The Wounded Angel

Finding meaning in the carnage of terror and the belief in Guardian Angels.

Wounded Angel
The Wounded Angel by Hugo Simberg, 1903

The following meditation was originally posted by Teresa Berger on 2 October 2017 on Pray Tell: Worship, Wit & Wisdom (a blog maintained by Liturgical Press, the School of Theology, St. John’s in Collegeville, MN, and the St. John’s Seminary). It was posted on the morning of the mass shooting in Las Vegas, NV and the observance of the Feast of Guardian Angels by the Roman Catholic Church.

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Like many of you, I woke up this morning having Guardian Angels on my mind, whose memorial the church sets before us today. Like most of you, I woke up this morning to news of the carnage in Las Vegas. It seems almost impossible to hold the two together – until, that is, I remembered the startling painting by Hugo Simberg, “The Wounded Angel” (1903), which I saw in the Finnish National Gallery a couple of years ago. The painting shows an angel on a stretcher carried by two boys. The angel’s wing is torn, the eyes are covered by a bandage, and the figure leans heavily on the stretcher.

This morning, I see many Guardian Angels like that, being carried away, wounded and exhausted, in Las Vegas.

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Christian faith doesn’t just say disasters are God’s retribution

Instead of dwelling on God’s wrath, we need to understand God’s kindness and mercy.

 

File 20170905 13726 y65mre
Daniel Arrhakis, CC BY-NC

Mathew Schmalz, College of the Holy Cross

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It’s been a time of calamities: Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, flooding in South Asia and Africa and a massive earthquake in Mexico have led to widespread devastation around the globe.

Some people seem to think this is divine retribution for the sins of humanity: Kirk Cameron, former child actor, said in a video on Facebook that Hurricane Harvey and Irma were “a spectacular display of God’s immense power” and were sent so human beings could repent. Earlier, after seeing the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, conservative Christian pastor John McTernan had noted that “God is systematically destroying America” out of anger over “the homosexual agenda.”

Others disagreed over the reasons for God’s anger, but not necessarily with the assumption that God can be wrathful. Jennifer Lawrence suggested that Irma was “mother nature’s rage and wrath” at America for electing Donald Trump.

It is true that many religious traditions, including Judaism and Christianity, have seen natural disasters as divine punishment. But, as a scholar of religion, I would argue that things aren’t that simple.

The Genesis flood

Some of the earliest narratives of divine retribution go back to 2000 B.C. The Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh tells the story of a catastrophic flood.

The gods decide to bring rain down to end the “uproar” of humankind. But the god of the waters, Enki, warns the righteous man, Utnapishtim, about the impending disaster.

Utnapishtim saves himself and his family by constructing a boat.

Elements of this story are later echoed in the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Genesis. God is angry because the Earth is filled with violence caused by human beings and vows to “destroy both them and the Earth.”

Noah is a “blameless” man, and God tells him to build an ark that would be large enough to hold his family and “two of all living creatures.” Although humanity perishes in a deluge, Noah preserves life on Earth.

It might seem straightforward to say that natural disasters in the Bible are associated with God’s anger, but that means missing the complexity of the text.

God makes a covenant with Noah.
Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P., CC BY-NC-ND

In the Genesis account, after the waters subside, God makes a covenant with Noah:

“Never again will I destroy all living creatures.”

This promise not to destroy humankind is also referred to in the Book of Isaiah, the Israelite prophet and seer. In a vision, God says that just as he vowed to Noah that water “would never again cover the Earth,” so too he promises not “to be angry.”

Biblical approaches to suffering

The question of God’s anger is intimately connected to the problem of human suffering. After all, how can a loving God cause indiscriminate human misery?

We first need to look at how suffering is portrayed in the texts. For example, it is also in the Book of Isaiah that we find the story of the “Man of Sorrows” – a man who takes on the sufferings of others and is an image of piety.

While the Bible does speak of humans suffering because of their sins, some of the most moving passages speak about how innocent people suffer as well.

