Per Caritatem

G. Douglas Atkins’s book, T. S. Eliot and the Fulfillment of Christian Poetics, is an engaging, close textual analysis, and extended meditation on Eliot’s poem, Four Quartets. Describing his approach to Eliot’s work, Atkins writes, “[m]y focus is how each poem of Four Quartets works, what it means, that and how it matters (so much), and how each of these parts supports the others ‘right’ in participating in the creation of a structure whose details we fully appreciate only at the end, the place from which we begin in order to appreciate fully those magnificent details. The issue is fulfillment—of purpose” (vi–vii). Rather than a “handbook,” which Atkins’s book certainly is not, the author has created a commentary qua “companion”—a “going-along-with” that includes a bringing together mirroring Eliot’s text.

Among the many topics and themes that Atkins addresses, I found particularly interesting his analyses of how Eliot’s Four Quartets dramatizes the “impossible union” of oppositions or alleged oppositions—time and eternity, human and divine, the way up and the way down (and other Heraclitian-inspired themes), the philosophical and the poetic, sameness and difference, life and death and so on.

Atkins likewise does a wonderful job of showing (via the unfolding drama of the poem) how the poet’s own voice struggles with his own pronouncements, i.e. with what he knows or perhaps better, believes, and how precisely “all manner of things is well” (including the good and the bad and many other oppositions, which constitute the “necessarye coniunction.”)

Just as the opening movement, “Burnt Norton,” began with reflections on time and being, as well as a scene resonant with but not identical to the Garden of Eden—reflections not necessarily representing Eliot’s own voice—in the last movement we return via echoes to a Garden. “And the end of all our exploring/Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time.” However, now the pattern of the “logic of concepts” (philosophy) and the “logic of the imagination” (poetry) has been reversed. Here we have children playing “in the apple tree” and the “voice of the hidden waterfall” where both movement (noise) and stillness are “heard, half-heard” (103). We return to the childlike, but a very high price has been paid for this “coniunction” uniting humans with the divine. The “how” of the “all is well” and the “all shall be well” come at the end in time—the already and the not yet: “When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one” (103–104).

 

Below is an apropos, thought-provoking (and lengthy) excerpt from a Christmas reflection by John Dominic Crossan, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at DePaul University.  You may access the article in its entirety here. I also highly recommend, “More Parables for Our Times: Not Your Grandmother’s Prince of Peace,” by Rev. James Martin, S.J.

Artwork by Fr. Gabriel Chavez de la Mora, O.S.B., of Tepeyac Abbey, MexicoArtwork by Fr. Gabriel Chavez de la Mora, O.S.B., of Tepeyac Abbey, Mexico

Artwork by Fr. Gabriel Chavez de la Mora, O.S.B., of Tepeyac Abbey, Mexico

“When Jesus is born in Bethlehem–ancestral city of David, the once and future king of Israel–an angel tells shepherds that, ‘I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord’ (2:11-12).

Angels direct, as it were the narrative traffic of both [Luke and Matthew] those infancy stories but there is one very special case of angelic intervention found only in Luke. This involves not just a single angel but the entire heavenly choir who descend to earth and chant in the reversed parallelism of typical biblical poetry: ‘Glory to God / in the highest heaven / and on earth peace /among those of [God’s] favor’ (2:14). But, since this is poetic parallelism, divine glory in heaven is human peace on earth. Not either, but both, or neither.

A lovely couplet of hymnic hope, to be sure, but where is the challenge of that first Christmas vision? To find it watch the titles already given to Jesus and to Caesar. Jesus was proclaimed as ‘Son of God,’ ‘Savior of the World,’ and ‘Messiah/Christ (1:32; 2:11). In between those titles appears the name of ‘Caesar Augustus’ (2:1). But, before Jesus the Christ was ever conceived, Caesar the Augustus had been already proclaimed by Roman imperial theology as ‘Son of God,’ ‘Savior of the World’ and ‘Imperator/Autocrator.’ Also, the vaunted Pax Romana was already incarnated and embodied in Caesar himself by the consecration of a magnificent Ara Pacis Augustae, the Altar–not just of Roman–but of Augustan Peace at Rome.

