Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist

31 May 2003

Turkey, Europe and the US

The Bush administration in the US has made clear its aspiration to encourage democracy in the Middle East, a region which is almost certainly the least democratic in the world. However, if there is a conflict between democracy and US interests, the latter will be pursued by Washington. From Lebanon's Daily Star comes the following remarks by Ed Blanche in "Troubled Turkey, at odds with US and Europe, lurches toward crisis again":

On May 6, [Deputy Defense Secretary Paul] Wolfowitz echoed the resentment felt throughout the Bush administration for Turkey’s refusal to allow US troops to deploy on its soil to invade Iraq. Speaking on CNN-Turk television, he singled out the [Turkish] military for not taking “the strong leadership role” on Iraq that Washington “would have expected” by pressing Parliament to cooperate with the US. That was interpreted in many quarters as a thinly veiled call for a coup and has led to demands in Congress that Wolfowitz resign for “undermining democracy in Turkey.”

It is ironic indeed, that the Bush administration, which has embarked so high mindedly on a crusade of “regime change” in the region to encourage democratic reform, should carp so bitterly when a Parliament elected by all accounts fairly and properly voted against US wishes. The administration’s sullen resentment at Turkey’s decision to stay out of the war, reflecting the sentiment of the overwhelming majority of its people, is unlikely to convince others in the region that US intentions are wholly honorable.

There is a certain naïveté in the current administration's assumption that a world full of democracies will inevitably lead to a world more conducive to America's self-defined interests.

On the other hand, it may be that, with the addition of ten new members to the European Union, Europe will become considerably more pro-American than it is now. From The Boston Globe: "10 EU candidates expected to alter alliance and continent."

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30 May 2003

The average blogger?

I have no idea whether anyone has ever attempted to compile a portrait of the average blogger, but I will hazard an admittedly unscientific guess, judging from the most recent blogs listed at the left of the blogger.com homepage. The average blogger appears to be a young lady in her late teens or early twenties, whom blogging permits to vent her fury at her parents' foibles for the edification of the entire globe. I imagine the producers of mood enhancing medications will figure out a way to tap into this vast potential market before too long.

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Dr. Seuss again

There is something mildly deflating about assuming one has discovered a fresh insight, only to find that huge numbers of people have got there first. I did a Google search and quickly learned that lots and lots of people have seen the connection between Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who and the abortion issue. It seems I am a late-comer.

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Jacques Maritain

As I mentioned a few weeks ago in this space, 1951 saw the publication of some rather significant books, including Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism and H. Richard Niebuhr's Christ and Culture. Another book released the same year is Jacques Maritain's Man and the State originally published by the University of Chicago Press. More than any other single person in the 20th century, Maritain (1882-1973) was associated with the neo-Thomist revival launched at the end of the 19th century by Pope Leo XIII. Although he was brought up in a nominally protestant home in his native France, he converted to Roman Catholicism in 1906, along with his wife Raïssa. In 1910 he began reading the works of Thomas Aquinas, and these would have a profound influence on his subsequent thinking.



Maritain authored many books and articles on a wide variety of subjects, but he is best known for those touching on politics and society. Man and the State is especially important insofar as we see in its pages the broad contours of his political thought in its mature form, after his earlier flirtation with and subsequent opposition to European fascism.

In this book Maritain is careful to distinguish among the concepts of nation, body politic or political society, and state. The state, as he sees it, is superior to other parts of the body politic, but it is inferior to the whole body politic itself. Where the state comes to see itself as identical with the whole body politic, then we find the seeds of abuse of power and even totalitarianism.

The State is only that part of the body politic especially concerned with the maintenance of law, the promotion of the common welfare and public order, and the administration of public affairs. The State is a part which specializes in the interests of the whole (p. 12).

Maritain is similarly opposed to the ascription of sovereignty, with its connotations of absolute power and final authority, to the state, or indeed to any merely human institution.

One can, of course, easily disagree with his definitions (as do I), but they ought to be understood within the context of the Catholic principle of subsidiarity, which presupposes a hierarchical order of society. Subsidiarity is a means of limiting the state so that it does not overwhelm the array of nonstate communities necessary for a healthy society. Writes Maritain:

But the body politic also contains in its superior unity the family units, whose essential rights and freedoms are anterior to itself, and a multiplicity of other particular societies which proceed from the free initiative of citizens and should be as autonomous as possible.

Thus Maritain's thought, like Arendt's, can be seen as another contribution to the intellectual struggle against totalitarianism in the middle of the past century.

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29 May 2003

Ascension Day

Today is the feast of the Ascension, when Christians throughout the world celebrate the ascension and reign of Jesus Christ prior to his return. The appointed Psalm for the day is Psalm 47, which follows in versified form as set to the proper Genevan tune:

    Clap your hands, all you peoples of the earth,
    shout to God with a song of joyful mirth!
    Hold the Most High our Lord in reverent awe.
    Our great King rules the peoples with his law;
    he has put all the nations in their place;
    he has chosen us, Jacob, in his grace.

    God ascends amid great resounding cries,
    with the blast of the trumpet see him rise!
    Sing to God, all your praises to him sing,
    let your praises be rendered to our King!
    For our God is the Ruler of the earth;
    sing his praise, sing to him with psalms of mirth!

    God reigns over the nations here below,
    from his throne his decrees down to them flow.
    Princes gather from earth's remote extent
    with God's people of Abraham's descent.
    All the shields of the earth to God belong;
    let us highly exalt him with our song!

      Versification and musical arrangement © David T. Koyzis

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The "strange" phenomenon of fundamentalism

The other day I received in my campus mail box an announcement from the British publisher Routledge for several encyclopedias, including their Encyclopedia of Fundamentalism. Not having seen the volume, I do not know how they are defining fundamentalism, which is almost always used as a term of derision in the media and the academy. The cover bears photographs of, among other things, Billy Graham and the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah. My guess is that fundamentalist for them covers anyone who actually believes what his or her confession of faith claims to be true. Which includes yours truly.

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Fall of Constantinople: a grim anniversary

Today is the 550th anniversary of the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks. Although most westerners think of this as the end of the "Byzantine" Empire, it was really the end of the last vestige of the Roman Empire, which had been contracting in fits and starts for nearly a millennium. The Empire's people called themselves Romans, and so did their conquerors, even after the empire had been extinguished. The emperors were officially titled "Emperor of the Romans" and saw themselves as the genuine heirs of the Caesars, albeit christian and not pagan.

Constantinople was built by and named for the Emperor Constantine, who transferred his capital here from Rome in AD 330. It was ideally situated for defensive purposes, and indeed the city was successfully conquered only twice: in 1204 by the Crusaders and in 1453 by the Ottomans.

Throughout much of what we call the middle ages, Constantinople was the largest city in the known world. It was the centre of Christendom at a time when western Europe was still sparsely populated. The City was dominated by the magnificent dome of the Church of the Holy Wisdom, or Aghia Sophia, an architectural wonder built between 532 and 537 by Justinian I. This was the mother church (metropolis) of Orthodox Christianity and the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarch.



Aghia Sophia


The fall of the City came after a lengthy siege on tuesday, 29 May 1453. It was renamed Istanbul by Mustafa Kemal, founder of the modern Turkish republic. But Istanbul is not actually a Turkish name; it comes from the Greek "eis ten polin," meaning "to the City." For all Greeks, well into the 20th century, Constantinople was quite simply "The City."



The siege of Constantinople,
Moldovita Monastery, Roumania


A sizeable Greek Orthodox community remained in Constantinople up until September 1955, when a series of pogroms prompted most to leave. At present the Greek-speaking community numbers a few thousand elderly people at most. Aghia Sophia is now a museum.



Alexios I Comnenos, Emperor 1081-1118

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28 May 2003

A pro-life parable from Dr. Seuss?

I have no idea whether the late Theodore S. Geisel, better known to one and all as Dr. Seuss, was pro-life on the abortion issue. But as I was reading his Horton Hears a Who to Theresa this evening, it struck me that it could be interpreted as a pro-life parable: "A person's a person, no matter how small!" Surely I am not the only one to have noticed this? However, given that it was written 19 years before the infamous Roe v. Wade decision by the United States Supreme Court, and 34 years before Canada's Morgenthaler v. the Queen, the connection is almost certainly inadvertent.

Whenever I read this story, I almost always hear as the voice of Horton the elephant that of the late character actor, Edward Everett Horton. I think it's more than just the similarity of name.

