Newsletter of Universalist Humanism - Hong Kong, SAR, China - Vol III, Number 4 - November 2015
By Tony Henderson
My Big Bible Story
A quite huge bible took my attention in the open-air market area of Melton Mowbray, near Nottingham (August 2015), England. I retrieved same from its resting place among all kinds of secondhand books, so interesting somehow, indeed a weighty tome. The early pages started with the Apocrypha, this struck me strange, is that usual I pondered, surely these are the ‘left out’ texts, how come they were in first place?
Presuming the book would cost from seventy to a hundred and fifty pounds I asked the bookseller, he quickly replied, “Fifteen quid.” That’s a good deal, I’ll have that, I thought and thus became the owner of: The Family Devotional Bible - with copious notes and reflections on each chapter of the old and new testament and valuable marginal references; by Henry, Matthew. Publisher, The London Printing and Publishing Company, (26 x 35 x 13 cm), with its worn leather cover and front near falling off.
Mine was the New Testament, Part II. It didn’t have a published dated. According to one book restorer, though speaking of the even bigger combined version... “The reason there is no publishing date is that it was not published at one time. This volume was published in 16 parts. To acquire a complete copy one had to start a subscription in 1840 and maintain the subscription until 1861- or 2. Anyone who acquired all 16 parts could submit them to be bound. My copy does have a publishing date of 1865. The dates that individual copies were bound could vary considerably.”
However, the inscription on my copy is dated 3-5-48, telling that this was a more recent production. The inscription is barely readable, something like: From 13th Lewis. To the Chase Lide Lodge of Instruction.
Why the purchase?
Not sure. I just liked it. By this time in my life the bible of the Christian religion was not something that held any particular attraction though as a reference must have one on stand by. The sheer size of this one and the large fonts and superb illustrations - apparently, steel engravings - pulled me into it. The engraver signed his name, W.H. Mote, active around the 1820s. (Note: the bible in question has steel engraved title page and a further 39 plates and 3 fold out maps.)
Seeking provenance for this bible I first looked through a list pertaining to the Catholic tradition. No Joy. So I dug into the fellow himself: Matthew Henry.
I simply searched Google and accepted Wikipedia. He was born at Broad Oak, Iscoyd, a farmhouse on the borders of Flintshire and Shropshire. His father, Philip Henry, was ejected from his home under the Act of Uniformity 1662.
I further learned that as an immediate result of this Act, over 2,000 clergymen refused to take the Act oath and were expelled from the Church of England in what became known as the Great Ejection of 1662. Although there had already been ministers outside the established church, this created the concept of non-conformity, with a substantial section of English society excluded from public affairs for a century and a half.
Returning to Matthew Henry, his father Philip, unlike most of his ejected fellows, possessed some private means, and was able to give his son a good education.
Young Matthew first went to a school in Islington, and then at Gray's Inn. He soon gave up his legal studies for theology, and in 1687 became minister of a Presbyterian congregation at Chester.
While in Chester, Henry founded the Presbyterian Chapel in Trinity Street. He moved again in 1712 to Mare Street, Hackney. Two years later (22 June, 1714), he died suddenly of apoplexy at the Queen's Aid House (41 High Street) in Nantwich while on a journey from Chester to London.
There, in few words, I learned of this bible’s mentor-ship. I also understood why the fellow was not on the Catholic list. However, reference to this particular work was not so forthcoming, though I chanced upon a highly laudable Matthews quote commenting on a popular expression about the relationship between men and women, from the story of the creation of Eve, in the Book of Genesis: "the woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved."
Subsequent to the Uniformity Act, a Nonconformist was an English subject belonging to any non-Anglican church or to a non-Christian religion. A person who also advocated religious liberty may be more narrowly considered as such.
Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, and those less organized were considered Nonconformists. Later, as other groups formed, they were also considered nonconformists: Methodists, Unitarians, Quakers, Plymouth Brethren, English Moravians, and The Salvation Army.
The term "dissenter" came into use particularly after the Act of Toleration (1689), which exempted nonconformists who had taken the oaths of allegiance from penalties for non-attendance at the services of the Church of England.
All well and good but, despite unearthing a long list of verifiable writings of Henry Matthew, no reference to The Family Devotional Bible!
Matthew Henry’s pedigree though was impeccable: Quoting renown Charles Spurgeon (I had never heard of him): "First among the mighty for general usefulness we are bound to mention the man whose name is a household word, Matthew Henry. He is most pious and pithy, sound and sensible, suggestive and sober, terse and trustworthy...."