Granted Luke’s Roman matrix for this Jewish child, what precisely was the difference between those identical titles and identical proclamations of ‘Peace on Earth’? If the Roman Augustus had already established peace on earth, what was left for the Jewish Jesus to accomplish? How was the presence of Roman imperial peace different from that promise of Jewish messianic peace–on this one and only earth?

The difference was not in the that of peace but in its how, not in the purpose and intention of peace but in the mode and method of its accomplishment. For Rome, as you can see clearly on the beautiful bas-reliefs of that above-mentioned Altar of Augustan Peace, the mode and method was: religion, war, victory, peace. Rome believed, as did every empire from the Assyrian to the American, that the future of civilization demanded peace through victory. But the messianic vision of the Jewish Jesus proclaimed a different program: religion, non-violence, justice, peace. Its mantra was peace through justice. Or, as Jesus told Pilate in John’s powerful parable: God’s Kingdom, as distinct from Rome’s Kingdom, precludes violence–not even to liberate himself from imperial power (18:36).

Victory’s violence establishes not peace but lull–until the next and always more violent round of war. The Christian challenge of Christmas is this: justice is what happens when all receive a fair share of God’s world and only such distributive justice can establish peace on earth. But how can we ever agree on what is fair for all? Hint: ask what is fair–in first or 21st century–of the 99 percent of earth’s people and not of the 1 percent.”

 

Nativity of JesusArchbishop Rowan Williams describes Advent as a “time of waiting.” He then unpacks what that means for the Christian and how our Western culture generally speaking (Christians included), have real difficulties with waiting.  We want immediate gratification; we don’t want to wait—if a webpage takes more than a few seconds to load, we complain, throw a fit, curse, or try to figure out a way to purchase a newer, faster, sleeker computer.  Waiting is a concept for twenty-first century globalized folks thoroughly infused with negativity.  We just don’t “do it” well.  Even so, as Williams explains, as Christians we are called to

“remember in Advent the time of waiting before the birth of Jesus, and [to] remember that time of waiting as the Bible shows it to us as a time when people were indeed longing for something that would change everything, and yet at the same time not quite knowing what that something would be.

During Advent, Christians go back to that time of waiting as the Bible shows it to us. They read again the prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Old Testament. They read about how people were longing for an end to slavery, longing to be back home in some sense, longing to be at home with God again, longing for reconciliation. And all of that is expressed in the most powerful metaphors, especially in the prophesies of Isaiah, metaphors about the desert blossoming, metaphors about the rain falling, metaphors about day dawning after there’s been a long, long night.”[1]

The four weeks before Christmas have blown by and now our waiting, our counting and marking the days on the calendar before opening the gifts is nearly over.  But what about this other Gift, a far grander Gift, this baby born in a manger so long ago? What difference does His birth, His life, His Incarnation make?

“When Jesus comes into the life of the world with something unplanned, overwhelming, something that makes a colossal difference, we long for it and yet we don’t quite know what it’s going to involve. But this is a bit odd isn’t it, you might say. Surely Jesus has come into the world and by now we ought to know what sort of difference he’s made? But the truth is that we don’t yet know the difference Jesus might make. We know some of the difference he’s made to our lives as individuals, to the life of the Christian community, the Church, to the whole world. And yet there’s more. We’re still waiting to see what might happen if Jesus was allowed into our lives that bit more fully; that bit more radically.

So again for Christians, Advent is a time when they do a bit of self-examination. Have I allowed Jesus in yet? Has the good news really made the full impact it might make, or is my life still locked into old patterns, into darkness, into slavery, into being not at home with myself or God or with other people? It’s a time of self-examination, of repentance indeed, facing myself honestly and saying sorry for the things that don’t easily face the light. And it’s a time of expectation and a time of hope. A time, therefore, also of quiet.”