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Emil Brunner's political and social ethics

Although I have been rather throroughly influenced by the neo-Calvinism of Kuyper and Dooyeweerd, near the end of my book, when I look for examples of ways to flesh out the principle of sphere sovereignty, or differentiated responsibility, I found myself looking to the writings of Swiss theologian Emil Brunner. Two books are especially significant: The Divine Imperative and Justice and the Social Order.

In the latter book he has chapters on, not only "Justice in the Political Order," but justice in marriage and family, in the economic order, and in the international order. This is in recognition that, although the jural aspect is not the decisive aspect in, say, marriage and family, nevertheless it does play a significant role in these institutions. Unlike his colleague Karl Barth, who attempted to make all ethics christological, Brunner affirms an ethic rooted in creation. Of marriage he writes:

Marriage is an order of creation, that is, man is so created that, his personality being embedded in a sexual nature, he can only fulfil his double purpose as a sexual being and a person in a union which is monogamous and lifelong.... Justice appears in marriage as the prohibition of adultery in any form (Justice and the Social Order, pp. 142-143).

Brunner may not be a neo-Calvinist as such, but he is certainly Reformed in the larger sense, and his writings on ethics affirm differentiated responsibility in all but name.

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27 May 2003

No unpublished thought

One of my professors at Notre Dame once said of a certain well-known dissident Roman Catholic scholar and publicist that he had never had an unpublished thought. And this was in the days before blogging.

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I have been telling my students that since 1993 this country has become a Mexican-style one-party-dominant semi-democracy. Jeffrey Simpson of The Globe and Mail seems to agree with me: "Waiting for 'regime change' in Canada."

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The open barrier: a month later

The people of Cyprus have had just over a month to adjust to the opening of the green line between the Greek and Turkish communities in the island. Here is an article from the Boston Globe: "Open-door policy seeks to mend Cyprus." From the article:

In the month since the Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktash, ordered the barricades to come down, about 267,000 Greek Cypriots and 111,000 Turkish Cypriots have crossed the cease-fire line, according to the republic's Interior Ministry. The volume of the exchange -- at least 5,000 people cross, in either direction on most days -- and the good climate have taken everyone by surprise.

''No one expected it,'' Cyprus's former president, George Vasilliou, said in a recent interview. ''The hunger for friendship and cooperation disproves, beyond any doubt, all that silly talk about the two communities not being able to coexist.''

Yet while many have likened the collapse of the dead zone to the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is far from the solution that mediators have spent years trying to forge. The US State Department's coordinator for Cyprus, Thomas Weston, said that while the incident-free movement of Greeks and Turks was ''good news,'' some basic -- and prickly -- issues still divide them: property, security, and governance.

Then there's this article from The Guardian's Observer magazine: "Home sweet homeland," about the exiled residents of the northern Cypriot town of Morphou, including its former mayor, Charlambos Pittas. It ends on a melancholy note:

One day Mayor Pittas and some of his people will go back to Morphou not just as tourists but as residents. Maybe he, and some fellow Greek- Cypriots, will be there in the spring to smell the orange blossom in the streets. As they walk through those streets some of the houses, some of the buildings, will be familiar. But it will never be the return they have dreamed of. The war of 1974 and their exile has changed them for ever. They will not be going home but returning as foreigners to another country.

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26 May 2003

Which Bible translation?

When InterVarsity Press announced that it would be publishing my book, the people there sent me a fairly large amount of material about the publication process. Among other things, this material indicated that they preferred their authors of popular books to draw biblical citations from the New International Version (NIV) and authors of scholarly works the Revised Standard Version (RSV) or New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). I opted for the RSV. Here is why.

English-speaking Christians are singularly blessed with a large number of excellent translations of the Bible among which they may choose. Thus the choice is a matter of choosing, not good over bad versions, but one among many fine versions. Why then the RSV, and not, say, the NRSV, the NIV, the Revised English Bible (REB), or the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB)? I have personally used each of these at various times for personal daily prayer. There is much to commend in all of them.

Yet the REB and the NJB have two primary flaws, in my view. First, they are too paraphrastic for my purposes. I prefer to have a version that stays fairly close to the text. In one case, however, I do cite the REB (Matthew 5:6) where the translation of dikaiosyne as right draws a meaning out of the text that the word righteousness does not carry so well.

Second, both attempt to reconstruct the presumed original text, often in the absence of manuscript testimony and solely on the basis of apparent literary evidence. This is seen most clearly in the transposition of verses or parts of verses (e.g., Job 24, which both the NJB and REB reorder but in different ways). Not surprisingly they frequently come to divergent conclusions, which is inevitable in such a speculative venture. (Their predecessor versions, the Jerusalem Bible and the New English Bible routinely transposed entire sections, most notoriously for the JB in Hosea, but the NJB and REB have commendably pulled back from many, if not most, of these.)

The NIV, by far the most popular English version of the Bible in use today, is a monumental achievement undertaken against considerable obstacles and motivated by an admirable belief in the fundamental unity of Scripture. However, for all its virtues, the NIV tends to harmonize across texts in what seems to me to be an unwarranted fashion. For example, the translators change the tense of the Hebrew verb in Genesis 12:1 to make it agree with Acts 7:2 on when Abraham received God’s call to the promised land. They similarly revocalize the Hebrew in Gen 47:31, so that the dying Jacob leans on his "staff" instead of his "bed," to make it agree with Heb 11:21. In attempting to smooth over the rough edges of the biblical text, it sometimes takes the reader in misleading directions from a textual perspective.

The NRSV is in many respects a considerable achievement in its own right, and the vast majority of changes it makes to the RSV are salutary. Where the RSV is stilted the NRSV reads more smoothly. It also properly eliminates the old second-person-singular forms ("thou," "thee," "thine," &c) in addressing God, a now obsolete liturgical usage of an earlier generation that never reflected anything in the original languages in which the Bible was written. Moreover, it eliminates generic masculine forms that have fallen out of use over the centuries, particularly the use of "men" for "human beings" or "people." In more than one place I do indeed quote the NRSV.

However, the translators' single-minded commitment to gender-inclusive language comes at the expense of other valid considerations. Others have taken note of the large number of odd or misleading renderings that have resulted from this single-mindedness. A few examples will suffice here: (1) the revival of the archaic and virtually obsolete "mortal" for anthropos or ben adam; (2) the obviously inappropriate use of "mortals" in Revelation 21:3 to describe those who have experienced the resurrection to eternal life and are thus no longer subject to mortality; (3) the seeming ascription in Psalm 19:12 of "errors" to the "ordinances of the LORD;" (4) the implication of immaturity in the "child" who gathers in the harvest in Proverbs 10:5; and (5) the anachronistic reference to "human rights" in Lamentations 3:35. One could go on in this vein, which I shall not do here.

But suffice it to say that, if one of the characteristics of an ideology is to follow rigidly the inexorable logic of a single abstract principle, e.g., the abolition of the division of labour or the freedom of the market, to the exclusion of other legitimate concerns, then the NRSV has by no means avoided this in its otherwise laudable use of inclusive language. To show that they affirm the equality of men and women, the translators have not only masked the highly gendered character of the original cultures -- itself problematic in the translation of an ancient text -- but, more seriously, have created difficulties of their own in the English text which would not have occurred had they been less single-minded. It thus seemed inadvisable to use this translation as, shall we say, the "default" version in a book arguing for a christian challenge to the ideologies. Consequently, for all its stiltedness and sometimes graceless prose, I have opted for the RSV in those passages for which no specific version is indicated, while continuing to draw on the NRSV and other versions in individual cases where it seemed appropriate to do so.

As my book was in the process of being published, another version of the Bible came out, the English Standard Version, which is an exceedingly light revision of the RSV. The ESV eliminates archaic pronominal and verbal forms, adopts a moderate approach to gendered language (e.g., "people" for "men"), and generally tries to remain as literal a translation as possible while cautiously rewording for clarity in English. However, this translation is not without difficulties either. To begin with, a perusal of its website reveals that its list of endorsements overlaps rather considerably with the list of those who helped to produce it. (Of what possible value could it be for me to write a review of my own book?!)

As for the translators, they go to great lengths to replace what they view as misleading theological terms with their older and ostensibly more correct counterparts. For example, expiation (RSV) is replaced by propitiation (e.g., Hebrews 2:17). This is a questionable improvement, given that the vast majority of readers do not grasp the nuances of either term. Moreover, in those passages that would seem to indicate women holding positions of authority in the early church (e.g., Roman 16:1,7) the translators have invariably chosen to obscure such a reading. This smacks of the same sort of tendentiousness characterizing both the NIV and NRSV. It is too soon to say how the ESV will be accepted. My guess is that it will catch on in certain circles but that it will not replace the NIV as the number one Bible translation in the English-speaking world.

