Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist

29 February 2004

First sunday in Lent

This morning we began the liturgy with a modernized version of the Great Litany, which I had never before heard sung in church. Some version of the Great Litany is found in a number of christian traditions, including Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran and Anglican. It is the church's prayer par excellence.

Incidentally, today is the first sunday in Lent in both western and eastern churches. Although western and eastern Paschal feasts are usually separated by a week or so (and sometimes as much as five weeks), this year Easter falls on 11 April for all Christians everywhere.

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Today

Do you remember what you were doing a year ago today?

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28 February 2004

A penitential psalm

At our Ash Wednesday service the choir chanted Psalm 51, which is the psalm appointed for that day. On Ash Wednesday in 1985 I led a service at the South Bend Christian Reformed Church (Indiana) in which the congregation sang a metrical version of the same psalm which I had recently composed. This version was subsequently published in Songs of Rejoicing: Hymns for Worship, Meditation & Praise.

Psalm 51

Be merciful to me, O God;
your tender grace do now impart.
O cleanse me from my wickedness
and purify my sinful heart.
Too well I know my many faults;
they weigh upon me constantly.
Against you only have I sinned,
offending you most grievously.

You justly pass your sentence down;
your blameless judgement I assume.
You know that I was guilty born,
a sinner from my mother’s womb.
Yet you have probed my deepest self
and wisdom given me to know.
With hyssop wash away my sins,
and make me spotless as the snow.

Now let me taste of joy again;
my weary bones exult once more!
O turn your face from these misdeeds
and my iniquities ignore.
Create in me a worthy heart;
a steadfast spirit in me hide,
and cast me not away from you,
nor take your Spirit from my side.

O Saviour, be my joyful help;
sustain me as you ever do.
Your statutes I will teach to all,
and sinners shall return to you.
Deliver me from death, O God,
and I will sing your righteous ways.
O Lord, do open up my lips,
and I will tell your glorious praise.

For you have shown no pleasure, Lord,
in empty sacrificial rite;
the offering that you ask is this:
a spirit broken and contrite.
Show favour to your chosen ones;
rebuild the city where you live,
that we may sacrifice again
and to you proper offerings give.

Music and versification © David T. Koyzis 1984, 1985

For another metrical version of the same psalm, as set to the proper Genevan melody, click here.

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27 February 2004

Lament for lost empire

Ali Bulac, seemingly a nostalgist for the Ottoman Empire, writes to lament the loss of northern Cyprus to his native country of Turkey, with the island's probable forthcoming unification and its certain entry into the European Union. Someone needs to tell him that the age of empires is over. Someone also needs to tell him (or his translator) that there is no such word as "irregardless."

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Confusion over nomenclature

Who are the Indians and where do they come from? Ask Stephen Harper.

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The Passion again

I must admit to being somewhat surprised that Chuck Colson, along with a number of other prominent evangelical Christians, has so thoroughly come on-side of Mel Gibson's controversial film, The Passion of the Christ, as indicated in today's Breakpoint commentary, "Art that Transcends." I've not seen it, but I understand that it is extremely violent and graphic in its depiction of the last 12 hours of Jesus' life. Undoubtedly many Christians view it as a powerful evangelistic tool, and this may be the motive for its ready acceptance in some circles.

But here's Harry der Nederlanden in the 1 March issue of Christian Courier:

Although the film is faithful to the facts, clearly it is not faithful to the style of the gospels. These describe Jesus' scourging and crucifixion in fewer words than this article. The question arises . . . why don't the gospel writers themselves dwell on the sensational, dramatic events of the crucifixion but tell it as briefly as possible?

Is the answer theological? Our salvation does not hinge on our ability to empathize with and share in Christ's suffering. Their symbolic, spiritual meaning is more important than a few hours of torture. . . . We were not saved because Jesus bore some hours of physical torment; we were saved because Jesus bore our sins and the alienation that is the result of sin. That is much more than physical punishment. It is something we cannot begin to comprehend.

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26 February 2004

Pet peeves

I suppose if I've put together a list of my favourite things I should also list my least favourite things. I don't know whether this is one of Gideon's paedagogical exercises, but here goes, in no particular order. As you can see, it sometimes takes a bit longer to describe my pet peeves than it does things loved.

1. telemarketers (this has to rank on virtually anyone's list. . . unless you yourself are a telemarketer)

2. radio stations boasting weather "guarantees"

3. wrong-number long-distance phone calls where someone with an accent at the other end asks for Usama

4. bacon and other pork products

5. caffeine

6. aspartame

7. the current craze for piercing various parts of the body (ouch!)