I did find this reference which could be the body of work that formed the edition I was holding - or at least half of the two-volume set: Matthew Henry's well-known six-volume Exposition of the Old and New Testaments (1708–1710) or Complete Commentary, provides an exhaustive verse by verse study of the Bible, covering the whole of the Old Testament, and the Gospels and Acts in the New Testament. After the author's death, the work was finished (Romans through Revelation) by thirteen other nonconformist ministers, partly based upon notes taken by Henry's hearers, and edited by George Burder and John Hughes in 1811. The word ‘author’ threw me a bit; did he affect a translation, ah, no surely a massive work, his was the commentaries only.
One unknown reviewer wrote: The importance and value of Henry's "Commentary" was so evident to his fellow ministers that steps were soon taken to collect the notes he had prepared on the remaining books from Romans to Revelation, so that the whole of the Bible might be included in the final work. Henry's "Commentary" quickly became an indispensable work of reference for Christians — Whitfield read it regularly and thoroughly as part of his devotional reading — and Doddridge's opinion is as relevant for us today as it was in his own day, "Henry is, perhaps, the only commentator, so large, that deserves to be entirely and attentively read through."
Again, I was not familiar with those church worthies but assume they were figures of note.
The Bible Society seems to be the organisation that first allowed the Apocrypha to be included in a bible. Although perceived as Protestant, from the early days the British and Foreign Bible Society was officially ecumenical, and allowed inclusion of the Apocrypha. As a reaction to the occasional inclusion of these books and other issues, the Trinitarian Bible Society was founded in 1831. Pope Gregory XVI in his 1844 encyclical Inter Praecipuas condemned both bible societies and "the publication, dissemination, reading, and possession of vernacular translations of sacred Scriptures", and subsequently Catholics did not officially participate in the Society.
As a non-conformist Matthew Henry was independent enough to be able to have this inclusion but he must have done so for profound reasons, not just to irk others. He included:
First Book of Esdras
Second Book of Esdras
The rest of the chapters of the Book of Esther
Wisdom of Solomon
Song of the Three Holy Children
Bel and the Dragon
Prayer of Manasses (Manasseh)
First Book of Maccabees
Second Book of Maccabees
A good question that arose later in this delving is: would he have included the likes of the Gospel of Thomas unearthed at Hammadi in a later century?
Note: The Protestant Apocrypha contains three books (3 Esdras, 4 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh [Sadducees]) that are accepted by many Eastern Orthodox Churches and Oriental Orthodox Churches* as canonical, but are regarded as non-canonical by the Catholic Church and are therefore not included in modern Catholic bibles, but are also considered to be Apocrypha by the Catholic Church.
Dead Sea Scrolls and non-western Christian churches
The Dead Sea Scrolls brand the Sadduceean elite as those who broke the covenant with God in their rule of the Judean state, and thus became targets of divine revenge.
Further note*: Oriental Orthodoxy is the communion of Eastern Christian Churches that recognise only three ecumenical councils - where the content of the Christian bible was determined - the First Council of Nicaea, the First Council of Constantinople and the Council of Ephesus. They reject the dogmatic definitions of the Council of Chalcedon. Hence, these Churches are also called Old Oriental Churches or Non-Chalcedonian Churches.
The Oriental Orthodox communion comprises six groups: Coptic Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Eritrean Orthodox, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (India) and Armenian Apostolic churches. These six churches, while being in communion with each other are completely independent hierarchically and have no equivalent of the Bishop of Rome or Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, with no concepts of supremacy or precedence respectively.
I recalled that G I Gurdjief, the Greek-Armenian adventurer-mystic, once remarked that one day something of great import [for esotericism and Christianity] will come out of Ethiopia. The following reference to the Copts resonated with that recall.
That... Christianity spread throughout Egypt within half a century of Saint Mark's arrival in Alexandria as is clear from the New Testament writings found in Bahnasa, in Middle Egypt, which date around the year 200 AD [orCE], and a fragment of the Gospel of John, written in Coptic, which was found in Upper Egypt and can be dated to the first half of the 2nd century. In the 2nd century, Christianity began to spread to the rural areas, and scriptures were translated into the local language, namely Coptic.