Here’s another word we’re not particularly found of, nor very skilled at cultivating (myself included)—quiet, reflective periods of quietness in which we can ask ourselves “[w]hat would it be for the good news really to change me’ […]for that to happen I need some reflective time; I need some peace; I need to slow down; I need, you might say, to take my time about things. And so all those bits of our contemporary culture which are about rushing to get gratification, getting the results straight away, all those habits in our culture which so drive the crises of our culture, whether it’s the credit crunch or the environmental crisis, all those things we have to cast a rather cold eye on during Advent and say slow down, take time, let yourself grow and open up, rather like a flower coming to blossom – a time of expectation, a time of excitement, a time of waiting, a time of peace, a time where we’re clearing our hearts and our minds a bit so we really can see clearly when Jesus arrives, and feel fully the impact of his coming.”

With John the Baptist and the Blessed Virgin Mary, both of whom learned to wait and to wonder at this Christ who would turn the world upside down, we too are challenged to “see what the reality of God is like,” which of course is not an easy task.   Truth be told,  “[i]t may be deeply painful as well as deeply joyful. Death and judgment, and hell and heaven. It will be that experience of confronting the truth in such a way that you’re changed for good. We say yes to all of that even with the pain and the risk. Or God forbid we say no we can’t cope with the truth, we’d prefer our own darkness. And so part of our self-examination during Advent is looking into ourselves and saying, ‘Well can I get myself to the point where I can look at God and say well there’s truth and there’s beauty and light and love and it’s painful for me, weak and stupid though I am, to face that, and yet I’d rather be there with the truth, however much it costs, than be locked up with myself?’ During Advent, we try to get ourselves a bit more used to the truth –the truth about ourselves, which is not always very encouraging, but the truth about God above all which is always encouraging. The One who comes will come with a great challenge. It will be like fire on the earth as the Bible says. And yet the One who comes is coming in love. He’s coming to set us free. And that’s something well worth waiting for.”

Notes


[1] The full transcript may be accessed via the Archbishop’s webpage: http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/2040.

 

This post was written by Myles Werntz, a graduate student at Baylor University, writing a dissertation on ecclesiology and nonviolence in John Yoder, Dorothy Day, and William Stringfellow. He is the editor of Nonviolence: The Warsaw Lectures, by John Howard Yoder (Baylor University Press, 2010), and writes on occasion at www.threehands.com and www.rockandtheology.com.

***

In examining the question of divine violence, and whether or not we can even speak of such a thing, I propose a return to one of the “culprits” of the medieval tradition: Anselm. I take it for granted, that for Christian theology to speak of the divine-human relation, it turns to the person of Christ for its norm. This is not without its difficulties, however, particularly as one attempts to speak of divine violence. If Jesus is the norm for human relations with God, what are we to make of the crucifixion? Does Christ’s death bespeak a similar “necessary” death for humans? Is God’s fundamental relation with humanity one of wrath, abetted by blood sacrifice? It is this aspect of the divine-violence knot that Anselm, I think, helps us to see more clearly.St. Anselm Stained Glass

Turning to one of Anselm’s better known works, Cur Deus Homo (or “Why God Became Human”), we find Anselm arguing that 1) honor has been denied of God, 2) humanity lives unable to restore this honor, an honor which functions as an indication of cosmic socially stability, resulting in 3) God inhabiting human flesh to rectify this problem on the human side of the ledger. When we read this dialogue, we must bear in mind that many of the claims to God’s “anger” and “will to punish” are put forward not by Anselm, but by Anselm’s interlocutor “Boso.” As such, the argument that God is angry and wills to punish relentlessly are not in the main of Anselm’s construal of how Christ restores honor.

What Anselm does argue, however, is that while “every creatures owes [truth and righteousness] from every rational creature, and every creature owes this to God as a matter of obedience”, this does not imply that God needs blood to accomplish this. Rather, Anselm argues that “God…did not force Christ to die”, but rather that “[Christ] underwent death of his own accord, not out of an obedience consisting in the abandonment of his life, but out uof an obedience consisting in his upholding of righteousness so bravely and pertinaciously that as a result he incurred death.” Obedience, as that which is owed by humanity to God, is maintained by Christ “even unto death”. The demonstration of obedience comes “through his death”, but Anselm argues that it is “not appropriate to say that it comes about because of it.”