8. ecclesiastical authorities who indiscriminately ascribe every progressive social and political trend, no matter how outrageous, to a fresh movement of the spirit

9. the first-past-the-post electoral system

10. judges legislating from the bench

11. students who believe the burden of proof is on me to show why they don't deserve an A

12. Greek nationalists

13. reality television shows (which are unlike any reality I am acquainted with)

14. terrorism

15. political leaders who believe they and they alone have the capacity to end terrorism

16. drug store magazine racks

17. people who believe all political deliberation can be reduced to simple assertions of rights

18. shortening days

19. students who have the gall to come up and ask me what the exam will cover when they've plainly not attended the class in which I already explained this

20. bigotry

21. those who accuse others of bigotry simply because they don't agree with them

22. one-party governments exercising all the political power with only 38%-43% of the vote

23. people who believe it their God-given responsibility to tell you how to raise your children

24. professed conservatives who are really Lockean liberals and can't bring themselves to admit it

25. professed feminists who effectively deprecate female corporeality and implicitly make male embodiment normative for everyone

26. people who reduce human society in all its complexity to a struggle between oppressors and oppressed and refuse to acknowledge their debt to Marx

27. students who come to me the day of the exam, claim they had trouble studying (or something or other) and ask if they can take it the next day

28. nurses in an NICU who tell parents that their daughter, who was born 14 weeks premature and for whom they are responsible for caring, is just one more baby to them (believe it or not, this happened to us!)

29. those who appeal to "sensitivity" to stop (or prevent) discussion of an issue

30. French secularists

31. those who believe we can shape the world to suit our desires (read my book for more on this one)

32. those who believe the free market is the answer to all of society's ills

33. those who think public ownership is the answer to . . . well, you get the picture

34. politicians who are afraid to invoke section 33 (the notwithstanding clause) in the Constitution Act, 1982

35. dry skin in winter (ouch!)

36. people who reduce authority to a mere ideological justification of an empirical concentration of power

37. Turkish secularists

38. students who miss virtually every class in the semester and then come to you with a doctor's note every time they've missed an exam, expecting you to give them a make-up exam at their convenience (yes, this has happened, which is why I instituted an attendance policy in my introductory courses)

39. those who attribute terrorism (and indeed all human sin) to economic privation

40. those Christians who believe that the work of the Holy Spirit ends at the outer boundaries of their particular ecclesial communion

41. Ravel's Bolero

42. Richard Wagner's music, rap, hip hop, praise choruses (most of them)

43. students who do not perform as well as you know they are fully capable of doing

44. people who sign diplomas in disappearing ink (unfortunately I have one of these on the wall of my office)

45. separatism (Québec, Corsican, Basque, &c.)

46. partition (e.g., India, Israel/Palestine, Cyprus, Yugoslavia)

47. anti-Catholicism in the media (or anywhere else for that matter)

48. those who would give up their citizenship to secure a life peerage (I won't mention anyone by name)

49. dispensationalism

50. those who would reduce the gospel to a social reform programme

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25 February 2004

Assonance run amok

Anyone who's not been to Hamilton might have difficulty believing that there's actually a place called the Terryberry Library.

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Canada and Australia

In my Canadian politics class I usually emphasize to my students that Canada's political system, along with its political culture, falls somewhere between those of the United Kingdom and the United States. Like the former, we have a Westminster-style parliamentary-cabinet system centred on the longstanding convention of responsible government. Like the latter we are a federal system prescribing a division of powers between two levels of government.

But it may be that I should shift my focus to Australia, with which we have a great deal in common. Australia shares these characteristics with Canada: Both countries are constitutional monarchies recognizing the same Queen as head of state. Both have Westminster-style constitutions, and both are federal systems. Moreover, our two countries have something else in common as well, as I have recently learnt. This can be seen in the breakdown of seats in the lower chambers of the two Parliaments. Canada first:

Ontario - 103 seats
Québec - 75 seats
B.C. - 34
Alberta - 26
Manitoba - 14
Saskatchewan - 14
New Brunswick - 10
Nova Scotia - 11
Newfoundland - 7
P.E.I. - 4
N.W.T. - 1
Nunavut - 1
Yukon - 1

Total - 301

Notice that together Ontario and Québec can easily dominate the Commons. For the past ten years we have had Liberal majority governments based mostly on the huge number of seats in Ontario. These numbers will change after the forthcoming federal election.

Now to Australia:

New South Wales - 50
Victoria - 37
Queensland - 27
Western Australia - 15
South Australia - 12
Tasmania - 5
Northern Territory - 2
Aus. Capital Terr. - 2

Total - 150

Note once again that together the two states of New South Wales and Victoria outnumber the representatives of the other states and territories combined. But here's a difference: Australia has an elective upper chamber, the Senate, which represents the states on an equal basis, just like the US Senate. This helps to compensate the other states for their lower population and enhances their power at the centre of government in Canberra. However, here in Canada we have an appointive Senate whose members are effectively named by the Prime Minister. This leaves the eight smaller provinces and three territories with less power in Ottawa than they might otherwise have in a balanced bicameral parliament.

This is why Senate reform is such a big issue here. Unfortunately, despite the fact that few Canadians like the Senate as it is currently set up, we cannot come to agreement on how to reform it. Thus we are stuck for now with the status quo and a somewhat less than balanced federal system.