The region was one of the first places where Christianity became the state religion, in CE 451, as a result of the Council of Chalcedon determinations. The believers in the one nature of Christ, monophysites, which included the majority of Christians in Egypt and Ethiopia, were designated as heretics under the common name of Coptic Christians.
The majority of Christians nowadays belong to the "Chalcedonian" churches, being, the Roman Catholic, Maronite, Eastern Orthodox, and traditional Protestant churches - at least those that accept the first four Ecumenical Councils. These churches consider monophysitism to be heretical.
Why was all this intriguing me, because of the inclusion-exclusion of Apocryphia. This well esteemed commentator Henry Matthews had reason to bring them in and thus it follows the contents of the texts need to be considered, or so it occurred to me.
I should explain that when I read a Christian bible in its completeness, in Denmark late ‘60s, living in a tent and eating bread fried in margarine, I was turned off by the content of the Old Testament but found the New Testament wholesome and applicable. I did not take the tales or contents as literal truths but symboli-mythical-allegorical, tales that pointed beyond the actual words to other spiritual possibilities. I still hold to this position.
I like that Mohammad is a man, also the Buddha Gautama. This gives me a chance and you too! I see the Jesus as portrayed as a living being in the New Testament as a man and it’s the story of his trying to come to terms with what is termed god, God or GOD.
It was and is quite marvelous to see the ramifications of a sacred book, a bible, a Christian bible, knowing that in each of the other world religions they also have their bibles or equivalents, equally complicated and inter-organisationally controversial. Also knowing that there are other major religious forces that do not have a written culture, Shamanism, Animism and the like which does not mean they should be disregarded.
Nowadays, to draw in further complications, there are, in relation to the Christian Bible the Nag Hammadi Codices (NHC) and the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) that emerged from two thousand years of obscurity around the same historical moment.
The Dead Sea Scrolls - a collection of manuscripts discovered between 1946 and 1956 at an ancient settlement at Khirbet Qumran in the West Bank near the Dead Sea. The texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls are written in four different languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Nabataean. While the Essenes are brought into the equation when looking for their origins, further research is pointing at the Sadducees.
According to The Oxford Companion to Archaeology:
The biblical manuscripts from Qumran, which include at least fragments from every book of the Old Testament, except perhaps for the Book of Esther, provide a far older cross section of scriptural tradition than that available to scholars before. While some of the Qumran biblical manuscripts are nearly identical to the Masoretic, or traditional, Hebrew text of the Old Testament, some manuscripts of the books of Exodus and Samuel found in Cave Four exhibit dramatic differences in both language and content. In their astonishing range of textual variants, the Qumran biblical discoveries have prompted scholars to reconsider the once-accepted theories of the development of the modern biblical text from only three manuscript families: of the Masoretic text, of the Hebrew original of the Septuagint, and of the Samaritan Pentateuch. It is now becoming increasingly clear that the Old Testament scripture was extremely fluid until its canonization around A.D. 100 [CE 100].
But all the texts uncovered there are not biblical in nature so those jars etc seem to be storage for a hidden library rather than just of one denominational group under renegade conditions.
The Nag Hammadi Library consists of writings found by two peasants who unearthed clay jars in 1945 in upper Egypt. These did not appear in English for 32 years, because the right to publish was contended by scholars, politicians, and antique dealers.
The Nag Hammadi texts, are:
Gospel of Thomas
Gospel of Philip
Secret Book of John
Gospel of Truth (some see a Buddhist influence)
The Essenes and some early Christians lived a pious, ascetic life, abandoning the big conurbations and the material world for a life of solitary or communal prayer and self-denial. But the Essenes were not a Christian group. The associated writings make no mention of John the Baptist, Jesus, or Jesus’s followers. The Dead Sea Scrolls seem to tell that Christianity was not a unique phenomenon, though it had a lot in common with the Essenes teachings-practices.
The chronological history of the Christian Bible, pre-15th Century takes the story back to 2000 - 1185 B.C.E. to the times of the Hebrew speaking Patriarchs and a Nomadic Era. By 1500 B.C.E. the Hebrews were in Egypt, 1250 - 1220 B.C.E. There was the exodus of Hebrews from Egypt, 1185 - 1000 B.C. Hebrews were in Palestine. However, the Jewish (Kingdom of Judah) were exiled between 600 - 580 B.C.E. From 539 - 332 B.C.E. they return to Palestine, though under foreign rule. From 300 - 200 B.C. E. the Judaic scribes preserved Hebrew Holy Scriptures while in captivity, also referred to as the Samaritan Pentateuch, the text having been kept by the Samaritan community. The first five books of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), are taken by many as a history of the Jews from Creation to the death of Moses. Elohim and Jehovah are the most common names given to the Diety by the ancient Hebrews and are used interchangeably in the Pentateuch. The Elohistic Scriptures are simpler and primitive; the Jehovistic Scriptures are elaborate, show a knowledge of history, geography, and the priesthood, likely incorporated into the Elohistic writings.