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25 May 2003

Incidentally, I do have a personal homepage, as well as a professional site. Just in case anyone's interested.

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Hearing Nicholas Wolterstorff this weekend has reminded me once again why I am happy to be identified as a Reformed Christian.

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The comics page

Ever since Gary Larson stopped drawing "The Far Side," I've had no real reason to turn to the comics page of the local newspaper. But now Theresa has taken an interest in the colour comics in the saturday edition. I don't know whether it's my imagination, but they don't seem as humorous as they did when I was growing up. Perhaps there are only so many gags in the world, and the creators of the various comic strips have simply run out of material. Or it may be that I am simply older and not as easily amused by them.

Of course, Dick Tracy, Li'l Abner, Smokey Stover and Pogo are long gone. But I am amazed at the number of strips that keep going even after their originators have passed from the scene. Dennis the Menace and Blondie come to mind.

Then there is the late Charles M. Schulz's beloved Peanuts, which is now in "reruns."

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The tragedy of protestant liturgy: a cri de coeur

Too many Christians sit through the liturgy each sunday, going for weeks without singing a metrical psalm from, say, the Genevan or Scottish Psalters; one of the German chorales by Martin Luther, Paul Gerhardt or Johan Crüger; one of the English hymns of Isaac Watts or the Wesleys; one of John Mason Neale’s translations of the ancient Greek and Latin hymns; or even one of the more recent contributions of Fred Pratt Green or Erik Routley. These same Christians can go for years – even decades – and never hear the music of Palestrina, Tallis, Gibbons, Bach or Vaughan Williams in the course of a church service. Kyrie eleison!

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24 May 2003

Graduation day

Today was the Eighteenth Convocation for the Conferring of Degrees, as the programme cover puts it, at Redeemer University College. It is sobering to think that I have missed only three graduation ceremonies at Redeemer. The first two, 1986 and 1987, occurred before I arrived. The third, 2001, occurred during my sabbatical. Because Redeemer is only twenty-one years old, the alumni will always be younger than I, which is another sobering thought. I understand that there were 133 graduates today, which I rather think is the largest class ever.

I suppose it is a cliché to observe that graduations are poignant occasions. As anyone who knows me will readily attest, I tend to become rather attached to my students, and, while I am happy for them and want to see them make their way "out in the world," there is always some heartache at their leaving. My prayer is that God will guide them as they embark on the next stage of their journey, knowing that they take with them, not only what I have been privileged to impart to them in the classroom, but something of my heart as well.

May God bless the graduating class of 2003.

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Differentiation and Robert Putnam's work

Dooyeweerd's understanding of the historical norm of differentiation has sometimes been criticized by those who would prefer to affirm a more traditional and less complex society. Darryl G. Hart appears to fall into the latter category, judging from his Recovering Mother Kirk. Indeed it is easy to fall into a certain nostalgia for premodern social patterns, especially when we are confronted with the ills of contemporary urban life.

However, it may be that Robert Putnam, a professor of government at Harvard, has provided needed empirical support for Dooyeweerd in his writings, particularly his Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993).

Putnam's study of Italy is based on research taking place over the twenty years following the establishment of quasi-federal regional governments in that country in 1970. The new regional governments in the north, e.g., Emilia-Romagna, Toscana and Umbria proved to be most effective, while those in the south, e.g., Sicilia, Calabria and Campania were least effective.

Why? Well, not so coincidentally, the Italian north is the historic seat of the civic republics of the late middle ages, such as Florence, Genoa, Venice and Bologna. The south, on the other hand, was from Norman times ruled by various absolutist regimes well into the nineteenth century. Patterns of horizontal co-operation developed naturally in the former and not in the latter.

In the closing years of the twentieth century, northern Italians were still great joiners, joining everything from choral societies and amateur football clubs to charitable and civic organizations. The level of interpersonal trust is high in these regions. In the south, by contrast, the level of trust is low, and interpersonal relations tend to be governed by hierarchical and exploitative patron-client dynamics. Here the number of local newspapers and other civic formations is much lower than in the north.

Putnam concludes that centuries-old political cultures have contributed to the different performances of the regional governments and even to the economic gap between north and south. Social capital or its absence is all important to the vitality of a society. Writes Putnam:

Trust lubricates cooperation. The greater the level of trust within a community, the greater the likelihood of cooperation. And cooperation itself breeds trust (p. 171).

If Putnam's findings are correct -- and they do seem highly persuasive -- then they shatter two enduring stereotypes:

1) Economics drives politics. To the contrary, already existing civic traditions were far more significant than economic resources in facilitating both good government and economic prosperity. This seems to refute the likes of Marx, Ellul, Canadian philosopher George Grant, and the functionalists who were the early proponents of the European Union.

2) Traditional feudal societies are more communally-oriented than advanced industrial societies which tend to atomize people. By contrast, the most industrial region of Italy is by far the north, and it is precisely here that people are most likely to join revolving credit associations, art clubs and mutual aid societies. Southern Italians are far less likely to join any type of organization and, while family ties are strong -- perhaps a little too strong, in the views of some observers -- the level of social connectedness outside families is relatively weak.

Here is where the connection may lie to Dooyeweerd's differentiated society.

Dooyeweerd argues that, as a society moves from its earlier undifferentiated status to greater differentiation, increasing numbers of social functions come to be dispersed in a larger number of communal settings. This is one of the foundations for his theory of soevereiniteit in eigen kring or "sphere sovereignty." A reactionary conservatism may attempt to reverse this process, and this in part explains the allure of German national socialism and the various European fascisms in the interwar period.

I wonder whether Putnam's findings might be seen to lend needed empirical support to Dooyeweerd in this respect: vibrant communities are associated with differentiated societies rather than with undifferentiated societies, where a single kind of hierarchical relationship dominates the multiplicity of human activities. Thus any attempt to reverse the historical process of differentiation is misguided and, quite simply, reactionary.

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23 May 2003

Famagusta

Famagusta is located on the east coast of Cyprus. After the defeat of the Latin Christians in the Crusades, Cyprus become a kingdom ruled by the "Frankish" dynasty of Lusignan. This was in 1192, when Richard the Lion Heart turned the island over to Guy de Lusignan, who styled himself King of Jerusalem. In 1489 the Venetian Republic gained control of the island, until it was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1571.


Famagusta, looking south from the walled city towards Varosha


During the Frankish and Venetian eras Famagusta was at its height. Its walls were built by the Venetians, and one of its towers is known as Othello's Tower, after the character in Shakespeare's play, much of which was set here. At one point Famagusta was the richest city in Europe.


Othello's Tower


But it never recovered from the long Turkish siege of 1571, and one still hears of residents finding old canon balls dating from the events of that year.

When the Germans and Italians bombed Cyprus in 1940 and '41 my father's family would often hide within the thick walls of the old city for protection. For many years the old city has been inhabited by Turkish Cypriots. The Varosha district south of the old city was almost wholly Greek, and it was a vibrant holiday resort in the 1960s. This changed in 1974. Since then Varosha is uninhabited, although the Turkish Cypriot government has in principle conceded it to the Greek Cypriot government in the south. However, after three decades of decay, it is estimated that it would require more than one billion dollars (US) to bring it up to living standards.

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Wolterstorff visits Redeemer

This morning we Redeemer faculty were privileged to have Nicholas Wolterstorff speak to us. Wolterstorff is professor emeritus at Yale Divinity School, taught for thirty years at Calvin College, and has written far too many books and articles to list here, including Until Justice and Peace Embrace (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983) and Divine Discourse (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995). He spoke to us on why the notion of integrating faith and learning is not a good model for a christian academic institution. The following is based on my (admittedly fallible) recollection of his remarks.

In laying out his argument he described two prevalent models and argued for a third alternative.

1) Competence plus theology and apologetics. Up until two or three decades ago this was the dominant model at many christian institutions. Faculty were encouraged to develop a competence in their respective fields that would gain them respect among their colleagues elsewhere. Typically the president of the university would teach a capstone course in the curriculum that would draw on the various disciplines for purposes of christian apologetics. However, there was no expectation of an intrinsic connection between one’s faith and one’s academic discipline.

2) Integration of faith and learning. This model presupposes two distinct things needing to be bound together, as if by twine. A variation of this model has people undertaking the “theology of” this and that. Even here there is no inner connection between one’s religious worldview and the field of study. Christian colleges and universities, particularly in the States, adopted this around a generation ago, mostly under Reformed influence.