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Ash Wednesday

The following Lenten Sonnet first appeared in Calvinist Contact, 6 April 1990:

Deny my Lord? I could not but disdain
The thought that I might so esteem life's breath
As timidly to flee from threat of death
And thus avoid the Saviour's lenten pain.
No, never would I shout that same refrain
Of "I know not the man!" nor would I bend
In fear, but follow even to the end,
For I would not bear frailty's heavy chain.
But at that hour when courage seemed so vast,
When pride had banished cowardice from sight
And I had thought my valour would suffice,
I realized at once that, in the past,
Through sinful deeds committed I had quite
Denied my Lord far often more than thrice.

© David T. Koyzis 1990

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24 February 2004

First time in Hamilton

My first visit to Hamilton was way back in 1971. I was sixteen years old, and our family was visiting our former family physician, who had moved up here to take a position teaching at the McMaster University Medical School, which had only recently opened. I don't remember much about the visit, except that our host family was living in Dundas and we visited Ontario Place and the Royal Botanical Gardens. While at the latter we went to the Rock Garden and I somehow managed to drop my glasses over the edge of the top (it seemed like a precipice at the time). Someone in our group who was about ten years my senior climbed down and retrieved them for me. I was thankful for that. Even then I was blind as a bat without my glasses. Little did I know that I would one day be living in Hamilton and that my daughter would be born at McMaster.

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Moist eyes

Some students sure know how to bring tears to the eyes of their professors. This tribute is undeserved, I'm sure, but I'm pleased with the company I've been placed in.

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23 February 2004

No moderate appraisals

There are some books about which few if any can manage to have moderate opinions. People either love 'em or hate 'em. Here's a quite recent one, as indicated by the customer reviews: The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands, by Dr. Laura Schlessinger.

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Faculty-staff coffee house

Cancelled. Unfortunately.

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Pronouncing the years

There is a clear-channel radio station in Chicago, WBBM, whose announcers persist in pronouncing the years since the turn of the century as twenty-oh-one, twenty-oh-two, &c. I assume this reflects station policy. My sense is that everyone else pronounces these as two-thousand-one, two-thousand-two, &c. Or am I not listening in the right places?

Since I wasn't around a century ago, I have no idea how English-speakers pronounced, say, 1905, the year my grandfather was born. I wish I had thought to ask my great-grandmother, who was born in 1881 but was still alive when he brought her for a visit in 1963. (Of course, the fact that her mother tongue was Finnish might not have made her the best source.) It could have been nineteen-hundred-five or nineteen-oh-five, or nineteen-five. Or possibly even nineteen-aught-five.

I usually tell people that I'm scheduled to retire in twenty-twenty, but two-thousand-twenty is just as plausible. How people will be pronouncing it then I don't know.

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21 February 2004

Szechuan and bad jokes

Great Chinese take-away restaurant round the corner. Reasonable prices. Excellent food. Hot and sour soup. Egg rolls. Ku Bo Har. Won ton chips. Sweet and sour chicken balls. Household jokester: "I didn't know chickens . . ." Ahem. Let's not go there. Please.

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Great books programmes

It is no secret to my students that in my political theory classes, beginning already with Introduction to Political Ideologies, I like them to read the primary sources. I suppose this comes from my own education and, at least indirectly, the influence of Leo Strauss, under whom some of my professors at Notre Dame studied at the University of Chicago. My two history of political theory courses have students reading large chunks of Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Hobbes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Karl Marx, with smaller selections from other writers.

There are, of course, a number of colleges and universities in North America that either are built entirely around what might be called a great books programme or at least feature this as a major course of studies. Probably the best known of these is St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the whole curriculum consists of western classic texts.

More common are such universities as Notre Dame, whose General Program of Liberal Studies (now simply the Program of Liberal Studies) was established half a century ago and still attracts students interested in an education in the classics. Similar programmes are found at Mercer University and, here in Canada, at Brock University. Despite the efforts of deconstructionists to debunk the subject matter of such curricula as little more than the ruminations of Dead White European Males, there is a small, dedicated core of students who long to engage in the great on-going conversations represented by the likes of Plato's Republic, Aristotle's Ethics, Augustine's Confessions, Pascal's Pensées, and so forth.

Ought Redeemer University College to embrace a great books programme? I was asked this by some of our students not long ago. I would certainly favour the establishment of such a major course of studies here, assuming sufficient student interest, although I wouldn't wish to see the entire institution given over to this. The task of understanding God's world and finding our place within it can hardly be reduced to the reading of so many texts from the (western) past, as important as these might be.

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19 February 2004

Story-telling

This afternoon, when Theresa woke up from her nap, I told her three stories: of Polly and George's balloon journey to the cloud kingdom, of Walter the Dancing Alligator (who dressed as a human being to gain admittance to the dance hall), and of Ira the Irate Oak Tree (whose sore branches were cured by a tree surgeon). She enjoyed them. Remind me to tell them to you sometime.