Significantly, Anselm does not say that blood is required, nor that violence is intrinsic to the divine life, nor even that suffering is a necessity if one is to live according to this arrangement. What is argued, instead, is that Christ’s life—as emblematic of perfect obedience—leads Christ to death. In other words, death is the culmination of obedience and reconciliation, not as a matter of course, but as a consequence of intention. Anselm concedes that because obedience is intrinsic to Christ’s life and God’s desire, then, that Christ’s death as a result of obedience is thus “wished”, but again this is not because suffering in and of itself accomplishes anything. Rather, the way of obedience led directly into the heart of death.

Part of what I take Anselm’s purpose in this work to be is to demonstrate not only a rationale by which divine-human reconciliation is to be had, but also the kind of human behavior which is implicated by Christ’s life. As such, virtues of prudence, fidelity, and courage are exalted by Anselm as intrinsic to one who seeks to be obedient. Does this mean, then, that the violence which is visited on the faithful is “wished” or “willed”? Is God’s anger appeased by blood? For Anselm, this question is like asking that since doing a PhD in Religion requires a great deal of discipline, if what one is doing in finishing a PhD is really cultivating discipline, and not learning a particular skill set.

In sum, I take two things from this text. First, “divine violence” is one (badly construed) way of viewing the act of obedience in the world. While violence against Christ was intrinsic to obedience, it was neither “willed” nor “wished” in the sense that God desired the victimization or abuse of Christ. Rather, for Anselm, death and abuse is the consequence of obedient living. Those that want to live in the divine relationship should gird themselves and prepare for the beatings to come. Secondly, the honor which is restored via obedience is a shared honor, obtained by the Son, returned to the Father, and emulated by the disciples. As such, violence is not that which must be undergone to belong to this restored sociality, but which is, in some sense, borne by the entire community. Those who benefit from the violence experienced by some of the faithful are to bear with those faithful.

What then of violence? Is violence “necessary”? For Anselm, no, rendering then “divine violence” to be a misunderstanding of where the violence comes from. The death of Christ comes as a result of obedience, not by divine fiat. If the violence against Christ is 1) not willed, and 2) begets, in a twist of irony, divine life in a restored sociality, then with Anselm, we can say that violence is in a sense an anti-theology, finding its roots not in the divine life, but in opposition to restoration of the divine life, working against the “grain of the universe.”

Notes


[1] All references will be from Anselm: The Major Works, edited and introduced by Brian Davies and G.R. Evans (Oxford UP, 2008).

[2] Ibid., 271.

[3] Ibid., 276.

[4] Ibid., 277.

[5] Ibid., 278.

[6] Ibid., 281.

 

One-in-Christ-229x300The post below as well as the one which shall follow deal with the issue of slavery in the New Testament and were written by yours truly, Cynthia R. Nielsen.  Unfortunately, I did not receive any submissions to the series dealing with the contested letters of St. Paul and the household codes.  I have not studied those letters in depth and thus am not entirely sure as to how they relate to St. Paul’s uncontested letters and the passages therein dealing with slaves and the Christian community. My underdeveloped hypothesis is that the NT captures glimpses of different and competing Christian voices  in the early church reacting to perhaps a perceived threat regarding the Christian freedom St. Paul advocated, for example, in his epistle to the Galatians.  I certainly welcome comments related to that intertextual interpretive issue.

Thanks again to everyone who has contributed to this series by way of posting essays and commenting on the posts.  There are still several guest posts to come, so please continue to be part of the conversation.