The Book of Job relates the story of a “blameless and upright man,” Job, whom Satan causes to experience all sorts of calamities. The suffering becomes so intense that Job wishes he had never been born. God then speaks from the heavens and explains to Job that God’s ways surpass human understanding.

The Hebrew Bible recognizes that people suffer often through no fault of their own. Most famously, Psalm 42 is an extended lament about suffering that nonetheless concludes by praising God.

The Hebrew Bible’s views on suffering cannot be encapsulated by a single message. Sometimes suffering is caused by God, sometimes by Satan and sometimes by other human beings. But sometimes the purpose behind suffering remains hidden.

The Christian tradition also provides diverse answers to the issue of suffering.

The Christian tradition provides diverse views on suffering.
Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P., CC BY-NC

The New Testament does refer to the Genesis flood when talking about God punishing human beings. For example, Paul the Apostle observes that God brought the flood on “the ungodly” people of the world. Earthquakes are also mentioned as signs of the end of time in the Bible’s Book of Revelation.

But the Epistle of James, a letter in the New Testament often attributed to Jesus’ brother or stepbrother, says that God tests no one. In fact, those who endure trials are eventually rewarded. The early Christian philosopher Origen argued that through suffering we can understand our own weaknesses and dependence on God.

In these views, suffering is not punishment but something that draws human beings to closer God and to one another.

Moving to more contemporary reflections, philosopher Dewi Zephaniah Phillips argues that it is mistaken to attribute to God a human feeling like anger because God lies beyond human reality.

Believing that hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes are “God’s punishment” reduces the divine to human terms.

God is merciful

Some theologians totally reject the idea of suffering as divine retribution because such an act would be unworthy of a merciful God. From a Christian perspective, God also suffered by being crucified on the cross as Jesus Christ.

And so, as a Roman Catholic scholar, I would argue that God suffers with people in Texas and Florida – as well as with those in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, parts of Africa and Mexico.

In the words of German theologian Jurgen Moltmann,

“God heals the sicknesses and the griefs by making the sicknesses and the griefs his suffering and his grief.”

So, instead of dwelling on God’s wrath, we need to understand God’s kindness and mercy. And that, in times of crises and distress, it is kindness and mercy that require us to reach out to those who need comfort and assistance.

The ConversationThis is an updated version of a piece originally published on Sept. 6, 2017.

Mathew Schmalz, Associate Professor of Religion, College of the Holy Cross

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Angel of Death and the First Passover | Art for Proper 18A

The Angel of Death and the First Passover, was one of four hundred illustrations in Charles Foster’s book, Bible Pictures, and What They Teach Us (1914)

The Angel of Death and the First Passover

The Angel of Death and the First Passover,
engraving, c. 1897, C. Schonhew, 19th century

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

When the time came for the Israelites to leave Egypt and be free from slavery, Moses and Aaron were told about the Passover. God gave them specific instructions with regard to what the people of Israel were to do. A lamb was to be killed, prepared, and then eaten. Blood from the lamb was to be placed on the lintel and door posts of each home. If doors were not marked, the firstborn child and animal of the home would be struck down. C. Schonhew’s engraving depicts the angel of death casting an ominous shadow as it glances at a door to see if it has been marked. Within the home, a Hebrew family is preparing to partake of the Passover meal.

In this engraving, we are attracted first to the activity of an angel patterned after a classical goddess. If she were without wings, had a bow and quiver, and in a wooded area, she could pass easily for the Roman goddess, Diana. To the left, a sphinx seems to be observing the angel as it passes by with sword in hand. The dead figure near its base indicates the person’s doorway was not marked. In addition to the sphinx, references to Egypt are in the background. An obelisk and a wall with marks suggesting hieroglyphics inform us of the culture in which the Passover took place. The tip of a pyramid is beyond the wall.