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The Daily Office

Some 25 years ago I discovered a form of prayer that has its origins in the monastic communities of the early christian centuries, particularly in the west. It is various called the Daily Office, or Divine Office, or Liturgy of the Hours. My initial introduction to this came in the form of a little volume purchased at the bookstore of Luther Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota: Herbert Lindemann, ed., The Daily Office: Matins and Vespers, Based on Traditional Liturgical Patterns, with Scripture Readings, Hymns, Canticles, Litanies, Collects, and the Psalter, Designed for Private Devotion or Group Worship (St. Louis: Concordia, 1965). Although its language is somewhat dated, it's a marvellous book, filled with all the riches of the Christian ages, some of which were familiar to me but much of which were not.

The daily office is a form of prayer growing out of the canonical hours observed in the monasteries. These are spaced about three hours apart and, in the western tradition, include Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline. Hence the name Liturgy of the Hours. Each of these offices consists of the following items more or less in order: opening versicle (e.g., Psalm 51:15 or 70:1); followed by Psalm 95 (for Matins) or another canticle; one or more additional psalms; readings from Old Testament, Epistles and Gospels; another canticle (e.g., the Te Deum, the Benedictus or Magnificat); the Kyrie ("Lord have mercy!"); petitions; the Our Father; collects; and a closing doxology or benediction. The prayers and readings are structured according to the traditional church calendar.

Outside the monasteries the canonical hours have been abbreviated into two or three daily prayer offices, usually Matins and Vespers, and sometimes Compline as well. In the Book of Common Prayer two daily prayer offices are prescribed: Morning Prayer, which combines Matins and Lauds, and Evening Prayer, a combination of Vespers and Compline.

What if we lived in communities where morning, evening and night prayer were prayed on a daily basis? Muslims pray five times a day of course. There is something rather awe-inspiring in seeing such huge numbers of people prostrating themselves before God so often. I have posted a pdf document devoted to the Daily Office, which includes the two rites of Matins and Vespers, a table for reading the Psalms, and the two-year Daily Office lectionary. The lectionary was probably put together some 30 years ago or so and is found in the liturgical books of several denominations. For other resources, look here and here.

At some point I may post something I wrote a decade ago about daily prayer.

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17 February 2004

What, me? At Oxford?

Some of our Redeemer students are studying at Oxford this semester, and at least one of them has a sense of humour:



And he even managed to spell my name correctly.

Later: For those unable to get the photograph to appear, click here.

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Sign errs on the warm side

I am quickly learning not to trust the accuracy of the new time-temperature sign recently installed at the Hamilton District Christian High School. This afternoon it read 5 degrees Celsius as I drove by, but it was clearly below freezing. Last week within about ten minutes the temperature somehow managed to rise a total of 3 degrees! Better to rely on this instead.

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These are a few of my favourite things. . .

Okay, Oscar Hammerstein had Mary Martin and Julie Andrews singing about it, while Gideon Strauss simply likes to churn out endless lists of personal preferences. My own predilections should be obvious to anyone reading this blog. But all right. Here goes. Here's my own list of things I love, in no particular order:

1. Nancy, Theresa and family

2. composing music

3. versifying psalms and biblical canticles

4. long distance train travel

5. streetcars, urban rail transit

6. pocket watches

7. bow ties

8. Greek folk music and dances

9. Romanian folk music

10. long conversations with students

11. lengthening days

12. the reformational worldview

13. Cyprus

14. upper peninsula of Michigan

15. the ordinary of the mass

16. the Psalms

17. Byzantine art and civilization

18. Heidelberg Catechism

19. genealogy

20. Renaissance choral music

21. Ste. Chapelle (Paris)

22. icons

23. Russian history, art and civilization

24. my students

25. Dooyeweerd’s philosophy

26. Genevan Psalms

27. Anglican chant

28. Art Institute of Chicago

29. used book stores

30. Ravel’s G Major Piano Concerto

31. spending time with students

32. Niagara Escarpment

33. Halton County Radial Railway

34. Royal Botanical Gardens

35. Museum of Science and Industry (Chicago)

36. grilled halloumi (Cypriot cheese)

37. the daily office

38. old maps

39. historical atlases

40. teaching political theory classes

41. sushi

42. kalamata olives

43. extra virgin olive oil (Greek, not Italian)

44. my former students

45. Prague, Czech Republic

46. anything written by Jim Skillen

47. foreign languages

48. Greek cuisine

49. Abraham Kuyper

50. Did I mention my students?

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Moribund languages

According to this New Scientist report, Half of all languages face extinction this century. As these languages disappear, the cognitive structures associated with them vanish as well. On the other hand, there have been efforts to save such declining languages as Occitan or Romansch, or even to revive extinct languages such as Cornish. And what of the nonstandard dialects of languages such as English, French and German? These too are very likely on their way out.

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16 February 2004

Mel Gibson's Passion

By now everyone is surely aware of the controversy surrounding Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, which will be released to the public on Ash Wednesday. Jewish groups charge Gibson with fomenting antisemitism, which he naturally denies. This report from the Oakland Tribune tells the story: "'Christ' film stirs passion, debate." The following is especially noteworthy:

Of particular controversy is a Bible-based scene in which the Jewish high priest Caiaphas, following Christ's death, utters the curse, "His blood be on us and on our people." While one news report this month said Gibson had agreed to cut the scene, he has not confirmed its deletion.