3) Academic disciplines as social practices. This is Wolterstorff’s favoured model. It assumes that the various disciplines are on-going enterprises within which the individual scholar takes up his or her place. The fields of study are hardly neutral but presuppose the presence and activity of religious worldviews affecting their development over time. Christians should have no illusions about remaking the disciplines from scratch, but should be engaging these worldviews in the course of their work. The implications of this engagement are that Christians need to keep alive a rich christian intellectual heritage and to tell the stories of the disciplines rightly. The real test of christian learning is fidelity, and not difference as such. Sometimes the results of christian scholarship will be different, but often they will be the same. When they are the same, we properly thank God that unbelievers are doing something right.

Wolterstorff will be speaking at our graduation ceremony tomorrow afternoon.

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22 May 2003

It appears that my "Comments" are gone before they even started functioning. I don't know what happened.

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A Kuyperian Catholic?

Several years ago I came into contact with the writings of David L. Schindler, editor of the English-language edition of the journal Communio and Gagnon Professor of Fundamental Theology at the John Paul II Institute. Schindler is a traditional Roman Catholic in the Augustinian (as opposed to the Thomistic) tradition whose life work has been to familiarize Anglo-American Christians with the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar.

What I find intriguing about Schindler’s work is that he sounds many of the same notes as Kuyper and Dooyeweerd and their followers. For example, in his magnificent Heart of the World, Center of the Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, and Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1996), he affirms that “giving glory to God is a comprehensive task for Christians, occupying not only all of their time but also all of their faculties, their mind as well as their will” (p. 205). We find what Dooyeweerd describes as the biblical groundmotive of creation, fall and redemption clearly stated in its pages. Most inspiring of all, Schindler repeatedly emphasizes that all of life – and not just the so-called donum superadditum of supernatural virtue – is a gift of God’s grace and that human receptivity to this grace is antecedent to any creativity or activity on our part:

All that is, is gift. All that we are and do and make and produce must therefore emerge from a sense of gift: I gratefully receive from God... and this provides both the warrant for and the deepest meaning of my giving to others... (p. 119).

Above all, Schindler’s book is an eloquent and spiritually-discerning critique of liberalism, particularly as championed by such “Catholic whigs” as Michael Novak, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus and George Weigel, whose efforts are in turn rooted in the Americanizing enterprise of the late Fr. John Courtney Murray. Against their efforts to expand economic freedom within a liberal framework Schindler writes:

A freedom whose nature is wrongly understood does not become good simply because it is widely distributed rather than restricted to a few. I am proposing that liberalism of any stripe – including the liberalism of “open” capitalism – remains unacceptable insofar as its freedom remains conceived as primarily creative – or rather, insofar as its creativity is not conceived as anteriorly receptive. Indeed, here we discover the basic definition of a liberalism which, at its deepest level, threatens the integrity of Christianity, because it poisons at its source the meaning of autonomy. In overlooking receptivity in favor of creativity as primary in the basic human act, such a liberalism overlooks the implications of the relation that is constitutive of the human being as creature (pp. 119-121).

Schindler believes that the achievements of liberalism can be salvaged, but only by “discernment of the spirits” (p. 177). This entails a reordering of the foundational understanding of life at its spiritual sources. Someone in the Kuyperian tradition would describe what he’s getting at as a recognition of God’s common grace in the midst of an effort to reorient one’s worldview at a religious root level.

Moreover, we find in Schindler a recognition of the validity of historical development which echoes something found in Albert M. Wolters’ Creation Regained, and which keeps him from being a conservative pure and simple:

[W]e must reject all attempts at “restoration” or “repristination.” Modernity has thematized freedom and subjectivity in a way that has forever changed our experience of the world; and this change represents a significant gain in the human condition. This initially simple acknowledgement, nonetheless, becomes complicated as soon as we attach the crucially important qualifier: there has never been an actual historical moment when modernity’s freedom or subjectivity was empty – which is to say, unencumbered by a definite worldview inclusive... of an ontology, an anthropology, and a theology....

The burden of my criticism, therefore, is not that we should refuse to endorse modern freedom, but only that our endorsement should coincide with an awareness that freedom, even modern freedom, presupposes, willy-nilly, some anthropology (ontology, theology). Any endorsement of modern freedom must therefore coincide with an evaluation of the anthropology which has always-already given that freedom its meaning (pp. 181-182).


This is very different from traditional scholastic dualism. It is perhaps unsurprising that, given Schindler’s approach, he can so readily cite Reformed Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga against Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, long-time former president of the University of Notre Dame. All in all, Schindler’s is an exhilarating book. Some reviewers claimed to find it a tough slog, shall we say. But anyone familiar with Kuyperian/Dooyeweerdian categories will likely have a quite different experience reading it.

As a traditional Catholic, Schindler is careful to demonstrate the conformity of his ideas with church teachings, and especially those of the present Pope. Yet after reading the encyclical Fides et Ratio, which came out two years later (1998), I found myself wondering how credible an enterprise this really could be. Schindler’s loyalty to his church’s magisterium would likely make him uncomfortable with my saying this, but I far prefer his Heart of the World to Fides et Ratio.

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There seemed to be server troubles yesterday, and the following post inexplicably vanished. So I'm reposting it:

Cypriot peasant cuisine: Moujendra

When I was growing up in my ethnically mixed family, we ate quite a number of foods native to Cyprus and the eastern Mediterranean region. One of these I especially came to like and we still eat it in our home. It is called moujendra (or "moukentra" -- transliterations differ) and it primarily consists of lentils and rice. Take the following ingredients:

1 cup dried green lentils
1 cup rice
2 to 3 bulb onions, depending on size
2 celery stalks
salt
pepper
coriander
olive oil (both pomace and extra virgin)
1 tbsp red wine vinegar

Place lentils in a pan of boiling water and cook until tender. About a teaspoon of salt should be added to water. This should take between 30 to 40 minutes. About ten minutes or so into the cooking of the lentils, add the rice. If using brown rice, start it first and then add the lentils later. Longer cooking time will lead to a porridge-like mixture. Shorter cooking time will keep ingredients more al dente.

Chop onions and celery. In a separate shallow pan cover the bottom with the pomace olive oil and turn on heat. Add chopped onions and celery and sauté. Add pepper and coriander. Once this mixture has been sautéed sufficiently, add it to the lentils and rice. Mix and then add the wine vinegar and extra virgin oil to taste.

Other ingredients can be added as well at various stages in the process, including chopped carrots, sliced kalamata olives, sun dried tomatoes or roma tomatoes. Feel free to experiment. That's what peasant cuisine is all about.

Extra virgin olive oil comes from the first pressing of the olives. Thus it is the richest grade of oil and the deepest in colour. Pomace oil comes from the later pressings and is quite adequate for cooking.

Incidentally lentils contain tryptophan, an amino acid that boosts serotonin levels in the brain. Low levels of serotonin accompany clinical depression. That means lentils are a great mood booster -- even better than caffeine, whose side effects include heightened anxiety. When I'm feeling down, there's nothing like moujendra and a green salad to pick me up again. I call it the "lentil buzz."

Legumes and grains together contain a complete protein and can thus be used as a meat substitute.

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21 May 2003

Book copy received

Yesterday I received the first copy of my book, Political Visions and Illusions, which was sent by courier from InterVarsity Press. It looks good. The Redeemer Campus Bookstore says it has upped its initial order to ten copies.

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20 May 2003

Chimps reclassified as us

I have usually considered myself to be somewhat agnostic concerning the processes whereby God brought human beings into existence. But the following report seems to illustrate rather well a form of biological reduction that would ignore the obvious with respect to the differences between the great apes and human beings: "Study: Chimps Belong In Human Genus." From the article:

Chimpanzees share 99.4 percent of functionally important DNA with humans and belong in our genus, Homo, according to a recent genetic study.

Previous studies put the genetic similarity between humans and chimps at 95 to 99 percent, so the new figure suggests chimps and humans are even more closely related than previously thought.


On reading this I cannot help but wonder whether any chimpanzees have undertaken a similar study to determine the classification of human beings. If our two species are really so close, then I should think the possibility of this happening would be nearly as likely as the other way round.

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Children's television

In addition to familiarizing us with the Peter Rabbit stories, having a four-year-old daughter has also given us a more than passing acquaintance with children's television. Surely we're not the only parents who think that Jay Jay the Jet Plane looks like a vile genetic experiment gone horribly awry?