To the right of the angel is a less active scene. Through an arched opening we see a family gathered solemnly around a table. A tray with a roasted lamb is in the center and the head of the family is leading them in their first Passover meal. They seem to be unaware that the angel of death is passing by their home at the very moment. In order to present separate activities simultaneously, Schonhew divided the engraving into two contrasting areas. On the left, the angel is in motion. There is a sense of urgency about her movements and she is surrounded by dramatic lighting. In contrast, figures on the right are standing still with heads bowed.

The architecture of the interior is in keeping with the exterior but in order to present a direct view of the family, Schonhew departed from two point perspective by aligning the arched wall with the picture plane. This frames the scene and separates it to focus attention on the family. At first glance it may seem we are viewing the interior through a “picture window” but plate glass was not available until the seventeenth century. During the time of Moses, windows would have been simple openings in the wall with no glass.

Note: The Angel of Death and the First Passover, was one of four hundred illustrations in Charles Foster’s book, Bible Pictures, and What They Teach Us (1914). Many of the artists responsible for the work published in Foster’s book were not identified. Schonhew’s name is known only because he signed the above work. Efforts to locate biographical information about Schonhew have not been successful.

Hovak Najarian © 2017

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David Playing the Harp before Saul, 1530, Engraving, Lucas van Leyden (1494-1533). In a note attached to this post, Hovak describes the process of engraving.

A Labor Day Prayer

A prayer for guidance in the work we do. Promoting the common good.

Labor Day 00

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Gospel Commentary in Latin found after 1500 years …

The earliest Latin commentary on the Gospels, lost for more than 1,500 years, has been rediscovered and made available in English for the first time. The extraordinary find, a work written by a bishop in northern Italy, Fortunatianus of Aquileia, dates back to the middle of the fourth century.

Saint Jerome at work

This article was originally posted by Hugh Houghton on The Conversation, August 23, 2017.

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The earliest Latin commentary on the Gospels, lost for more than 1,500 years, has been rediscovered and made available in English for the first time. The extraordinary find, a work written by a bishop in northern Italy, Fortunatianus of Aquileia, dates back to the middle of the fourth century.

The biblical text of the manuscript is of particular significance, as it predates the standard Latin version known as the Vulgate and provides new evidence about the earliest form of the Gospels in Latin.

Despite references to this commentary in other ancient works, no copy was known to survive until Dr Lukas Dorfbauer, a researcher from the University of Salzburg, identified Fortunatianus’ text in an anonymous manuscript copied around the year 800 and held in Cologne Cathedral Library. The manuscripts of Cologne Cathedral Library were made available online in 2002.

Scholars had previously been interested in this ninth-century manuscript as the sole witness to a short letter which claimed to be from the Jewish high priest Annas to the Roman philosopher Seneca. They had dismissed the 100-page anonymous Gospel commentary as one of numerous similar works composed in the court of Charlemagne. But when he visited the library in 2012, Dorfbauer, a specialist in such writings, could see that the commentary was much older than the manuscript itself.

In fact, it was none other than the earliest Latin commentary on the Gospels.

Pearls of wisdom

In his De Viris Illustribus (Lives of Famous Men), written at the end of the fourth century, Saint Jerome, who was also responsible for the revision of the Gospels and the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures known as the Vulgate, included an entry for Fortunatianus – who had been bishop of the northern Italian diocese of Aquileia some 50 years earlier. This prominent cleric had written a Gospel commentary including a series of chapter titles, which Jerome described as “a pearl without price” and had consulted when writing his own commentary on the Gospel of Matthew.

Later Christian authors, such as Rabanus Maurus and Claudius of Turin, searched for it in vain. As with so many works from antiquity, it seemed to have been lost, the remaining copies destroyed in a Vandal raid or eaten by mice in a dusty library.

Among the features which attracted Dorfbauer’s attention was a long list of 160 chapter titles detailing the contents of the commentary, which corresponded to Jerome’s description of Fortunatianus’ work. In addition, the biblical text of the Cologne manuscript did not match the standard version of the Gospels produced by Jerome, but seemed to come from an earlier stage in the history of the Latin bible.