***

As many commentators observe, Corinth was a religiously diverse city of considerable socio-economic import. The Corinthian church was a microcosm of the social structures of the larger culture.  “There was no middle class in the Greco-Roman world.  At the top of the pyramid were a few rich persons who were, therefore, automatically persons of power and status.”[1] This reflection of the larger culture is indicated in 1 Cor 1:26, where St. Paul states that few of the saints at Corinth were wise according to worldly standards (σοφοὶ κατὰ σάρκα), few were powerful (δυνατοί), and few were of noble or high birth (εὐγενεῖς). Thus, we can reasonably posit that most in the church at Corinth were of low birth (perhaps slaves), weak or lacking in worldly power (perhaps women, who, in a patriarchal society, generally occupy subordinate socio-political positions), and unsophisticated, non-philosophical individuals (those whom the world considered“foolish”).  To these no-bodys (τὰ μὴ ὄντα, literally, “things that are not,” italics added) by worldly standards, St. Paul speaks words of immense encouragement:  “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are” (1 Cor 1:27-28, NRSV).  Yet, to those few in the Corinthian church who were wise, powerful, and high born, St. Paul’s words are meant to convict, to urge them back to God’s system of values, which in the eyes of the world is weakness and foolishness. St. Paul then informs the Corinthians of his purpose by reminding them who they were and who, by God’s gracious call, they now are in Christ:  “so that no one (πᾶσα σὰρξ) might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor 1:29-30, NRSV). As we shall see, St. Paul’s exhortation in this opening chapter to the Corinthian believers to relate to one another in a way that recognizes their mutual equal status in Christ is a theme permeates the letter as a whole and has particular bearing on our focus passage, 1 Cor 7:20-24.

1 Corinthians chapter 7 falls between St. Paul’s admonitions regarding lawsuits and sexual immorality and his directives concerning food offered to idols.  More specifically, chapter 7 consists of St. Paul’s responses to particular questions, which the Corinthians had raised and sent to him by letter on an earlier occasion (1 Cor 7:1). The focus of the present essay centers on St. Paul’s teaching regarding slaves in 1 Cor 7:20-24. Before explicating the more controversial aspects of my translation and interpretation of this passage, a few preliminary remarks are needed.

The Gospel for St. Paul necessarily affects one’s relationships with others, and, hence, ipso facto affects the broader socio-political sphere.  A believer’s redemption in Christ involves not only the vertical dimension (God and humans) but the horizontal dimension as well (humans and other humans).  In fact, the horizontal, socio-political dimension is precisely where the radical transformation resulting from one’s redemption is embodied and displayed to an on-looking world, for good or for ill.

Though many New Testament scholars often highlight the positive ways in which slaves in the Roman world were treated—some received an excellent education, others gained greater economic security than poor, free-born individuals—nonetheless, slaves were still considered legally the property of another person.  As S. Scott Bartchy observes, “a slave was a res, a thing, a chattel to be owned, bought, and sold.”[2] In addition to this de-humanizing reification, a slave could not enter into a legal marriage, could not represent himself or herself legally, could not inherit, and was subject to physical, sexual (particularly if a female but not excluding males) and other abuses by his or her master.[3] With these very concrete, tangible realities in mind, St. Paul wants the slave to understand who s/he is and to whom s/he now belongs.  Those who currently find themselves under the yoke of human masters are in actuality ἀπελεύθεροι κυρίου (v. 22), who have been “bought with a price” (v. 23), the shed blood and broken body of our Lord.  St. Paul, as one who knows what it is like to be concerned for his own safety and the well-being of others, to be beaten, to be despised and humiliated, is no doubt acutely aware of the daily hardships endured by slaves and exhorts them not to allow their current status as slaves consume them such that they forget who they truly are in Christ.[4] Yet, in the very same breath, he encourages them to seize their freedom, should they be presented with such an opportunity (v. 21).

As a pastor and fellow sufferer for the sake of Christ, St. Paul exhorts these slaves not to allow the cares of this (presently fading) world to consume them, causing them not only to lose sight of their Christocentric identity and mission, but perhaps also to lose hope.  Thus, for those slaves who are not presented with the opportunity to obtain their freedom (manumission was clearly not in their power to decide, as they were not considered persons under Roman law, and consequently, had no legal rights),[5] St. Paul wants to encourage them with the truth that in Christ they have been freed from the bonds of sin, and in Christ their status before God is not less but equal to their (free) fellow-Christians.