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19 May 2003

Victoria Day

Happy Victoria Day, everyone!



I don't know whether this day is celebrated in other Comonwealth countries, but here in Canada it seems to be the one holiday devoted to gardening pursuits. Most of the stores are closed, except for the gardening centres. Just this morning we ourselves purchased several flats of annuals to put in our beds. We had to battle the crowds to do so. We were not amused!

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It seems that my comments will not be operational for another day or two. Be patient.

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I owe a debt of gratitude to Emeth Hesed Smith for accomplishing the impossible (for me at any rate) and installing comments on this blog. I see them on the page, but I cannot say whether or not they are yet operational.

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18 May 2003

Strauss' influence in Georgetown

Many thanks to Gideon Strauss for his gracious hospitality on saturday evening. A good time was had by all. My question is: Could he be trying to form a new group of "Straussians" here in southern Ontario?

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Leo Strauss' influence in Washington

Here is an article from saturday's National Post: "Philosopher King," Jeet Heer's account of the impact the disciples of the late Leo Strauss are having on particularly the Bush administration in the US. His influence is felt here in Canada as well:

As David Frum has noted in National Review Online, Strauss's student Allan Bloom led a large-scale migration to Canada. After facing machine-gun-carrying Black Panthers at Cornell, in 1970 Bloom headed for the University of Toronto. He was soon followed by such Straussians as Walter Berns, Clifford Orwin, Thomas Pangle and even George F. Will. While Bloom returned to the United States in 1979, he left behind a network of Straussians that is now ensconced at every major university in Canada. Intellectuals influenced by Strauss, notably Ted Morton of the University of Calgary, have been a formative influence on the Canadian Alliance party.


What Heer does not mention is that the late George Parkin Grant (1918-1988) counted Strauss as an influence as well, along with Jacques Ellul and Simone Weil.

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Kazantzakis and The Greek Passion

Nowadays the novelist Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957) is probably best known in the west for his book, The Last Temptation of Christ, which was made into a controversial film some years ago. Probably less known is another of his books on a similar theme, The Greek Passion (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1954), whose original Greek title is Christ Is Recrucified.

It is set in the little village of Lycovrissi, a predominantly Greek village in Turkish Asia Minor, right before the “Catastrophe,” that is, the expulsion of Greeks in 1922. The village priest is responsible for casting a passion play periodically performed by the villagers. As the plot unfolds, Manolios, a “strong and humble shepherd lad,” is chosen to play the Christ; Yannakos, the “sturdy merchant-pedlar,” is Peter; Widow Katerina, the village prostitute, is Mary Magdalen, and so forth. Although the play itself is never performed, Christ’s passion is nevertheless played out in real life, as each of the actors ends up living up to his role. This is culminated in the violent death of Manolios at the hands of his fellow villagers. All of this occurs under the watchful eyes of the Turkish lord, or agha, and his corrupt court.

Kazantzakis was by no means an orthodox (or Orthodox) Christian believer, and he seems to have flirted with more than one religion, including Marxism and Buddhism. Yet he was hardly a Bultmannian demythologizer either. Genuine miracles occur in his stories, as in, for example, the cure of Manolios from leprosy. God is indeed present. Yet the end of the novel is disturbing in the extreme. Manolios has indeed died, but apparently in vain, for Mustafa Kemal’s Turkish army is approaching and the villagers prepare to leave Lycovrissi for good, lest they be destroyed. The Catastrophe is at hand.

The issue for Kazantzakis is obviously not whether God exists, but whether he is who Scripture reveals him to be. For the Cretan-born novelist, God seems to be either arbitrary, making sport of his creatures and allowing them a bad end, or else powerless against the forces of evil. His acts in this world, even his miracles, are ultimately without purpose.

On Easter the Greeks greet each other with “Christ is risen,” to which the response is “He is risen indeed.” In Kazantzakis’ dark worldview there is no resurrection, only the oblivion of death. History is but “one damn thing after another,” and certainly not the story of redemption.

The Greek Passion was made into a 1957 film, titled “Celui qui doit mourir” (“He Who Must Die”), which I’ve not seen but would like to one day.

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The hymns of the mass

Despite my regret at the loss to the Reformed churches of the ordinary of the mass, I must acknowledge that some of its components do occur in our hymnals in metrical form at least. For example, the Christian Reformed Church's Psalter Hymnal contains a metrical Gloria familiar to everyone, "All Glory Be to God on High"; Reginald Heber's "Holy, Holy, Holy" (Sanctus); and "O Christ, Thou Lamb of God" (Agnus Dei). However, these are not sung as often as they should be in our liturgies.

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16 May 2003

Book now available

I've just received word from my publisher: Political Visions and Illusions has arrived at the warehouse of InterVarsity Press and is finally available for order. The release date is still officially set for June, but it should be arriving in the bookstores shortly, a bit later in Canada and elsewhere.



The Redeemer Campus Bookstore has informed me that they expect to receive a limited number of copies for sale to the public.

On a related note, Nancy just learned yesterday that her own monograph, Paul, Power, and Monotheism, has been accepted for publication by Sheffield Academic Press. This means that Theresa is the only one in our immediate family not to have published a book. Give her time.

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The fate of the first Christendom

One of the more significant books to come out last year was Philip Jenkins’ The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002). Jenkins’ prediction of a dynamic christian future in Africa and Asia is impressive enough, but I was particularly intrigued by his history, especially the tragic fate of what might be called the “first Christendom” in the old eastern Roman world. Here is Jenkins himself:


As late as the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Christians still made up a large proportion of most former Roman territories that had fallen under Muslim rule, in societies like Syria, Mesopotamia, and Egypt, and it is not easy to tell when Muslims actually gained majority status in these communities. A reasonable guess would place the transition around the time of the Crusades, about 1100 or 1200 (p. 22).

The size of the Christian communities in the East is significant because in the Middle Ages, the Eastern lands were more densely populated than those of Europe. Medieval England and France were Christian states, while the regimes of Egypt and Syria were solidly Muslim, but there may have been more Christians all told in the Eastern states than the Western.... In the thirteenth century, the height of medieval Christian civilization in Europe, there may have been more Christian believers on the continent of Asia than in Europe, while Africa still had populous Christian communities... (p. 23).

On balance, I would argue that at the time of the Magna Carta or the Crusades, if we imagine a typical Christian, we should still be thinking not of a French artisan, but of a Syrian peasant or Mesopotamian towndweller, an Asian not a European (p. 24).


I have recently read Bat Ye’or’s The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude (Cranbury, New Jersey: Associated University Presses, 1996), whose interpretation of history is similar to Jenkins’. She goes to great lengths to demonstrate that for nearly fourteen centuries the huge numbers of Christians and Jews in the Middle East and north Africa were subjected by their conquerors to systematic pressure to convert to the conquering religion. The first generations held out, but eventually such policies had their inevitable effect, leading to the long term decline of the first Christendom and its replacement by muslim majorities within the dar al-Islam, i.e., the territory under muslim rule.

In one of my classes this past year I had a student who is an Assyrian Christian born in Iraq. The numbers of such Christians are uncertain, but estimates range from 1 to 2.5 million in Iraq, with two to four times that many living in an Assyrian diaspora in Europe, North America and Australia. Their native language is Aramaic or Syriac, once the lingua franca of the old fertile crescent.

Middle Eastern Christians tend not to receive a very good press in the west, despite their status as the aboriginal inhabitants of the region. But I myself have come to have a great deal of admiration for them. After all, these are believers who have held firm against formidable odds for more than fifty generations, when most of their co-religionists did not. In the latter half of the twentieth century, by contrast, western churches emptied within a very few years, and for less significant reasons.

The Copts, the Maronites, the Assyrians, and others are the first Christendom. The west is the second Christendom. The next Christendom, if Jenkins is correct, will be centred in Africa, but also in Korea and China. Yet I wonder whether, in the providence of God, there might not be a significant future role to be played by the descendants of the original Syriac-speaking followers of Jesus Christ – if not in the Middle East, then perhaps in the diaspora.