Groundbreaking discovery

This was where the University of Birmingham came in. The university’s Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing (ITSEE) is home to long-term projects working on new editions of the Bible in Greek and Latin. As a specialist in the Latin New Testament, I was able to compare the biblical quotations in the Cologne manuscript with our extensive databases. Parallels with texts circulating in northern Italy in the middle of the 4th century offered a perfect fit with the context of Fortunatianus.

Astonishingly, despite being copied four centuries after the last reference to his Gospel commentary, this manuscript seemed to preserve the original form of Fortunatianus’ groundbreaking work.

Such a discovery is of considerable significance to our understanding of the development of Latin biblical interpretation, which went on to play such an important part in the development of Western thought and literature. In this substantial commentary, Fortunatianus is reliant on even earlier writings which formed the link between Greek and Latin Christianity.

This sheds new light on the way the Gospels were read and understood in the early Church, in particular the reading of the text known as “allegorical exegesis” in which elements in the stories are interpreted as symbols. So, for example, when Jesus climbs into a boat on the Sea of Galilee, Fortunatianus explains that the sea which is sometimes rough and dangerous stands for the world, while the boat corresponds to the Church in which Jesus is present and carries people to safety.

There are also moments of insight into the lives of fourth-century Italian Christians, as when the bishop uses a walnut as an image of the four Gospels or holds up a Roman coin as a symbol of the Trinity.

English translation

In the form of a single (no longer anonymous) manuscript, or even a scholarly edition of the Latin text, it will still be some time before this work becomes as widely known as the famous writings of later Christian teachers such as Ambrose, Augustine and Jerome.

For that reason, I have worked closely with Dr Dorfbauer to prepare an English translation of his full Latin edition of the commentary, the first ever to be produced.

This will enable a much wider audience to take account of this rediscovered work. In fact, this English version may be the form in which most people will encounter Fortunatianus’ commentary – as studying languages is now a much smaller component in theological study and online translation tools are beginning to produce more satisfactory results.

But for the fullest appreciation of this work, it will still be necessary to put alternatives to one side and consult the original – which is how the commentary was rediscovered in the first place.

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About the Author: (Hugh Houghton)  Reader in New Testament Textual Scholarship; Deputy Director, Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing, University of Birmingham.

US Disaster Program of Episcopal Relief and Development

As you consider donating to the relief of those harmed by wind, rain, and flood after Hurricane Harvey, check out the work of our own Episcopal Relief & Development.

Begin quoteEpiscopal Relief & Development’s US Disaster Program connects, equips and inspires leaders of US dioceses in The Episcopal Church to prepare for hazards that might affect their communities, to mitigate the impact of disasters and to help vulnerable people make a full and sustained recovery.

Notice: Donate to the Hurricane Harvey Response Fund

The US Disaster Program works with diocesan and congregational leadership in areas that have been affected by disasters. We partner with diocesan leaders by providing technical resources and connections to others around the country who have faced similar challenges, as well as access to the Ready to Serve volunteer database. …

Read more from ERD: US Disaster Program

15A: Christ and the Canaanite Woman

Art for Proper 15A in the RCL

Christ and the Canaanite Woman by Rembrandt

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Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn, began his career in Amsterdam where a large merchant class appreciated art and had the means to support it.  He gained early success but money management was not a priority with him and during the latter years of his life he struggled financially.  He continued to work steadfastly, however, and produced art of the highest order.

The biblical setting for the drawingChrist and the Canaanite Woman, is in the region of Tyre and Sidon; two ancient cities of Canaan on the Mediterranean Sea.  When Christ was there he was approached by a woman of Syrophoenician origin (far left in the drawing) who begged him to heal her daughter.  It was suggested by the disciples that she be turned away but Christ made it known that his ministry was for everyone and the woman was granted her request.

Read the entire post here: 15A: Christ and the Canaanite Woman – St. Margaret’s News

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