Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Monday, April 23, 2007
Remarkable Parallels and Intriguing Differences: Daniel and Esther
This was an old post I drafted and then lost track of. Perhaps of interest . . . .
For a number of years now, I've been experimenting with different ways of reading through the Bible; different arrangements of the books, different speeds (a chapter or so a day, vs. a whole book at a sitting). Recently I read Esther and Daniel, each in one go, on successive Sundays, and realized how remarkably parallel in theme, episodes, and theology the two works are.
Both deal with Jews exiled in a great empire. The Jew or Jews have been recruited by the command of the emperor (Esther 2, Dan. 1:3ff). As part of that command they undergo a kind of trial (the beauty treatments of Esther 2 and the training and feeding of Daniel 1). In this trial, they have the assistance of the court's eunuchs whose favor they win. Once at the court they face the jealousy of rivals (Haman in Esther 3, the counsellors in Daniel 6), who attack them on basis of being a people who refuse the law of other nations. At crucial moments, when asked to go into the presence of the ruler and risk death, the highest-placed ones asks their supporters to pray for them (Esther 4:15-17; Daniel 2:18), and in the end they pass the test spectacularly, and the rival counsellors are punished by the same punishment they planned for the Jews, together with their wives and children (Esther 7:9-10; Daniel 6:24). A crucial narrative motif in is the idea that the laws of the Medes and Persians cannot be changed (Esther 1:18, Daniel 6:12, 15) -- this prevents the benevolent Median-Persian king from defending Esther/Daniel, so that they must rely on either communal self-defense (Esther) or else God's hand (Daniel).
So those are the remarkable parallels. What are the intriguing differences?
The most obvious is related to the famous absence in Esther of any explicit mention of God. Daniel on the other hand is quite soaked through with references to the "Most High." The second is the complete absence in Esther of either the civil disobedience theme or the rise and fall of empires, which together define the first and second halves of Daniel. No trace of judgment on the Persian monarchy can be found anywhere in Esther. (As noted here, it is important to distinguish the Hebrew Esther here from well-nigh infallible sources such as Herodotus, Three Hundred, and the Greek apocryphal additions to Esther.) In Daniel asceticism is emphasized with the vegetarian diet; in Esther cosmetics occupies that niche -- hardly something compatible with asceticism. In Daniel 2, the prophet actually delivers the astrologers (i.e. the rival servants of the king) from the wrath of the king while Esther replaces Vashti without a backward glance (Esther 1:9-2:17). In Esther, the Jews defend themselves with their own hands, but in Daniel, it is always God who intervernes to defend His chosen one. In every respect Daniel illustrates the highest standards of Christian morals, while Esther seems fleshly and sub-Christian in its vengefulness.
Remember the rule of allegorical interpretation enunciated by Philo, Augustine, and other writers? If a Biblical story seems to have a morally indefensible point, this is a clue that it is to be read as allegory. With that in mind, I wonder if Esther is not in fact an allegory in which Ahasuerus plays the role of God, Vashti of the powerful and arrogant nations, and the Esther of Israel, God's humbled people. God is then there in person of King Ahasuerus -- this would explain why he is not placed under judgment in the story. The beauty treatment then is the church making herself pleasing to God. The repeated use of the term mishta "feast" (twenty times in Esther, vs. twenty-four in the rest of the Hebrew Bible; see here) suggests the fellowship of God and his beloved, culminating in the victorious feast of Purim. Just as Esther shows no concern over Vashti's fate, so God's church must not second guess our King's predestinating judgment in her favor. Ahasuerus's inability to say "no" is God's willingness to hear prayer -- all you need to do is humbly ask. Sometimes it seems like God has forgotten his people and their good deeds just as Ahasuerus has forgotten Mordechai's good loyalty -- but they are written in His book and will be remembered. Purim becomes a type of the triumph of God's people through the church's reliance on the good favor of the King to be bold in resisting the attacks of the world powers who seem for the moment to have God's favor.