This suggests that the controversy may actually be about the gospel accounts rather than Gibson's script, as the "curse" is found in Matthew 27:25, which is regarded by Christians as canonical scripture inspired by the Holy Spirit.

However, it ought to be recalled that the contest between Christianity and rabbinical Judaism in the first century AD was not one between two antagonistic religious or ethnic communities. It was, rather, an intramural dispute between two variants of biblical religion, each of which was as Jewish as the other. To be sure, the gospel of John speaks of the disciples barring the doors "for fear of the Jews" (John 20:19). But as the disciples themselves, including the author of the fourth gospel, were Jews, it would be ridiculous, not to mention anachronistic, to ascribe antisemitism to them. As has been pointed out by believers throughout the centuries, it was our own sins that sent Jesus to the cross. Christians confess that Jesus' blood is indeed on our heads and on our children. This is our only hope of salvation.

Later: Here is a glaring inaccuracy from the article, whose author describes Aramaic as "a Semitic language spoken from about the 7th century B.C. to the 7th century A.D." One of my current students grew up in Iraq, with Aramaic as her mother tongue. She was born well after the 7th century!

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Home from hospital

From our VPA's office: Gary Chiang returned home to his family safe and sound yesterday (Sunday) evening. God heard our prayers! Let us, with Gary, Jennifer, and their children, live lives that show us to be thankful to remain Under His Mercy.

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15 February 2004

Althusius' Politics

Johannes Althusius (1557-1638) was a political theorist in the Calvinist tradition who is often said to anticipate a number of developments, including liberalism and democracy, modern federalism, and even Dutch neo-Calvinism.


Stadtarchiv Emden


An abridged translation of Althusius' Politics, like so many other classic works, is now available on-line.

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Schaeffer and Woytila

Eduardo Echeverria believes that Francis Schaeffer and Karol Woytila, better known as John Paul II, have much in common: "Living Truth for a Post-Christian World: The Message of Francis Schaeffer and Karol Wojtyla." This despite Schaeffer's reputation as a severe critic of Roman Catholicism. Echeverria teaches at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit and spoke at Redeemer University College last semester. He was highly influenced by Schaeffer in his youth and early adult life but then returned to his ancestral Catholicism more than a decade ago.

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The filioque clause

One of the divisive issues separating the eastern and western churches is the clause in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed indicating that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (in Latin: filioque). This clause was not part of the Creed as originally formulated but was added by the Synod of Toledo in AD 447. It has never been accepted by the Orthodox Church. In seeming deference to the Orthodox, the Anglican Church of Canada's Book of Alternative Services has deleted this clause from the Creed. Whether this deletion was preceded by a thorough theological debate is unclear to me. Have Anglicans in general decided that the Orthodox are correct on this issue? Or have they simply decided to defer to Orthodox sensibilities without re-examining the relevant confessional issues? If the latter is the case, then, knowing the Orthodox as I do, I doubt they will be much impressed by this seeming concession in their favour.

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14 February 2004

Initial breakthrough in Cyprus

After three days of meetings in New York, the two sides in Cyprus have agreed to begin talks next week towards reunification of the island, as indicated in this report: "Greek Cypriots herald beginning of the end to island's long division." The timetable is tight: "The two sides will seek to agree a reunification plan by March 22. If no deal is reached, Greece and Turkey will be brought in to try to get an accord by March 29. Anything left after that would be down to Annan to decide." Any agreement would then go to the Cypriot people in a referendum.

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13 February 2004

Islam in Europe

As readers of this blog are aware, I have been critical of French government efforts to banish headscarves from public buildings on the somewhat shakey grounds of defending equality and secularism. However, there is always another side to the story, as indicated by Cees Pelgrim, who teaches at the Christelijke Hogeschool in Ede, the Netherlands. Mr. Pelgrim writes the following, and I have edited his comments very slightly for greater clarity in English:

In the Netherlands there are developments similar to those in France (though we have a christian-conservative government). I can mention three events that have influenced the current climate in education and society in general:

1. We have had several cases of honour-murder. A father or brother has killed a daughter or sister because the family honour was damaged.

2. A few weeks ago a Dutch-Turkish 17-year-old boy killed a teacher in the school cafeteria because he was expelled from school.

3. We have had our own problems with the headscarf -- actually more of a burka-like garment with only the eyes uncovered. It took place in a big professional training centre for young people. Some Morrocan girls adopted the ways of the ultra-right of the muslim-movement. They were training to be classroom teachers and there they were totally in black, with only their eyes visible. The college sent them away, went to court and the judge said that burkas in professional situations were not permitted. In the aftermath of things like this even the Dutch orthodox christian party (which does not accept women as members) was brought to court.