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15 May 2003

The ordinary of the mass

In the western church for well over a thousand years, the historic shape of the liturgy has encompassed a number of elements deemed essential to its proper celebration. Together these have formed what is known as the ordinary of the mass, including in outline form:

The Confiteor
The Kyrie
The Gloria in Excelsis
The Scripture Lessons
The Sermon
The Credo
The Offertory
The Sursum Corda
The Eucharistic Prayer
The Sanctus
The Agnus Dei
The Post-Communion

The Church of England's Book of Common Prayer retained much of this shape of the liturgy; however, under the influence of the continental reformers, it moved a reading of the Decalogue to the beginning of the liturgy and moved the Gloria in Excelsis to the end, where it became a post-communion thanksgiving hymn. The Lutheran churches retained this structure as well, although, with the elimination of a weekly observance of the Lord's Supper, only the ante-communion segment was retained on most sundays.

The Reformed and Presbyterian churches undertook a more radical reform, virtually eliminating the ordinary of the mass and substituting for it the basic structure that Old and Hart describe in their books. It has long seemed to me that, in so doing, the non-Lutheran reformers were doing more than just to reform; they came close to creating a new liturgy -- one that would inevitably seal the 16th century breach within western Christendom. Had they taken a more measured approach, namely, to remedy the defects while preserving what was right and good, they might have seen fit to keep much of what we know as the ordinary of the mass.

Imagine, if you will, an alternative history in which Reformed Christians have grown up singing and loving the Gloria in Excelsis, knowing the Sanctus by heart, praying with heartfelt passion the Agnus Dei, and seeing in these hymns a liturgical treasure shared with all other Christians in the western tradition. There would be one less cause of division among these traditions, even where genuine confessional differences remained, because we would all hold in common something very beautiful and ancient -- a way of worshipping God in spirit and truth.

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Old and Hart on the church year

Having recently read Darryl G. Hart's Recovering Mother Kirk (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), I pulled off my shelf Hughes Oliphant Old's excellent Worship that Is Reformed According to Scripture (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1984), which I seem to have read a dozen or so years ago. Hart teaches at Westminster Seminary's California branch, while Old teaches at Princeton Seminary. Both sound similar themes in their books, expressing a concern for recovering the full integrity of Reformed worship, including something I've always favoured: a weekly celebration of the Lord's Supper.

Among other things, both are sceptical about the value of the church year, fearing that it will detract from sabbath observance. They also cast doubt on the use of particularly the visual arts in worship, on the grounds that this violates the second commandment. Writes Old:

If God has commanded us not to worship him by creating images of our own art and imagination it is because he wants us to be his image. Worship is the workshop where we are transformed into his image. When we are thus transformed into his image, we then reflect his glory. It is then through the ministry of praise and prayer, the ministry of word and sacrament that we are transformed to offer that spiritual worship which the Apostle Paul tells us is acceptable to God (Rom. 12:1-2).

While much of the current struggle over contemporary worship revolves around style, Old and Hart are correct to note that any effort to renew worship must focus on the substance of worship itself. The historic liturgies of the churches of the Reformation reflect an integrity that has often been lost in the battle over style. Worship, according to Old, must embrace the ministry of praise, the ministry of the word, the ministry of prayer, the sacraments, and alms-giving. Hart points to the Genevan order of worship, which includes the following essential components:

Invocation
Confession of sins
Prayer for pardon
Singing of a psalm
Prayer for illumination
Scripture lesson(s)
Sermon
Collection of offerings
Prayers of intercession
Apostles' Creed
Words of institution of the Lord's Supper
Instruction and exhortation
Reception of the elements
Prayer of thanksgiving (e.g., Psalm 103 or 113)
Benediction

Given that I've occasionally worshipped in a church that had so many songs followed by a sermon with only a single brief prayer in the entire service, it is definitely in order to emphasize that liturgical integrity is not simply a matter of opinion. There are definite biblical patterns that must be followed.

However, I would not agree with them on the church year, which is entirely compatible with an emphasis on ordinary sunday worship. The traditional seasons of the church calendar -- Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and Pentecost -- rehearse the history of redemption over the course of a year. In that respect, they are not much different from catechism preaching, which is to take place during the afternoon service in the Reformed churches. Moreover, our Jewish forebears followed a similar liturgical calendar marked by significant feasts celebrating God's mighty acts of redemption. Celebration of Passover or Purim or Hannukah has never obscured the sabbath for observant Jews. It seems ironic that Reformed Christians, who are more aware than other believers of their Hebraic roots, would repudiate a pattern that finds clear precedent in the Old Covenant.

I am inclined to believe that there is something very nearly structural, even creational, in the human need to mark such occasions on an annual basis. Every religion has these. Yes, Christmas and Easter, for example, are subject to considerable deformations in the larger culture. But reforming means precisely that: to reform, not to abolish entirely.

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Another poignant return in Cyprus

This is another of those stories that brings tears to my eyes as I read it: "Greek family has bittersweet return to Cyprus home now inhabited by Turks." I am still finding it amazing that there has been so little rancour and so much good will in these encounters. This confirms what my father had told me for so many decades about the normal relationships between the two communities in his youth. One cannot help thinking that all this has to have some political effect. If the leaders of the two sides do not come together soon, the popular momentum will have passed them by.

I have a recurring dream in which my wife and I have bought the little three-bedroom house in Wheaton, Illinois, where I lived and grew up between 1958 and 1968. The inside seems larger than it actually was, and the basement is a huge cavernous expanse beneath the house with room after room, sometimes still containing the toys I played with as a child.

In recent years, during visits to my hometown, we've driven by the house, and I've been sorely tempted to knock on the door and ask to go in. Whether we would be greeted as courteously as Turkish Cypriots have greeted inquiring Greek Cypriots I don't know. My guess is that no one would be home, as virtually everyone now works during the day.

But at least I am able to get near this house, to go to the old neighbourhood, to see the elementary school I attended, to see the creek running behind the house, and the old vacant lot in back which is now occupied by two newer houses.

Yet I find myself wondering whether the 800 kilometres that separates me from my hometown is not, after all, that much different from a barbed-wire fence. The effect is the same: I am here, the old neighbourhood is there. Is modern North American mobility itself tantamount to a kind of repeated exile, where people are forced to uproot themselves every few years for the sake of the market, thus abandoning homes, family and friends?

Cyprus is a small island. North America is a huge expanse of territory. In some respects I wish we lived in a smaller country.

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14 May 2003

Leo Strauss' influence

Eddie Thomas writes:

Of the charges against the Straussians, the most common perhaps is their belief that many of the classical texts of the Western tradition have two readings: the surface (exoteric) reading and the hidden (esoteric) reading.

Some of my own professors at Notre Dame were what one might call "soft Straussians," and I believe they actually studied under Leo Strauss at the University of Chicago in the 1950s and early '60s. I suppose the principal way in which I've been influenced by Strauss is in having my students read primary texts in my history of political theory courses. There's no substitute for grappling with what Plato or Aristotle or Hobbes or Rousseau actually wrote. There is also much to appreciate in Strauss' trenchant criticism of positivistic approaches to the study of politics, anchored as they are in the peculiarly modern fact/value dichotomy. In my Recent Political Theory class my students read his essay, "What Is Political Philosophy?"

However, I've never found terribly convincing some of the esoteric readings attached to these primary texts. For example, in his interpretive essay on Plato's Republic, Allan Bloom argues that Socrates' advocacy of the communal ownership of property and the community of wives and children is meant tongue-in-cheek, almost as humour. One of my Notre Dame professors concurred in this interpretation.

However, if this were indeed so, why would Aristotle expend so much energy in book II of the Politics arguing against this proposal? Given that he was a student of Plato, I should think he would have been in a pretty good position to know whether or not his mentor's proposal was or was not meant in jest.

Perhaps I've missed something in the corpus of the writings of Strauss and his disciples where this difficulty is dealt with. If so, I'd love for someone to bring it to my attention.

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The Genevan Psalter

Christians have been singing the Psalms for two millennia, following the example of their Jewish forebears. There have been many ways to sing the Psalms, including byzantine, ambrosian and gregorian chant. In the 16th century the Reformers composed metrical psalms which could be sung more easily by entire congregations. Thus the liturgy was put back in the hands (or lips) of the people, who could now join their voices in songs of praise, thanksgiving, lamentation and imprecation. One of the most enduring of the 16th century psalters is the Genevan Psalter, which was compiled over a period of decades and finally completed in 1562.



I myself became fascinated by this Psalter in the mid-1980s, undertaking to versify as many as possible of the biblical Psalms so they could be sung to the Genevan tunes. Psalm-singing went into eclipse in most protestant churches during the 18th century, but it is making a comeback at the beginning of a new century.

