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Antichrist Morning

I was reminded of Adso this morning.

Adso was a French Benedictine abbot from the end of the 10th century (and a contemporary of Aelfric). He is best remembered for his letter on the Antichrist to Gerberga of Saxony/France (one of the interesting, literate, and powerful women of the period). This letter would become the standard treatment of the Antichrist throughout the medieval period.

The Antichrist is a feature of historic Christian teaching that modern mainline sorts look at askance, largely because of the prominence given the figure in Darbyite constructions of the End of Days popular among certain kinds of fundamentalists. People’s Exhibit A being, naturally, the Left Behind series…

There are two main problems with the figure of “Antichrist” to the modern Christian mind.

The first is that it contorts Christianity into a full-on dualistic position: there are the forces of Good with God, Jesus as main figurehead, and the believers and doers of good on one side arrayed against Satan, the Antichrist as main figurehead, and the workers of evil on the other side. This is a awfully black-and-white construction of reality. It may work well for propaganda purposes (City on a Hill [us and our geo-political allies] vs. the Empire/Axis of Evil [them and their geo-political allies]), but works less well for nuanced theological thought. Clearly this theological construct can and has been marshaled in service of Christian Nationalism which can then get linked to a host of other unsavory notions I need not descend into now but seem pretty obvious in our current context…

The second is its minimal biblical moorings. The term “Antichrist” only shows up in four verses in the Johannine letters, and seems to refer not specifically to one individual but to a class of folks who deny the Incarnation. However, these references were then connected to Paul’s references to “the Lawless One” in 2 Thessalonians (rendered in the Vulgate as homo peccati, filius perditionis [man of sin, son of perdition]) and then to the chief political enemy in the Book of Revelation. From there, a narrative is set up and Adso—among others—connects the dots to come up with a biography of the Antichrist.

Obviously, the image of the Antichrist is not only a dualistic one but apocalyptic. And that’s no surprise as apocalyptic rhetoric generally is strongly dualistic in order to set up an us-vs.-them dynamic. Apocalypticism defined the world that Adso lived in. He was living towards the end of the Viking Age. While this period had begun with Scandinavian attacks on England and Francia, its ending saw vikings as not just raiders but conquerors. It was not hard at all to see the struggle between the kingdoms of England and the Continent as engaged in an eschatological battle with martial implications as the (largely) pagan vikings sacked, looted, burned, and ruled Christian areas.  Adso, Wulfstan, Aelfric and their contemporaries could easily see a viking king on the  throne who would persecute Christians bringing all of the prophecies about the Antichrist together in their lifetime. Nor were they terribly off-base: the Dane Canute would become king of England in 1016. Luckily, Canute’s grandfather—Harald Bluetooth (yes, the guy the short-ranged communication protocol is named for)—had converted to Christianity and was the first Christian king of Denmark.

So—why was I reminded of all of this stuff this morning? Cranmer’s psalm cycle offers us Psalms 9, 10, and 11 this morning.

Psalms 9 and 10 also formed a central point of reference in the early medieval understanding of the Antichrist. Just as they understood the Psalms to speak directly of Christ, so too do these two psalms speak of the Antichrist. Just as the gender-inclusive plural (“Blessed are they…” in Psalm 1) hides from us some of the classical identifications of Christ in the psalter, so too here. While the “ungodly” and “wicked” of Ps 9:15 and 17 are in the plural in the Latin (we’re looking at what Adso was looking at…), the references to the wicked in our Psalm 10 (his second-half of Psalm 9) are in the singular. Hence the “wicked” and “covetous”—rendered by Jerome as impius and peccator—are a singular actor in the psalm, cursing God and acting unjustly towards the poor and innocent. Augustine connects this sinner to the Antichrist in his commentary; Cassiodorus takes this identification and runs with it, solidifying the interpretation of these psalms for Adso to take up and use.

As I frequently remind my church history students, the notion of what is “biblical” is not static. There are a host of things that we look at and wonder how Christians in previous ages could have believed such things—time and again the reason is because they found them in the Scriptures. To them and their reading logics they were clearly and obviously Biblical Truth.

Bottom line—“biblical” is not a simple binary. That doesn’t mean that it’s not useful and we shouldn’t use it, but that we should do so advisedly. What do we do with Antichrist? Well—we keep celebrating the Feast of the Incarnation! And we remember that our tradition has used this language to challenge those in power who act against biblical standards of justice and righteousness.

Presentation on Trinitarian Theology

Back at the beginning of the year, the folks at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Baltimore asked me to give them a talk about the Trinity on Trinity Sunday. I said, sure, I’d be happy to—but that Trinity Sunday wasn’t going to work due to a conflict with the Society of Scholar-Priests meeting that I’d already agreed to. So, we agreed that I’d do it on Pentecost instead.

As I was putting together a slide deck for it, it occurred to me that I could do a run-through beforehand, make sure my presentation and slides worked as they should and that it would fall within the forty-five/fifty minute time-slot that I was shooting for. Not only that, I could record my little run-through and be able to upload it to the YouTube channel. Due to life intervening (as it is wont to do…), the recording didn’t happen beforehand. But—I did make a recording of it, and it now up on the channel.