In short, I suggest that while Daniel is a realistic story of how individual Christians should act in a world run by nations often in rebellion against Him, Esther is an allegory of the church's collective position among the nations of the world all competing for God's favor, and God's favor to her.
Thursday, April 19, 2007
Wei Xiang's Considerations on War and Monstrous Crimes
"I have heard that military action which is designed to rectify disorder and punish violence is called a campaign of righteousness; such a campaign is the mark of a true king. Action and arises unavoidably when an enemy launches an attack against one's own forces is called a campaign of response; such a campaign will be victorious. An action which arises from petty wrangling and spite, from ire and vexation that can no longer be restrained, is called a campaign of anger, and such a campaign will end in failure. An action which has as its object the exploitation of someone else's land or treasures is called a campaign of greed and it will face defeat. An action in which one party, relying upon the superior size of its territory and boasting of the large number of its people, sets out to overawe its enemy by a show of force is called a campaign of arrogance, and it is doomed to annihilation. These five categories are not merely something contrived by men but have their basis in the Way of Heaven.
"In recent times the Huns have consistently manifested a spirit of good will, immediately returning to China any subjects the Han who happened to fall into their hands and refraining from violations of the border. Although there has been a scuffle with the garrison troops of Kyoshi, it is scarcely important enough even to merit notice. And yet now I hear that the various generals are planning to call out troops and move into Hun territory. Ignorant as I am, I am at a loss to know what name to assign to a campaign such as this!
"The border regions these days are beset by poverty and want, father and son sharing their pelts of lamb and dog, eating the seeds of grasses and herbes, ever fearful that there will not be enough to sustain life. It would be hard in such a time to launch a military campaign. They say that war is always followed by a year of dearth -- this is because the anguished and suffering spirits of people bring injury to the harmony of yin and yang. Thus, although the troops that march forth may win victory, there is bound to be sorrow and suffering in its wake, and this suffering, I fear, will bring about unusual occurences such as natural calamities and disasters.
"These days there are many men serving as governors of provinces or prime ministers of vassal kingdoms who are not fitted for their jobs; the customs and folkways have grown frivolous and corrupt, and flood and drought visit us without respite. According to the statistics for the past year, there was a total of two hundred and twenty cases of sons or younger brothers who murdered their fathers or elder brothers, or wives who murdered their husbands. If I may say so, thi is an 'unusual occurence' of far from petty proportions. Yet those who attend Your Majesty fail to worry about this and instead propose to call out trops to repay some trifling grudge against some far-off barbarians. This is perhaps what Confucius 孔子 meant when he said, 'I suspect that the threat to the Jisun 季孫 family lies not in Zhuanyu 顓臾 but within its own screens and walls.'§ I hope that Your Majesty will consult with the marquis of Pingchang 平昌侯, the marquis of Lechang 樂昌侯, the marquis of Ping'en 平恩侯, and other knowledgeable persons in careful deliberation before reaching a final decision."
The emperor heeded his advice and abandoned plans for an expedition against the Hun kingdom.
From the Han shu 漢書 of Ban Gu 班固, chapter 74. Translation (with a few modifications) from Burton Watson, from his Courtier and Commoner in Ancient China: Selections from the History of the Former Han Dynasty by Pan Ku, pp. 178-180.
*In Chinese, Xiongnu. Recent research by Etienne de la Vaissiere has demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt that in name at least the Xiongnu are the equivalent of the later Huns of India, Eastern Europe, and Hungary. See his "Huns et Xiongnu," Central Asiatic Journal 49 (2005), 3-26.
**Roughly the area of modern Turpan/Turfan in Xinjiang, then as now, ruled by China, but mostly not Chinese ethnically.
†Emperor Xuan of the Han, who had barely escaped death in his great-grandfather Emperor Wu's purges, began his life as a commoner, and become along with Emperor Wen the best emperor of the Han dynasty.
‡Then prime Minister of the realm.