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Our anniversary

Seven years ago today Nancy and I were married. It was a simple church ceremony on a tuesday evening at the First Presbyterian Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, with only immediate family present, including my sister, Dawn, who had introduced us four years earlier. When I think of what Nancy has meant to me these years, I should be able to manage a few eloquent phrases, but only clichés come to mind: "love of my life," "one in a million," "my heart's desire." Trouble is, all the clichés are accurate.

Congratulations may be sent here.

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13 May 2003

My wife and I often watch ABC World News Tonight at 6.30 pm, particularly since the beginning of the war in Iraq. We've noticed that this programme has an uncommon number of advertisements for medicinal aids of various sorts -- but none for curing acne! This suggest that the age demographic for the television news audience is, shall we say, on the higher end of the scale. I am not sure what this says about the interest of young people in world events. I guess that's part of my job -- to get them interested in what's going on "out there."

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Other minorities in Cyprus

In addition to the majority Greek and minority Turkish population in the island, Cyprus is also home to three other, quite small ethnic minorities, the Armenians, the Maronites and the Latins. The word "ethnicity" is, of course, pretty slippery. In fact, all five communities in Cyprus are distinguished by religion, though this is commonly forgotten. The majority Greek community is made up of members of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus. The Turkish community is Sunni Muslim. The Armenians are monophysite Christians, whose ancestors dissented from the Council of Chalcedon in 451. They are members of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The Maronites have their origins in the Levant and are in communion with Rome.

As for the Latins, this is a catch-all term to cover virtually anyone of Roman Catholic faith, going back to the Frankish Lusignan and Venetian rule and extending up to contemporary Filipino domestics. I am particularly interested in this group, since there is a possibility that our own family has roots there. The surname Koyzis may once have been something like Coisy, Coizy or Coizie, and the origins may have been in France.

According to Dr Nicholas Coureas of the Cyprus Research Centre,

According to the testimony of Malcolm Laing Meason, a fair number of Frenchmen and Italians settling in Cyprus took Cypriot wives and busied themselves with commerce or various other professions. He describes them as well-off and with money in the bank, but not wealthy, adding that they were extremely careful with their money. He makes particular mention of a Frenchman and his compatriots, who having served at the French consulate decided to remain in Cyprus on account of the lower cost of living on the island.

This could have something to do with how my own ancestors came to Cyprus and why they stayed on. But, given that I've seen no records to this effect, this is pure speculation.

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The eastern cross

I notice that the Rev. Fred Herwaldt, of First Reformed Church, Lincoln Park, New Jersey, uses the sign of the cross according to the usage in the eastern churches, that is, from the right shoulder to the left. Perhaps he too is a Byzantine-rite Calvinist.

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Another classic book from 1951

H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture (New York: Harper and Row) is one that I’ve read several times since first encountering it as an undergraduate. The author is rather less famous than his brother Reinhold, probably the premier American protestant theologian and public philosopher of the middle 20th century. Tellingly, the Niebuhr family was nurtured spiritually in the German Evangelical Synod, which has its origins in the Prussian union church of 1817, when the Prussian king forcibly united his Reformed (Calvinist) and Evangelical (i.e., Lutheran) subjects into a single communion. Not surprisingly, perhaps, Reinhold’s writings tend to read in a Lutheran way, while Richard seems to draw more on the Calvinist side of his family’s heritage.

Richard’s five categories have become familiar – indeed almost cliché – by now. Yet even those disagreeing with his approach tend to use them: (1) Christ against culture; (2) Christ of culture; (3) Christ above culture; (4) Christ and culture in paradox; and (5) Christ transforming culture.

Virtually everyone wants to be in this last transformationist camp. Yet in recent years I’ve become aware of the fact that a desire to transform the culture is hardly sufficient, unless one is clear what the basis is for such transformative activity. Transformation can easily describe the imposition of a foreign, extraneous design onto human culture and society. Since transformationists are many and various, each has his own vision of where culture ought to be moving and what it ought to look like when it gets there. Not only are these visions obviously incompatible; many are also impracticable and utopian. The liberation theologian and the follower of the Christian Coalition both seek to transform culture, but each is dragging the world in a different direction.

This has prompted me to wonder whether it might not be better to speak of Christ restoring culture. Such restorative activity would be undertaken on the understanding that there are norms for everything in God’s world and that we must follow these. If we seek to transform culture without a sufficient grounding in God’s word and world, then we are likely to fall prey to the same sorts of distortions as the followers of the ideologies.

In the absence of a comment system yet, I can be reached here.

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12 May 2003

Every Orthodox church building carries an icon of Christ the Pantocrator, that is, the Lord of All or Almighty, in the top of the dome. My favourite icon of Christ has to be the following:



This particular icon is found in the mother church of Orthodox Christianity, Aghia Sophia, the Church of the Holy Wisdom, in Constantinople. Unlike many such icons, which have a deliberately flat quality about them, this one has not only visual but emotional depth. There is a look of compassion in the eyes that vividly communicates the character of Christ. Some icons of the Pantocrator have him distant or even severe. But not this one.

This Pantocrator was not in the dome of Aghia Sophia; it was part of the great deisis in the south gallery, portraying Mary (the Theotokos, or Mother of God) and John the Baptist (or Forerunner) at either side interceding or praying to him. Most scholars believe that it was a late addition to the church, being added shortly after the Byzantine Greeks (who called themselves simply “Romans”) had reconquered the City from the crusading Latins in 1261. If so, then it remained visible for less than two centuries, because the Ottoman Turks conquered the City in 1453 and covered up the christian mosaics in the church, which was converted into a mosque. This particular icon thus spent the next five centuries covered up until around half a century ago by which time Aghia Sophia had become a museum.

When I was 22 years of age, I painted an oil copy of this icon which hangs on the wall of my campus office. Although it’s artistically passable, I am quite certain I failed to capture the haunting beauty of the original. It would be difficult for anyone to do, I should think.

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Homage à Brubeck

Last year I composed a piece inspired by Brubeck’s work which I have called (tongue in cheek) “Rondo rouge a la Grec” (© David T. Koyzis 2002). It’s not exactly jazz, but it does share the same time signature with “Blue Rondo a la Turk.”

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11 May 2003

Our own Berlin Wall in Hamilton?

On friday I wrote:

It's difficult to imagine what it might be like to have one's own city bisected in such a way. I live in Hamilton, Ontario. Imagine a wall topped with barbed wire extending down the middle of, say, James Street, with the city's population forced to remain within their respective zones.

When I first moved to Hamilton in 1987 from exceedingly flat South Bend, Indiana, I tried to acclimate myself to my new surroundings by familiarizing myself with a map of the city. But something was puzzling me. All of the north-south streets seemed to come to an end at a meandering line running in a generally east-west direction. Why, I asked myself, did they not simply put these streets through so people could more easily travel from one part of the city to the next? Was there something like a Berlin Wall in Hamilton?

It didn't take me that long to figure out that this "meandering line" on the map was the Niagara Escarpment, a lengthy cliff-like geological phenemenon that runs from Niagara Falls all the way to the Bruce Peninsula on Lake Huron. It makes for an almost spectacular visual beauty in this part of the province--at least as compared to South Bend, Indiana.

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Growing up too quickly?

Within the past week or so Theresa has suddenly started calling us "Mom" and "Dad" rather than "Mommy" and "Daddy." We're not sure why, except that she's been playing a lot with her LeapFrog Phonics and Writing Desk, which can handle only three-letter words.

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The sign of the cross

Is there something to be said for recovering the ancient sign of the cross in the Reformed churches? The pastor of the First Reformed Church of Lincoln Park, New Jersey, thinks so.

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10 May 2003

Dave Brubeck's odd time signatures

I cannot exactly call myself an expert in jazz music, and I must admit that my first love is what is somewhat misleadingly called classical music. (I say misleadingly, because my favourite periods are Renaissance and, skipping over the classical era, early twentieth century.) But I’ve always had something of a penchant for the Dave Brubeck Quartet, whose heyday was in the 1950s and ’60s. In some respects Brubeck (b. 1920) can be said to bridge the gap between jazz and classical music.

What I like about him is his use of unconventional – or perhaps I should say nonwestern – time signatures, such as 5/4 and 9/8. These metres are quite familiar in Greek, Balkan and Turkish music, and they do not sound in the least unusual to my ears. But they would to most people in Brubeck’s North American audience of jazz aficionados. The most successful of these are his “Take Five,” written in 5/4 time, and “Blue Rondo a la Turk,” written in 9/8. These pieces were part of his album, “Time Out,” which was released in 1959. The first jazz instrumental to sell more than a million copies, “Take Five” was composed by his saxophonist, Paul Desmond, whose distinctive solo performance makes for a brilliant counterpoise to the otherwise asymmetrical rhythm.