In the same period the Septuagint (LXX) appears as the first translation of Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, the oldest known copy of this work ( Codex Alexandrinus dates from the Fifth Century.
200 B.C.E. is also the date of the oldest of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Qumran Manuscripts), claimed to be the fragmentary remains of Essene compilations. Recalling that these were only discovered in 1947, over a hundred of the scrolls comprising the Old Testament, except for the Book of Esther. There are also thousands of other fragments, and all were discovered in a cave of the Qumran Valley near the Dead Sea.
63 B.C.E. - 70 C.E. Roman occupation of Palestine with the birth of Jesus placed from 20 to 4 B.C.E. depending on the way the calendar is used.
50 - 150 C.E. Formulation and completion of New Testament, in Greek; earliest known manuscripts date from the 3rd and 4th Century C.E.
70 C.E. Destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple; Gospel of Mark appears, said to originate in Rome.
90 - 100 C.E. Though not directly connected to the Christian Bible the Hebrew Holy Scriptures were canonized between these dates by Rabbinical Council at Jamnia (Jabneh), Judaea, Palestine. 100 - 600 C.E. Talmudic works appear. Note: The Talmud is a central text of Rabbinic Judaism, normally referring to the collection of writings named specifically as the Babylonian Talmud, although there is also an earlier collection known as the Jerusalem Talmud, or Palestinian Talmud. The Talmud is the basis for all codes of Jewish law, and is widely quoted in rabbinic literature.
300 - 500 C.E. Early codices (codex meaning manuscript-book): papyri, parchments, lectionaries and so on which bound codex could be transported throughout regions, spreading knowledge and in this case, the word of God [via inspired Man].
331 C.E. Emperor Constantine orders fifty Bibles for his churches in Constantinople from Eusebius of Caesarea. 367 C.E. Twenty-seven books of the New Testament are listed; the Canon is defined.
382 C.E. Translation of the Vulgate began, (the Old and New Testaments in Latin) by Eusebius Hieronymus (St. Jerome) at the request of Pope Damascus. The Vetus Latina ("Old Latin") collection of biblical texts then in use by the Church. Once published, it was widely adopted and eventually eclipsed the Vetus Latina and, by the 13th century, was known as the "versio vulgata" (the "version commonly-used") or, more simply, in Latin as Vulgata or in Greek Vulgate).
The Catholic Church made this version its official Latin Bible as a consequence of the Council of Trent (1545–63).
Various biblical works were produced thereafter such as the 380 - 1388. Wyclif Bible produced by the followers of John Wyclif, an English theologian and reformer (also called the Morning Star of the Reformation) who was critical of the papacy. Wyclif felt that all Christians should have access to the bible in the vernacular. The Wyclif becomes the first complete, word-for-word translation of the Vulgate into English, into a Midland dialect. The complete Wyclif Bible remained unprinted until 1850. Also known as the Lollard Bible, extant in 170 copies.
1409. The Synod of Canterbury at St. Paul’s, London, issued a decree forbidding the translation of the Scriptures from one language to another, and the reading of a translation later than that of John Wyclif under penalty of greater excommunication, unless special license be obtained.
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As a consequence of this research into my Bible’s ‘authenticity’ associated reading brought me to Olivier Manitara and his Jesus and the Essenes book. I liked his Jesus, “a simple man who walked the streets in the midst of people.” He seen the Essenes as “carrying within themselves all of the seeds of Christianity and of future western civilization.” He included as Essenes St Anne, Joseph and Mary, John the Baptist, Jesus, John the Evangelist and more.
With this writer comes the more esoteric side resulting from this delving as Olivier Manitara tells that the Essenes accord “great importance to the teachings of the ancient Chaldeans, of Zoroaster, of Hermes Trismegiste, to the secret teachings of Moses and of one of the founding masters of their order who had transmitted techniques similar to those of Buddhism, as well as to the revelations of Enoch.” They ‘knew’ that the greatest Hebrew prophets came from their lineage and School.