I would not by any means wish to diminish the impact of such developments in the Netherlands and other European countries. Having visited both Europe and the middle east, I quite prefer, say, France and Germany to Egypt and Jordan. I would not wish to live in a culture in which Islam is the predominant influence. The political cultures of such countries are less than fully supportive of democracy and constitutional government. Saddam Hussein's rule may have been a particularly vicious form of tyranny, but virtually all of the middle east -- with the notable exception of Israel (but this raises further problems that I've addressed elsewhere) -- is under some sort of despotic régime. Moreover, I would not wish to see my wife, daughter or mother living under the rule of a religion that sees women in general as inferior and permanently subordinate to men. Finally, and most significantly, I as a Christian would not wish to live under the rule of those who would see me as a second-class citizen simply because my faith is at variance with theirs.

This inevitably raises the exceedingly touchy issue of immigration policy. Canada, the US and Australia are countries historically settled by immigrants from around the world, but mostly from Europe -- at least until recently. European countries are accustomed to thinking of themselves as more homogeneous and self-contained, but in recent decades they too have been accepting immigrants, apparently, from everything I've read, to offset the effects of a declining indigenous population. What would a just immigration policy look like? Although I myself am hardly an expert in this field, my hunch is that it would have to balance a number of considerations, including (though not in any particular order): (1) the legitimate aspirations of would-be immigrants from a variety of sending nations, (2) the needs of the domestic economy in the receiving nation, (3) the legitimate claims for maintaining the culture -- including political culture -- of the receiving nation, (4) the claims of legitimate refugees unable for any number of reasons to stay in their home countries, and (5) the ability of the host nation to assimilate immigrants.

One senses from Europeans, including Mr. Pelgrim, that immigrants from especially the islamic world are not assimilating into the host countries at all well. Indeed some of the rhetoric suggests very nearly a state of on-going warfare between the immigrant and host communities. There can, of course, be no general right of people from one part of the world to move to a host country and set up there a miniature version of their country of origin, with no intention of contributing to the public life of their new home. This is what we would call colonization, a phenomenon that supposedly died with the end of the imperial age after the Second World War. If this is what immigrants from islamic countries are indeed doing, then perhaps the receiving countries need to re-evaluate their own immigration policies and make adjustments accordingly.

As for the incidents Mr. Pelgrim mentions above, two of these obviously fall into the category of criminal acts and should be punished as such. There are laws in every country to deal with such things. It is far better to prosecute actual criminals than to make criminals out of ordinary citizens who are merely living out their religious convictions. Legally proscribing the wearing of headscarves in public buildings on the somewhat flimsy grounds of guaranteeing equality seems a needlessly provocative gesture against an unpopular religious community that is more likely to backfire than to ease assimilation.

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12 February 2004

A Catholic on sola scriptura

Gregory Daly writes intelligently and persuasively of the difficulties with the doctrine of sola scriptura as followed by most confessional protestants. More than 20 years ago I read an essay by the late Sheldon Vanauken, "The English Channel," published in New Oxford Review and subsequently appearing in his book, Under the Mercy. In it the author described his own spiritual journey from Canterbury to Rome and cited the same reasons Daly mentions in defence of his own evident commitment to Roman Catholicism.

In reading Daly and Vanauken I am almost persuaded. But not quite. If Rome were the only ecclesial body claiming custody, as it were, of the Great Tradition of which scripture is deemed a part, then it might be more convincing. However, given my paternal roots in Orthodoxy, I am aware that the Orthodox Church makes a similar claim for itself, namely, that its own authority determined the canon of scripture, the decisions of the ecumenical councils, &c. Yet Rome and Constantinople are at variance over a number of dogmatic issues, such as papal supremacy, the filioque in the Creed, purgatory, and a number of Marian dogmas such as the immaculate conception. Yet each claims the authority of the Great Tradition for its own formulations. Even Constantinople and Moscow differ over the precise extent of the Old Testament canon, with the latter tending towards the narrower Hebrew collection.

How then would one go about deciding between these conflicting claims? Who is right concerning the number of books in the Old Testament, about purgatory, &c.? Could the Reformation doctrine of sola scriptura, for all its difficulties, be a way of trying to reclaim an older tradition by which to measure the various local accretions claimed, albeit not incontestably, to be integral to the Great Tradition?

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Student evaluations

I wonder how many of my colleagues are aware of this website.

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Prayers answered

Here is the latest from the VPA's office: "All is well!" Gary's surgery was successful, doctors are pleased, and the Chiang family is overjoyed. Thank God.

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Editorial differences

Here are two contrasting editorials on the French law: From New Orleans' The Times-Picayune (how's that for a name?): "Uncovering intolerance," and Pittsfield, Massachusetts' The Berkshire Eagle: "Vive la France." It's interesting to note which parts of the US these come from. The south is often thought to be more intolerant than the north.