St. Paul likewise urges various other groups of believers at the church in Corinth (the married, unmarried, widows, virgins, 1 Cor 7:25-39) not to allow the understandable, legitimate concerns of this life to distract them from their kingdom callings. These exhortations as a whole must be interpreted in light of St. Paul’s strong apocalyptic conviction that the “present world is passing away” (1 Cor 7:31). In fact, 1 Cor 7:25-31 is permeated with eschatological language, which reflects St. Paul’s belief in the imminent return of the Lord Jesus Christ (i.e., he expected the parousia to occur during his own lifetime).  For example, in the pericope immediately following our focus passage, he speaks of the “impending crisis” (1 Cor 7:26), stresses that the “appointed time has grown short” (1 Cor 7:29), and, as just mentioned, describes the present structure of the world as “passing way” (παράγει γὰρ τὸ σχῆμα τοῦ κόσμου τούτου, 1 Cor 7:31). With St. Paul’s apocalyptic and eschatological views in mind, we are now in a position to discuss my translation and interpretation of 1 Cor 7:24.

In 1 Cor 7:24, St. Paul states, “[o]n account of this, brothers and sisters, before God, let each person, while finding himself in the situation in which he was called, so remain” (ἕκαστος ἐν ᾧ ἐκλήθη, ἀδελφοί, ἐν τούτῳ μενέτω παρὰ θεῷ).  St. Paul has made use of an inclusio to frame this passage; yet, he has also varied his original theme.  In 1 Cor 7:20, we read, ἕκαστος ἐν τῇ κλήσει ᾗ ἐκλήθη, ἐν ταύτῃ μενέτω, whereas in verse 24, we find two substitutions, (1) ἐν ᾧ for ἐν τῇ κλήσει and (2) ἐν τούτῳ for ἐν ταύτῃ.  Are these variations significant?  More specifically, do the substitutions in the second parallel passage serve both to establish the inclusio structure and yet simultaneously function as a prelude to the explicit eschatological themes in the pericope which immediately follows (1 Cor 7:25-31)? I contend that verse 24 does serve this dual purpose, as it creates an organic connection between the two passages (1 Cor 7:20-24 and 1 Cor 7:25-31)—passages, which must be interpreted in light of St. Paul’s apocalyptic and eschatological concerns and emphases. Moreover, emphasizing the temporal dimension of 1 Cor 7:24 helps us to make sense out of St. Paul’s exhortation in verse 21 (μᾶλλον χρῆσαι, “by all means, take advantage of it,” that is, of gaining your freedom).  If we fail to take into account St. Paul’s strong apocalyptic orientation, then his instructions that follow regarding marriage, re-marriage and celibacy can easily be misconstrued as “nay-saying” (Nietzsche) and as espousing a disparaging view of embodiment and life in this world.  In light of St. Paul’s knowledge of the OT teaching affirming the goodness of creation, his high view of the Incarnation, his teaching on the sacraments as a means for sanctification in this life, and his firm belief in our embodied state in the age to come, the principle of charity demands that we seek a more this-world-friendly interpretation.

Wrapping up my exegetical discussion of this pericope, to what does the “this” refer in the phrase which I have translated, “on account of this” (ἐν τούτῳ, v. 24)?  In verse 23, St. Paul commands the currently enslaved believers not to become slaves of human masters. Why?  Because they have been “bought with a price” (ἀγοράζω (agorazō),[6] Christ’s blood, whose value infinitely outweighs any monetary amount offered for the purchase of a human being.  Consequently, the only true Master for a Christian is Jesus Christ, who alone is worthy of devotion and unyielding submission.[7] The Christian community then must exhibit kingdom relationships to the on-looking world—relationshipscharacterized not by the arbitrary, self-serving, exploitative standards of unregenerate human beings, but by mutual respect and recognition of the equal status of all believers before God.  “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28, NRSV).