Those who lived in monastery-schools were mostly unmarried. Those wanting to enter as initiates had to examine their past life clearly to objectively summarise it; the successes, motivations, failures, the spirited excitations experienced, the wisdom acquired - he or she had to discern the unusual impulses received during life and to look at his or her response, in that were they taken into account? Was there a moving away from them or was the response faithful to them? All this in an effort to be fit to enter the community (Community of Light).
The Essenes considered themselves the guardians of the Divine Teaching... Olivier Manitara says and speaks of a School, which is how my own essential Guide Silo speaks of our little gang of humanists and our endeavours, defined as: “A group that professes, studies, or develops a doctrine. At the root of every great religion or system of life, we can trace back the existence of the School,” from Siloism.
Not just that but some of the practices of the Essenes also brought our Siloists to mind: the task is to awaken people or if not, to comfort, and to guide the awake. Also in some practices: the laying on of hands, self-observation, periodic self-evaluation, working as a group, simple ceremonies, respect of the privacy of others, no forcing, the holding to a Purpose.
Returning to the main theme, the make-up of the modern Christian Bible clearly is a selected set of writings and the selection was made by established members of the strongest lines within the then church and that was done for good, if subjective reasons. The matter was successful, viewed from the present day popularity of the various Christian churches, at least from the angle of continuity.
My quest of situating the Matthew Bible bore fruit in learning that “...it was first published in 1537 by John Rogers, under the pseudonym "Thomas Matthew". It combined the New Testament of William Tyndale, and as much of the Old Testament as he had been able to translate before being captured and put to death. The translations of Myles Coverdale from German and Latin sources completed the Old Testament and the Apocrypha, except the Apocryphal Prayer of Manasses. It is thus a vital link in the main sequence of English Bible translations.”
Phew, what a relief, and I understood from that that Matthew Henry offered his commentaries only, not dealing with any re-translations.
Of the bible’s three translators “...two were burned at the stake. Tyndale was burned on 6 October 1536 in Vilvoorde, Belgium. John Rogers was "tested by fire" on 4 February 1555 at Smithfield, England; the first to meet this fate under Mary I of England. Myles Coverdale was employed by Cromwell to work on the Great Bible of 1539, the first officially authorized English translation of the Bible.
A. S. Herbert, bible cataloguer, says of the Matthew Bible, "this version, which welds together the best work of Tyndale and Coverdale, is generally considered to be the real primary version of our English Bible" upon which later editions were based, including the Geneva Bible and King James Version. ...” Thus the Matthew Bible, though largely unrecognized, significantly shaped and influenced English Bible versions in the centuries that followed its first appearance.
Coming to modern times, the Revised Standard Version of the Bible is an authorized revision of the American Standard Version, published in 1901, which was a revision of the King James Version, published in 1611. Its revisers in 1881 expressed admiration for "its simplicity, its dignity, its power, its happy turns of expression … the music of it cadences, and the felicities of its rhythm." The Revised Standard Version of the Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments, was published 1952, and has met with wide acceptance; it posed the first serious challenge to the popularity of the Authorized (King James) Version.
However, one controversy points at the critical errors that can arise, the RSV's translation of the Hebrew word almāh as "young woman" rather than the traditional Christian translation of "virgin".
The controversy stemming from this rendering helped reignite the King-James-Only Movement within the Independent Baptist and Pentecostal churches. Fundamentalists and evangelicals in particular accused translators of deliberately altering the Scriptures to deny the doctrine of the Virgin Birth of Jesus.
In 1957, at the request of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, the Deuterocanonical books (included in the Apocrypha by most Protestant Christians) were added to the RSV. Since there was no American Standard Version of the Apocrypha, the RSV Apocrypha was a revision of the Revised Version Apocrypha of 1894, as well as the King James Version. To make the RSV acceptable to Eastern Orthodox congregations, an expanded edition of the Apocrypha containing 3 and 4 Maccabees and Psalm 151 was released in 1977.