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11 February 2004

Rousseau is alive and well

Here is yet another article about France's headscarf law: "France could learn from us." Although the tone is just a bit too self-congratulatory (as if Canada had all the answers), there are some revealing tidbits. For example: "For supporters of the law, the headscarves symbolize oppression." And: "in his speech to the nation on the new law, French President Jacques Chirac referred time and again to defending the 'equality of the sexes.'" This reminds one of Rousseau's dictum that in an ideal republic, where the general will takes priority over particular wills, people must be forced to be free. Funny how efforts to end perceived oppression end up becoming oppressive themselves.

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10 February 2004

The scandal of the cross

France's National Assembly was set to vote today on that country's controversial bill to ban obvious religious symbols from public buildings. Now it goes to the Senate, the upper chamber of Parliament. If it becomes law, Christians will be able still to sing "Lift High the Cross," but they will be prohibited from actually doing so.

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Updates on two colleagues

This is the latest from the VPA's office on two of my colleagues, Gary Chiang and John Byl, the latter of whom was hit by a car while bicycling last July:

Gary Chiang is scheduled for brain surgery on Wednesday at 1 o'clock in the afternoon. His doctors are hopeful of a good outcome and Gary is peaceful that he is in God's hands.

Al Wolters will organize an avenue for us to pray together during the course of Gary's surgery.

Also tomorrow afternoon, John Byl will undergo orthoscopic knee surgery. Please pray for him too.

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The beginning of the end? Cyprus leaders meet today

Today representatives of the two Cypriot communities meet with Kofi Annan in New York under enormous pressure from the UN, the US and the EU, as indicated in this report and analysis from the BBC. Unfortunately obstacles still remain in the way of the island's reunification, which everyone would like to see before 1 May, when Cyprus joins the EU.

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09 February 2004

No doubt about it

This must mean the Chicago Cubs will win the World Series this year.

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Now go do the right thing

Does anyone ever listen to Dr. Laura Schlessinger on the radio?

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Groen van Prinsterer

One of the progenitors of the neo-Calvinist movement was Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer (1801-1876), archivist to the royal house of Orange and incisive critic of the Enlightenment, the French Revolution and the ideologies it spawned. He was Abraham Kuyper's predecessor in the anti-revolutionary movement that would eventually produce the Free University of Amsterdam, the Anti-Revolutionary Party and a host of other organizations in the Netherlands and abroad.



Groen's most famous work, Unbelief and Revolution, is posted on the website of the Centre for the Advancement of Paleo-Orthodoxy in the version abridged by my colleague Harry Van Dyke.

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07 February 2004

Weekend goings-on

This morning our family drove down the "mountain" (that is, the Niagara Escarpment) to visit the indoor Mediterranean Garden at Hamilton's Royal Botanical Gardens. It's a wonderful place to spend a winter day, because it offers a brief respite from the ice and snow outside -- rather like going south for a few hours. This garden contains flora from the several regions of the world enjoying a mediterranean climate, including the Mediterranean itself, the Cape Province of South Africa, central Chile, southern California and Baja California, and two regions in Australia around Perth and Adelaide. There are other gardens at the RBG, but these are, of course, closed during the winter months.

Incidentally a quick google search reveals that there are Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew and Edinburgh in the United Kingdom, Melbourne and Tasmania in Australia, and at Peradeniya, Sri Lanka.

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06 February 2004

Prayers urgently requested

Here is the latest from the VPA's office on my colleague Gary Chiang: "Jennifer reports that Gary has had an angiogram and that the findings are sobering. The aneurism continues to bleed and it will not be possible to repair it with another coiling procedure. Jennifer expects that on Monday they will discuss brain surgery."

Please keep Gary and Jennifer and their children in your prayers.

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What would Freud say?

Would someone please, please tell the members of the Jackson family to work out their personal issues on their own time?

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05 February 2004

Career change

It seems a lot of people think highly of my brother-in-law, as reported in this article in The Hillsdale Collegian: "Calvert takes over." The College's loss is the Academy's gain.

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The heavens above

As a child I was fascinated by astronomy, and it's something that can still captivate me. For example, this is something that I've only just learnt: "In 2003 alone, astronomers discovered 22 new moons orbiting the giant planet. Jupiter now officially has 62 moons - by far the most in the solar system." I can no longer recall how many moons we thought Jupiter had when I was growing up, but I think it was in the neighbourhood of 12. At one point I came to possess a telescope and I was easily able to see the four Galilean moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, orbiting the solar system's largest planet.

Another little known astronomical anomaly: The largest of Saturn's 31 moons, Titan, is larger in size than the planet Mercury.


Venus


Right now Venus is plainly visible in the western sky in the hours immediately after sunset. Theresa has noticed this when we are out then. Perhaps she is picking up her father's childhood interest.

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Bloopers, part III

Yes, indeed. Here are some more gems from my students (all long past, of course):

"The legislative process in any country is a most interesting process. For in it lies the power to create legislation."

"A convention is an unwritten law. In Canada our conventions are not to be found in writing."

"Our respectable reputation helps us in many international affairs...." We'd hate to think what a bad reputation would do!

Are we playing peekaboo with our southern neighbour? "It will not be until all of Canada can come together and present an untied front that we may have a chance to face the United States."