§Analects xvi:1. The Jisun, a very powerful ministerial family of the ancient duchy of Lu was preparing to attack the tiny state of Zhuanyu, which it claimed was a threat to its power. (Note the text I've cited uses the older transcription system.)
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
The Apocrypha and Evangelism
A while after I wrote this about the Apocrypha and the Old Testament canon question, Bill Tighe sent me two articles by Albert C. Sundberg, which retailed in much more accessible form the ideas described in the festschrift paper I referred to there.*
The basic thrust of his argument, as I've said, is that the Christian Old Testament was not inherited directly from the Jews, but was rather shaped in the second and third centuries AD. The Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel-Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the minor prophets) were already canonical by the time of Jesus and the Apostles, but deciding which of vague body of Writings (Hagiographa) were canonical and which were not took place independently in the Christian and Jewish communities. Thus both Jerome's doubts over the deuterocanonical works (i.e. those accepted by Catholics and Orthodox, but not by Protestants or Jews) and the Protestant decision to adopt the Jewish canon and reject the deutercanonical/apocryphal works were groundless, he argues. The early Christian community included the deuterocanonical books and all Christians should accept that community decision.
These two articles, however, bring out two important points to his argument.
1) A historical point: Jewish influence was already at work in defining the Catholic and Orthodox Bible. As he demonstrates, those Church Fathers who were familiar with the smaller Jewish canon (St. Melito of Sardis, Origen, St. Jerome) generally wished to adopt it (see no. 2, pp. 148-49). Moreover, the apocrypha (i.e. those works like Enoch, the Assumption of Moses, etc., which are rejected by all Jews and Christians today) were eventually rejected by the Christian church precisely because no Hebrew originals of them circulated among the Jews.** With the deuterocanonical works on the other hand, Hebrew copies were still in use among the Jews, even if they were technically no longer canonical. In other words, the Church Fathers rejected Enoch and the Assumption of Moses on exactly the same -- factually mistaken -- grounds that Reformers rejected Sirach and 1 Maccabees. All four had been accepted by Jews (Nazarene and non) of the first century; the first two were rejected by the Church Fathers because the Jews of the third to fifth centuries no longer read them, and the second two were rejected by the Reformers because the Jews of the sixteenth century no longer read them (see esp. no. 2, pp. 151-52). Both were based on a misunderstanding, but Sundberg believes the decisions of the fathers should stand and that of the Reformers should not.
Let us draw out the implication: the Church Fathers are treated as formers of the normative community heritage in a way that the Reformers are not. But for those in the historical community formed by the Reformation it's contradictory to reject that community decision in the name of an earlier community decision. In other words, to use this argument consistently, one has to have already stepped out of the community of the Reformation (whether Evangelical or Reformed) and into the community of the non-Reformation.
2. And this brings up his theological point. The above history, he argues means that "No viable history of canon, whether of Apocrypha or OT or NT, can be written on the doctrine that Scripture is its own attester. The process of canonization is a community process. This is equally true in Judaism and in Christianity" (no. 1, p. 201). Thus he declares whatever he says about the deuterocanonical works "is in no sense to slight the validity of the so-called Jamnia canon for Judaism; it is only to observe that Judaism and Christianity came to a historical parting of the ways prior to the post-70 activity leading to the closing of the canon about the end of the first Christian century" (ibid.). Thus as he points out, his conclusions challenge Tridentine Catholic views of inspiration as much as those of Reformation Protestantism (no. 2, pp. 143-146, 153-54). Both agreed that placing works outside the canon was equivalent to declaring them uninspired; they just differed on where to draw the line. But he disagrees with this whole way of thinking. Indeed, without explicitly saying so, he seems to have no real use for the concept of inspiration at all. Jewish and Christian communities decided which works to live by and both were equally valid decisions. Scripture depends on community, not on the nature of the works in question.
