of the baptised was being given the Name, being re-born as a child of God and declared to be one of the priestly people worthy to enter within the veil and offer the holy sacrifice.

There are a couple of points that I would like to have clarified in the interview given by Fr Tarazi, especially his characterisation of Platonist Christianity.

There are a number of tensions present in scholars' representation of the Old and New Testaments. Tarazi's is the latest I have come across: that of the pure prophetic shepherd's religion of Israel versus the urban, foreign philosophy of the Greek. There is also the tension explicit in a lot of Barker's work of the priestly Davidic king as a Son of God who is God made visible in the Temple, versus the Passover tradition of the Mosaic law of the Deutoronomist and the God who is utterly invisible.

The problem is that I cannot quite reconcile the New Testament as I find it with these scholarly tensions. In the Gospels Christ is the Son of David and the new Moses and the High Priest. He has a multi-valency so to speak, while contrariwise all the images point backwards in only one direction: to him. Similarly (and I look forward to reading Tarazi at some point to see what he has to say about the evidence running counter to his thesis) it seems that the Wisdom literature and the Prologue of St John come into contact with Alexandrian thought to put it mildly, although I am beginning to be persuaded that here the language whilst superficially Hellenised is pointing towards the temple primarily.

I am feeling my way towards something along the lines of Austin Farrer's thought as it developed from his 1948 The Glass of Vision to his 1967 Faith and Speculation. The images and story of Scripture are the primary revelation, the divine reason. The Apostles give the Christological key to the Old Testament - developed by Farrer in The Rebirth of Images (1949). What we need to develop is the understanding of the Temple and its iterations in the Old Testament (in the Pentateuch, Kings, Chronicles, the prophets and Ezekiel) - with the book of Hebrews as a model - along similar lines. The significance of the Fathers is not their philosophical framework but their development of the apostolic mode of reading the Scripture - traditionally known as the fourfold interpretation. We don't need so much to update Lombard's Sentences as to put the Fathers' approach back into practice, integrating some historical-critical findings along the way. The vast majority of this scholarship is neither historical nor sufficiently critical as it works within assumptions that are exploded one after the other by the next generation. The definitions of the councils are (so to speak) a side issue, a set of formulae to be understood afresh and brought into proximity to the primary images of Scripture.

A respect for the Scripture as primary argues for a form of life, a life not just of prayer within the ancient liturgy - meaning especially the Psalms as Christ's hymnbook - but with a respect for Creation as Christ's alphabet, which we should handle as if the bodily symbols participated in their author... because they do.