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04 February 2004

Overused word?

Our own Andrew Vis has some interesting remarks that might be of interest to some of us.

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Canada's constitution

Those interested in Canadian politics might wish to read the article by yours truly, which has just appeared in the latest issue of Comment, published by the Work Research Foundation: "Making a Good Constitution Better: A Response to Janet Ajzenstat." Prof. Ajzenstat's original article can be read here: "Did We Get a Good Constitution in 1867? Popular Sovereignty in the Canadian Founding."

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03 February 2004

Bow ties

Although I do not read men's fashion magazines as a matter of course, every so often I like to browse through a copy on the stands, if only to confirm my own considerable distance from the cutting edge. It also helps me to determine whether bow ties are on their way back in. Alas they're usually not. There are, of course, good reasons for preferring bow ties to the more conventional straight ties. However, more recently I have been varying my wardrobe by wearing straight ties and even turtle neck shirts with no tie at all. Still I am probably no closer to the cutting edge than before -- certainly not enough to worry about falling off.

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Bill introduced in Paris

Today France's notorious "headscarf" bill is introduced in parliament, where it is expected to pass easily, reflecting overwhelming public opinion in its favour. But some are having second thoughts, warning that the proposed measures could further inflame radicalism. According to Lhaj Thami Breze, president of the large Union of French Islamic Organisations,

"This law targets Muslims, it stigmatises Islam and it will lead to exclusion," he told Reuters. Because of this "monumental error," he said, many girls will quit state schools and "we'll see private (Muslim) schools sprouting like mushrooms."

It is doubtful that such considerations will persuade France to rethink it's 99-year-old commitment to laïcité, or secularism.

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Update

Here is the latest on my colleague Gary Chiang from our vice president (academic): "Jennifer learned last night that medical tests indicate that Gary's brain aneurism is not yet considered stable and that it will be necessary to repeat the 'coiling' procedure. An angiogram is scheduled for Wednesday and the procedure for Friday."

Please continue to pray for him and his family.

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I was a teenaged socialist. . .

. . . for six weeks back in 1974.

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02 February 2004

Unity around the corner?

Gwynne Dyer is remarkably optimistic about Cyprus' prospects as a unified state entering the EU on 1 May: "Cyprus at Last."

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Orthodoxy: slow church in action

If Gideon Strauss wants to see an example of slow church, he should attend the Divine Liturgy celebrated in a local Orthodox church. The liturgy varies little from one sunday to the next, and the entire service is sung with magnificent inattention to the clock. People arrive late, with no one really taking notice. Once there, at least in the old country, they mill about for hours on end within the standing-room-only sanctuary. There is no effort to hurry through the drama of Christ's redemption being re-enacted in front of the assembled congregation. Unlike the typical protestant church, where parishioners become impatient if the sermon takes too long, none of the worshippers in an Orthodox church expect the liturgy to take any less time than it does.

The Divine Liturgy replicates the pace of a small rural village in the Balkans, in which peasants are attuned to the rhythms of the earth and the sea. Seasons come and go with no effort made to hasten their arrival or departure. The Creed will come when it comes. God will hear the prayers whether they are chanted a minute from now or an hour from now. Kyrie eleison. Kyrie eleison. Kyrie eleison.

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The church's songs

Yesterday morning I sang a solo at a local Presbyterian church, which I do about every eight weeks when I am healthy and in full voice. This time I sang my own versification of Psalm 96, set to the Genevan tune. The congregation sang three hymns of note. Two of these were by Fanny Crosby, one of the most prolific hymn writers in history. The first was "Praise Him, Praise Him," and the second "To God Be the Glory." For the most part I am not a fan of American revival hymns, which tend towards sentimentality and a rather sticky form of piety. Nevertheless, I have always rather liked Fanny Crosby's hymns, the best of which transcend the shortcomings of revivalism. Perhaps the knowledge that she spent nearly all of her 95 years in blindness contributes to my admiration for her witness in song to God's grace.

We also sang a metrical paraphrase from the Scottish Psalter, "All Who the Name of Jesus Bear," a versification of Philippians 2:5-11.

Unfortunately the three texts were altered in such a way as to remove virtually all (male!) pronominal references to God, which makes them sound clunky in the extreme. Moreover, the continual repetition of the word "God" without any subsequent pronouns might lead the unsuspecting worshipper to think she was singing the praises of more than one deity. We shouldn't be surprised if such bowdlerized texts fail to catch on over the long term. They make bad poetry, in addition to being somewhat dubious theologically.

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Throne Speech

Here is the text of today's Speech from the Throne, as read in the Senate chamber by Governor General Adrienne Clarkson at the opening of the new session of Parliament.

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01 February 2004

Island within island threatened

The village of Kormakiti, in the north part of Cyprus, has had a Maronite Catholic, Aramaic-speaking majority for as long as anyone can remember. However, its unique character is in danger, as indicated in this report: "Jesus' language, Aramaic, lives on in Cyprus enclave."

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