In the next post in our series, I shall bring the 1 Cor 7 passage into dialogue with St. Paul’s letter to Philemon.

Notes


[1] Sampley, “The First Letter to the Corinthians,” p. 814.

[2] Bartchy, “Slavery,” p. 544.

[3] Bartchy, “Slavery,” p. 544.  Bartchy acknowledges that slaves were considered property and things; yet, he seems at times to present an overly romanticized view of slaves in the Greco-Roman world, emphasizing the varied roles slaves had, depending on to whom they belonged.  Bartchy adds that slaves in the NT period constituted   a “logical” and a “juridical” class but not a social class (p. 544). I find this a somewhat confusing claim.  If such were the case, why would the apostle Paul feel the need to address gender and social status issues, as he does in our current passage as well as other crucial texts such as Gal 3:28?  For a less romanticized view of slavery in the Roman period, cf.  Glancy, Slavery in Early Christianity.   Cf. also A.A. Rupprecht’s discussion of the use of the ergastulum to house slaves who worked in chain gangs (“Slave, Slavery,” in The Dictionary of New Testament Background,  p. 881) and J.A. Harill’s comments on the severity of the physical torture of Roman slaves by means of the flagellum (“Slavery,” in The Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, p. 1125).

[4] It is also worth highlighting that in 1 Cor 7:18-19, two verses immediately prior to our focus passage, Paul relativizes the circumcised verses uncircumcised distinction.  Thus, we have in close proximity two of the three distinctions annulled in Gal 3:28:  “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (NRSV).  In light of Kenneth Bailey’s thesis that women in the Corinthian church had misconstrued Paul’s message and were engaging in anti-male sexism, perhaps the absence of the relativization of the male-female distinction in Christ was purposed by Paul. If so, once again, the cultural-historical and occasional nature of the letter must be stressed, and one must resist a “timeless truth” application of Paul’s commands to women in the Corinthian church (e.g., in 1 Cor 14:34-36) to our contemporary, ecclesial situation (cf. Bailey, “Women in the New Testament,” pp. 6ff.).

[5] Witherington, Conflict and Community in Corinth, p. 184.

[6] The same verb is used in 1 Cor 6:20, where Paul exhorts the believers to, glorify God with their bodies, since they were “bought with a price.”

[7] The following goes beyond my competence, but I propose it as “food for thought.”  In contrast with the Covenant (Ex 20:22-23:33) and Deuteronomic (Dt 12-26) Codes, the Holiness Code in Lev 25:39-55 explicitly forbids the enslavement of fellow Hebrews, as they are God’s “slaves,” whom he delivered from Egyptian bondage (Lev 25:42).  Is it possible that Paul has Lev 25:39-55 in mind and is engaging in a Christocentric variation on an OT theme?  That is, just as the Hebrews were commanded by God not to re-enslave their fellow Hebrews because God himself had delivered them from the hands of their oppressors and made them his slaves, so too Christians, using Paul’s language, are slaves of Christ, having been bought with a price, Christ’s blood, and ideally are not to be the slaves of other human beings.  Brown, for example, notes that Paul “betrays his Jewish roots” in his outcry against the sexual immorality condemned in 1 Cor 5:1-2; “for marriage within such a degree of kindred was forbidden by the Mosaic Law” (Lev 18:8; 20:11) (An Introduction to the New Testament, p. 518).  Sadly, American slaveholders in the South appealed to Lev 25 to justify their proslavery position, claiming that just as God permitted the Hebrews to enslave other people groups, so too, they, as God’s chosen people, have a divine sanction to enslave African Americans (cf. Martin, “The Haustafeln,” p. 215).

 

He will come like last leaf’s fall.Nativity of Jesus
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud’s folding.

He will come like frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.

He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.

He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.

*From Light Unlocked: Christmas Card Poems, edited by Kevin Crossley-Holland and Lawrence Sail, published by Enitharmon . Originally from The Poems of Rowan Williams, published by Perpetua Press