Some years ago I was singing in an Episcopal church choir in the States during the Advent season, and I was delighted that the choirmaster had us sing Dave and Iola Brubeck’s “God’s Love Made Visible,” also in 5/4 time.

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Political message in a classic film

This evening my wife and I watched Robert Wise's science fiction classic, "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (1951) on TVO. By today's standards, of course, it's all pretty low tech. But it's considered a classic because of its antinuclear message coming during the early and most frightening years of the Cold War. And the dated special effects are more than made up for by the wonderfully ethereal score composed by the incomparable Bernard Herrmann.

I've seen this film more than once before, but what stood out for me this time were the political subtexts. Without giving too much away, I can say two things:

(1) Klaatu, the extraterrestrial visitor, brings a message from an interplanetary confederation that sounds uncannily like the Bush Doctrine, including the right of pre-emption to eliminate even the whisper of a threat.

(2) The interplanetary confederation sounds uncomfortably like the Hobbesian commonwealth, with a cosmic leviathan ready to lower the boom if anyone gets out of line. This effectively ends the interstellar state of nature and frees everyone from the threat of war.

Perhaps I should propose to teach a course on the political message of films.

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Differentiation and historical development

The Dutch philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd is one of the few Christians to take seriously the structural, creational component of historical development. There seems to be a pronounced tendency amongst many believers to assume that the movement of history in itself constitutes a kind of falling away from a perfectly good social order of a static sort. Accordingly some conservative believers tend to idealize or romanticize a particular moment in history when society was less complex than it is now.

According to Dooyeweerd, however, there are norms for historical development. History is not just a haphazard process. One of these norms in differentiation, which means that, as human beings discover what God would have them do in his creation, there is a tendency for these activities to spread themselves out into distinct communities, such as schools, labour unions, business enterprises, artistic co-operatives, &c.

However, some confuse this normative process of differentiation with an antinormative fragmentation. Darryl G. Hart appears to be one of these, as indicated in his recent Recovering Mother Kirk (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003). Here are some representative passages, written within the context of the changing place of women in society:

The modern political economy weakens the family by giving to large impersonal institutions such as schools, hospitals, businesses, and governments the tasks formerly performed by the family.

As for the institutional church:

The church was closely tied and responsive to the Christian families and communities in which it existed. The heads of the church functioned in a way similar to fathers in a family. They governed their people, taught them and watched over them, and when they were in need responded to that need. The church, in other words, was more like a people or a family than an impersonal institution.

There's more:

[P]remodern society supported the idea that God deals with his people primarily in groups or communities, not as individuals. The church, accordingly, constitutes a people or a community, not a collection of autonomous selves.... Individuals in community do not choose who they are; rather, their identities arise from being born into and being members of the community (pp. 130-131).

There is much to like in what Hart is doing in his book. He even in places comes close to acknowledging what Abraham Kuyper calls sphere sovereignty. But he seems to dislike the process of differentiation that is its foundation. A reading of Dooyeweerd would help him to distinguish better between legitimate societal differentiation and the social fragmentation that he rightly decries.

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09 May 2003

Another Berlin Wall is opened

It's been nearly fourteen years since the opening of Berlin Wall, an event that led with astonishing rapidity to the end of communism in most places where it had once seemed secure and impregnable. It's difficult to imagine what it might be like to have one's own city bisected in such a way. I live in Hamilton, Ontario. Imagine a wall topped with barbed wire extending down the middle of, say, James Street, with the city's population forced to remain within their respective zones.

Here is an article from The International Herald Tribune about two families in Nicosia, Cyprus, living on the same street but on different sides of the Green Line: "Cypriots finally see what lay behind wall." And here is what the Green Line looked like eight years ago in another bisected street, Ledra Street, in Nicosia:

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More from Cyprus

The Turkish Prime Minister is scheduled to visit Cyprus tomorrow, and his country's attitude towards the longstanding stalemate in the island will be crucial to any solution. Here is an opinion piece by Martin Woollacott in today's The Guardian: "Free movement may still heal the division of Cyprus." Woollacott describes some of the cordial, if somewhat wary, encounters between Greek and Turkish Cypriots separated from each other for more than a generation:

A touching politeness has marked some of these encounters. Greek Cypriots call out greetings to Turks as they drive through southern villages. A Turkish Cypriot dentist leaves a message on the front door that if any members of the Greek family who had once lived in the house should visit during working hours they are to come to his surgery to get the key. There are people on the Greek side who cannot bring themselves to show their passports to a Turkish Cypriot official or sign a register because, as one said: "I should be free to go anywhere in my own island."

But it seems that one of the obstacles to a genuine settlement is the turbulence in current politics in Turkey itself, the secular character of whose government is guaranteed by the military. Prime Minister Erdogan's AKP, or Justice and Development Party, is more islamic in orientation. To be sure, it is a democratically elected government, but in a country where the military is the guardian of the constitution, there are continuing tensions between the armed forces and the civilian authorities. This is complicating matters with respect to a number of issues, of which Cyprus is only one.

In Cyprus itself meanwhile, the peaceful popular uprising continues, fuelled by dreams of return to the places of the past, where distance is measured not so much in miles as in memories--memories of nearly three decades separating people from their villages, which lie just on the other side of a barbed wire fence. Woollacott puts it in this way:

Yet there are people in Cyprus who have dreamed almost every night for years of the village or neighbourhood they left long ago. They remember, as the anthropologist Peter Loizos has recorded, loading their furniture on carts at night "as if we were thieving from out of our own houses", or, in other cases, leaving "as if we were going out for a stroll". Now, in the shape of visits to the loved places, at last some balm has been spread on the wounds .... That must surely work through in time, even if the phenomenon of popular reconciliation visible today in Cyprus does not have an immediate or dramatic effect on the prospects for a settlement.

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Gideon again:

This is important stuff, because as North Americans begin to pay more attention to Abraham Kuyper, the question will inevitably arise if there is a relationship between neocalvinism and the apparent dechristianization of the Netherlands today.

I believe there is a relationship, but only in the sense that one must have Christianity in the first place for dechristianization to occur at all. What happened in the Netherlands was by no means restricted to the Gerformeerde Kerken, but has also affected the Nederlandse Hervormde Kerk and, perhaps even more dramatically, the Roman Catholic Church. In other words, the empty pew has been a more general phenomenon and has not been limited to a particular ecclesial communion. More significantly, it has not even been limited to the Netherlands.

Kuyper and other European Christians did their best to maintain the integrity of the faith and the community of faith against immense odds. But the church is by no means immune to trends in the larger culture, sad to say. How the smaller churches in the Netherlands, such as the Vrijgemaakt and the Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerken, fared I do not know. Again my colleague Harry Van Dyke would know this better than I.

One of the reasons I wrote my book is to alert Christians to the dangers of accepting too easily the various ideological visions that have plagued our society in recent centuries. This has implications for the health of church institutions, along with other communities.

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08 May 2003

Gideon Strauss writes:

I would love to hear a conversation between Koyzis, Jonathan Chaplin, and John Hiemstra on the political-historical development of Dutch neocalvinism between the death of Kuyper (1920) and the end of verzuiling (in the early 1970s) -- and on what that history has to teach us.

Of the three of us, I am quite certain that John knows the most, since he's written on the topic of the impact of the Dutch confessional system on broadcasting, which would bring him into this era. But my colleague Harry Van Dyke probably knows more than anyone else, since he lived through the collapse of this "regime" in the mid-1960s.

I will do no more than to venture an educated guess as to what happened in the Netherlands. I suppose I would say that, if a particular confessional community loses the will to maintain itself, no amount of consociational politics will serve to preserve it.

Lijphart and other scholars note that consociationalism tends to be a temporary phenomenon, existing in the Netherlands between 1917 and 1966, in Austria from 1946 to 1966, and in Lebanon from 1943 to 1975. While the French polity was too highly centralized to be anything close to consociational, it is interesting to note that stability came to that country only with the institution of the Fifth Republic in 1958, i.e., at the very moment when the traditional Catholic subculture ceased to be much of a force. (The christian democratic Popular Republican Movement did not survive the end of the Fourth Republic.) Post-war secularization in western Europe made redundant such power-sharing arrangements as had been embodied in consociationalism, sad to say.

In short, I think one would have to look within the Dutch confessional communities themselves for an answer to Gideon's query. There are lessons for such organizations as the Christian Labour Association of Canada, for which Gideon works.

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