Let me warn you ahead of time: it is 46 minutes long (!).

Long-time readers of the blog may recognize that I recycled my now twelve-year-old (!!) post Revelations of Divine Algebra for the initial section.

So, if you have an interest in boning up on the Trinity ahead of the Feast of the Holy Trinity this coming Sunday, set aside a block of time and give it a view:

Happy Proper 2!

Easter has ended and we have turned the corner into Proper time… As you’ll see from the table on page 884 in the BCP, the first Propered Sunday after the upcoming Feast of the Holy Trinity will be Proper 4, but for we who pray the Office, the Propers begin today with the readings—and collect—for Proper 2.

Thanks to those who alerted me that the breviary had still been showing the collect for the Ascension; that was a manual fix that I’d neglected to correct. Apologies for that, and we’re back on track now…

Also, I’ve been catching up with some of the fixes noted in the comments—which are very helpful, please keep them coming! One attempted fix late last night hung up the data feed for this morning, but it’s restarted now.

So—lots of stuff going on, I’m projecting that the new Liturgical Look Forward will be up a little later today and a bonus video should also be appearing on the feed in the next day or two…

New version of the St. Bede’s Breviary

While I’ve been quiet here for a little bit, it doesn’t mean that nothing’s been happening… There are a number of things in the works and some of them are actually—finally!—coming to fruition. The first of these is a new version of the St. Bede’s Breviary.

There are several changes with the new version…

First, it uses a completely different set of technologies to get and display the Offices. This doesn’t matter for most folks; it’s under-the-hood stuff, but is important for the development of the software generally and for keeping up with where technology’s going.

Second, it integrates directly into a WordPress environment. This is a big deal because so many church websites use WordPress. Once this version matures, it could be integrated into a lot of church websites pretty easily to help promote the spread of the Daily Office and the disciplines of Morning and Evening Prayer.

Third, it gets rid of the cookie system to keep track of options. Instead, the options are available on the page itself. I am working on a way to save your selections as you go, but I’ve not figured out that piece to my satisfaction yet.

Fourth, if you exercise all of the options, you’ll note some blue text in there. There’s a reason for that… I make the claim that this breviary follows the Book of Common Prayer strictly—and it does. But I have had some people challenge that assertion on the grounds that I introduce materials not authorized by the prayer book. This is true. I do include “catholic” options found in the practice of the liturgical West not in the prayerbook itself. In my eyes, these are legitimate private devotions that are not part of our public common prayer, but are part of our classical liturgical spirituality. So—in this version of the breviary, I have identified these by indenting them a bit and making them blue to distinguish them visibly from the text of our common prayer.

Fifth, I am still working out some cosmetic bugs, and some technical issues may also pop up as we move along. clearly, I’ll try and address these as soon as I am able as I become aware of them.

Enough chatter—the link is here and you can also access the page from the “WP Breviary” link in the menu at the top of the page. Let me know what you think!

Not Dead Yet…

I hadn’t intended to do a blog-fast for Lent, but functionally that’s the way it’s worked out…

There’s a lot of stuff going on including some big life stuff that I’ll talk about in a bit.

This is just a quick post to let everybody know that I’ll be appearing tomorrow (March 20th) on the Society of Scholar-Priests Webinar series! It’ll be an hour-long chat and the last 20 minutes or so I’ll be taking audience questions. So—if you’ve got some burning questions you’d like me to answer in front of a lot of priests, tomorrow will be your chance…

It’s a zoom webinar and will be here: at 1 PM Eastern/10 AM Pacific.


Sub-Surface Churn Update

I realized this morning that I haven’t posted anything here for over a month. That’s certainly not because nothing is happening… Rather, I’m in full-on Duck Mode. All may look calm on the surface, but underneath the little feet are paddling away like crazy. Here’s a short list of stuff:

  • Just completed a Saturday all day (9 AM to 3:30 PM) Retreat on Inwardly Digest at St. Michael & All Angels in Tucson, AZ, and a Sunday Adult Forum on the same plus preaching at St Philip’s Tuscon at the gracious invitation of my friends Fr. David Hedges and Fr. Robert Hendrickson.
  • I continue to teach my class on Early & Medieval Church at the Ecumenical Institute of St. Mary’s Seminary. We’re in the 4th century at the moment. I’m having a blast, and it seems like the students are too. At the least, most of them keep coming back to class…
  • This upcoming Sunday I’ll be teaching an Adult Forum at St. Bartholomew’s West Baltimore on Communion Before Baptism. That’s prompting me to think about some of my earlier writings on the topic and to wonder about the utility of collecting these together somehow. I realize that over the years I’ve spent writing and teaching on this stuff, my position has not changed, but the way that I think and teach about it has.
  • On October 15th, I’ll be leading an Adult Forum at St. David’s Roland Park on Inwardly Digest
  • Honey of Souls is in the final stages of typesetting and is collecting endorsements.
  • Some of you may have noticed the appearance of a page on this blog entitled “breviary test 2;” it’s currently inaccessible because it’s still under construction, but it’s almost ready to be seen. That’s part of a project I’m cooking up with Forward Movement.
  • There continues to be progress on other fronts as well including the Anglican Breviary and another Forward Movement collaboration still waiting in the wings…