The Common Bible of 1973 ordered the books in a way that pleased both Catholics and Protestants. It was divided into four sections:
The Old Testament (39 Books)
The Catholic Deuterocanonical Books (12 Books)
The additional Eastern Orthodox Deuterocanonical Books (three Books; six Books after 1977)
The New Testament (27 Books)
The non-deuterocanonicals gave the Common Bible a total of 81 books: it included 1 Esdras (also known as 3 Ezra), 2 Esdras (4 Ezra), and the Prayer of Manasseh, books that have appeared in the Vulgate's appendix since Jerome's time "lest they perish entirely", but are not considered canonical by Catholics and are thus not included in the most modern Catholic Bible.
In 1977, the RSV Apocrypha was expanded to include 3 Maccabees, 4 Maccabees, and Psalm 151, three additional sections accepted in the Eastern Orthodox Canon (4 Maccabees again forming an appendix in that tradition), although it still does not include additional books in the Syriac and Ethiopian Canons. This action increased the Common Bible to 84 Books, making it the most comprehensive English Bible translation to date with its inclusion of books not accepted by all denominations. The goal of the Common Bible was to help ecumenical relations among the churches. The RSV Common Bible is one of the versions authorized to be used in services of the Episcopal Church.
Given this complexity and not being a member of any denomination, though born into a Catholic family, I find all the above unhelpful on my spiritual journey and taking into account the contents of further excluded materials and the recent archeological mainly desert findings, I for one find the status quo unsatisfactory.
In broad-strokes and not giving the references I would rather see, if Jesus existed at all in the manner attributed to him, a fellow that led an extraordinary life but a human life, who had a family of mother and father, brothers and sisters and a romantic love in associated disciple Mary Magdalene (in Greek Maria), and he probably married her. A Jesus who did not die on a cross, who likely continued on his chosen path but had to leave the region of his birth as he was upsetting the Jewish norm, to travel via the Silk Road as its now called to visit far-away places and to eventually die a normal death, probably in Kashmir. The Roza Bal is the name of the purported shrine located in the Khanyaar quarter in downtown Srinagar in Kashmir that most qualifies as his final resting place.
I mean, why is Christianity the only religion that has no place where the body of its founder resides? Is this to qualify the death-resurrection-ascension teaching? Not good enough. So unjust to Jesus the Christ.
The final resting place for the Buddha is purported to be at modern-day Piprahwa-Ganwaria, the site of the ancient city of Kapilavastu, the capital of the Shakya kingdom, where Siddhartha Gautama spent the first 29 years of his life. Accurate or not, at least there is a place. It is an important Buddhist pilgrimage site, where Buddhists believe Gautama Buddha attained Parinirvana after his death.
In China the grave of Confucius, founder of Confucianism, is in his home town of Qufu, Shandong Province, China. No complexity there.
The Prophet Muhammad is buried in the Al-Masjid an-Nabawi ("Mosque of the Prophet") in the city of Medina in Saudi Arabia. That’s quite clear.
There is no one authority among the Christians that can revamp the entirety of Christian teaching and doctrine and humanize it. That being so, the issues will remain, complicating matters into the future. This will not matter if people, Christians in this case, simply obey the precepts that circle around the maxim, "treat others as you would have them treat you", a Christian and universal higher truth.
Meanwhile I have my Christian Bible thanks to Matthew Henry et al and the reasonable bookseller in the market square of Mowbray Melton, and I am quite pleased with it.
For me though, as a humanist, Christ equates with Truth. Not truth with a little “t” but the totalizing one, the absolute one sought as an experience which lights the darkness and meaning of such as - God’s Kingdom on Earth - which is our Universal Human Nation. Substituting “Truth” for “Christ” simplifies things.
I prefer our own rendition of the Kingdom because for me the word God just does not make it, does not convey what is really meant and the danger lies in the glib way that word is tossed around, which is mechanical. Love has to be conscious. Even when mistakes are made we try in our humanness to do useful things and they don’t always turn out right. It’s our failure but that does not stop us, no, we learn and walk on; the word intentionality comes in here, that trait which defines the human.
For the inner teaching of the Bible better look to the likes of the Desert Fathers who were “early Christian hermits, ascetics, and monks who lived mainly in Egypt’s Scetes Desert beginning around the third century C.E. The Apophthegmata Patrum is a collection of their writings today published as “Sayings of the Desert Fathers”. St Anthony moved into the desert around 270 to become known as founder of desert monasticism. By the time he died in 356, thousands of monks and nuns had been drawn to a life in the desert following Anthony's example – his biographer was Athanasius of Alexandria.
The Desert Fathers had a major influence on the development of Christianity as the desert monastic communities grew from informal gatherings of hermit monks and became the model for Christian monasticism. The eastern monastic tradition at Mt. Athos and the western Rule of St. Benedict were both heavily influenced by traditions that began in the desert. All monastic revivals of the Middle Ages took those inspired in the desert as reference. Eastern Christian spirituality generally, including the Hesychast movement, had its roots in the practices of the Desert Fathers. Scholars say that even religious renewal movements as far apart as the German evangelicals and Pietists in Pennsylvania, the Devotio Moderna movement, and the Methodist Revival in England were influenced by the Desert Fathers ‘antics’.
Their practices comprised of asceticism, contemplation, Hesychasm - the process of retiring inward by surpassing the register of the senses to achieve direct knowledge of ‘God’; Lectio Divina - a monastic practice first established in the 6th century by Saint Benedict and was then formalized as a four-step process - the focus of Lectio Divina is not a theological analysis of biblical passages but viewing same with Christ as the key to their meaning; meditation, and monasticism theosis - which is given primacy in Orthodox theology and is based to a greater extent than Western Catholic Latin theology on the direct spiritual insights of the saints or mystics of the church rather than the apparently more rational thought tradition of the West. The aim is personal experience - without intermediaries.
It is cleaner to get outside of the churches though to achieve the experience itself these days as too much clutter rises up when trying to penetrate through all the traditions. No matter which religion or denomination of, any seeker will encounter ‘the conditioning’ of the interlocutor, the barrier of a strangely crystalised faith.
This might sound too trite and easy but it is simply a matter of seeing clearly - thus expressions such as ‘attaining the pure mind’. What gets in the way are the prejudices, which in turn are the conditionings that are born with the individual and continue pressuring all of one’s life. Just because you are born into a faction does not mean you have to accept all of the ramifications of that faction. To free yourself means surpassing those unasked for limitations.
This is where mention of the self has to be made. The small self is the personality, and that is what is developed owing to the surrounds and environment as one matures into adulthood. There is another element though which can be called the essential me, or just, the essence. This is a more solid core or centre of gravity of whatever makes ‘me’.
To reveal the essential me, the ego or the self needs to be occluded or reduced to a non-interfering substantiality as that is what is blocking everything. To speak not quite accurately, but as a fair pointer, we have to put aside that self which event can allow the entirety of everything to flood the senses. The little me is overwhelmed and energised and even lit up. The tremendous and hitherto suppressed mass of invading stimuli can hardly be handled by the various sense functions and one image, one experience, one feeling, one smell; these all combine and clash and wash over and through us for an undetermined period and in time (though time was under the circumstance voided because time is dealing with our linear appreciation of steadily incoming data thus needs a standing reference, the self, which is in the ‘moment’ rendered non-existent) the proper functioning of the senses will re-establish itself, eventually to leave something quite new to the one so-dunked into that Ocean.
That is rebirth, and reincarnation in the useful immediate sense. “Unless ye be borne again”. Born of fire, the fire of spirit, a life-force, a spiritual rebirth but real and in this life. With this as a different reference everything changes, as the point of view has changed. You are not identified with the little view, indeed, what you are engaged in is the big view. A universal panorama that we experience being intimately part of, our self being pretty much insignificant but not entirely insignificant. One’s life has essential meaning and this is enhanced according to what we do for others. Note the ‘for others’. Not denying ourselves, indeed not but along with the elevated view there is also a greater sense of responsibility, because no longer can we claim ignorance.
When Jesus is reported saying, “Forgive them for they know not what they do”, this is what is meant, the general Joe or Jenny are stuck in a very limited condition so readily take sides, it’s quite automatic. The enlightened can make conscious choices and if they don’t, but try to ignore their true-to-Self feelings, they suffer because now they have a conscience.
The way the saints achieved this change-of state was largely by devotional prayer where their little self was absorbed into something greater. Constant repetition of a prayer like “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner” disallows the arising of negative thoughts and emotions - as it fills that otherwise empty mental space that is demanding an input - and thereby conserves one’s energy on all levels and this accumulated energy can over time cause a bursting through. Some practitioners go mad.
Each of the religions have their particular ways and outside of religions the phenomena is not unknown, scientific breakthroughs are made likewise, so absorbed is the delver into whatever it is he or she is delving.
So it is that my recently acquired huge Bible will remain at my side, not least as a reminder of the mysterious pathways one takes to reach into the Kingdom, and the cautions on entering the labyrinth.
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