And here we find the problem with the idea of defining the Christian Bible's Old Testament as something canonized by us Christians (a view apparently gaining traction in Augsburg Evangelical quarters; see here). If the Bible -- Old and New -- is the church's Bible, then the Christian Old Testament has the same relation to the Hebrew Bible that the Qur'an does to the Christian and Jewish bibles. It draws on it extensively, yes, but it is both formally and materially different. That the Christian Old Testament points to Christ becomes no longer a demonstration of the truth of Christianity; instead it's just a tautology. By definition, an Old Testament formed and created by an community dedicated to proclaiming the Risen Christ proclaims the Risen Christ. The Jew can accept that with a smile, since the converse is also true: a Hebrew Bible formed and created by a community that rejects the Messianic claims of Jesus of Nazareth necessarily rejects the claims of Jesus of Nazareth. We have our Nazarene Old Testament, they have their anti-Nazarene Hebrew Bible and that's the end of it. Let each follow his or her community guidelines.
Thus next to Sundberg's explicit conclusion -- Christian churches should unite on the patristic consensus -- we find an implicit one: they should stop trying to convert Jews, since Judaism is just as valid a community as the Christian church.
Of course, the reality is, it is the would-be Christianity of Sundberg's which has "broken away from its historical heritage," not the Reformation. Because, of course, if one knows anything about patristic Christianity at all, one knows that it was permeated by the conviction that their Jewish scriptures testify to our Jesus. Since I'm reading Gregory of Tours, let me just cite his dialogue with the Jewish community leader Priscus:
At this [argument from Priscus] the King [Chilperic] was silent, so I took up the debate in my turn. 'The fact that God, the Son of God, was made man,' I said, 'resulted from our own necessity, not His. For had He not been made flesh, He could not have redeemed man from the captivity of sin, or from the servitude to the Devil. Just as we read that of old David slew Goliath, so will I pierce you with your own sword, producing my proof not from the Gospels, nor from an apostle, neither of which you believe, but from your own scriptures . . . (History, VI.5)
And where did the bishop Gregory get this idea that the Old Testament was somehow property of the Jews? From Paul of course in Romans 3 and 9:
What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.
. . . Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises.
Anyone who knows patristic Christian debates with the Jews, from Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho onward (search the text for "your scriptures" and you'll see), knows that no other view of the Old Testament is ever found there. Their scriptures prove our beliefs: rightly or wrongly this is the pre-nineteenth century Christian view of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible.
And this is why all patristic authors who knew the Hebrew canon were nervous about not following it. Because they wished to avoid doing things like Gregory of Tours, who says he's going to prove Christianity from the Jews' own Bible and then cites Baruch, a book not recognized by the Jews. (Perhaps that is why Priscus did not convert.)
Sundberg is adopting here the community standard of truth, a mainline cousin of the John Henry Newman hermeneutic that it is not scripture that is self-attesting, but the church. This strategy brilliantly neutralizes any possible challenge of higher criticism ("the church has decided this is scripture and even if her premises were wrong her word -- enunciated by constituted authority -- is law for her children"). In its Newmanian form it also works powerfully to turn doubt-striken Protestants into Catholics.
But it is fatal for Jewish evangelism. Richard Neuhaus's bemused condescension toward the kind of proof-texting polemics engaged in by Justin Martyr and Gregory of Tours, among many, many others is its natural result:
Only some Messianic Christians and Jews such as Klinghoffer think that the truth of Christianity stands or falls on whether, without knowing about Jesus in advance, one can begin with Genesis 1 and read through all the prophecies of Hebrew Scripture and then match them up with Jesus to determine whether he is or is not the Messiah. . . . Christian thinkers, including Paul, viewed Christ and the Church as the fulfillment of the promise to Israel not because they were engaged in tit-for-tat exegetical disputes with Jews over what Klinghoffer recognizes are often ambiguous and enigmatic Old Testament prophecies.
And is it fatal for evangelism in general? Because every Christian community that has adopted this "only the church authenticates the Bible" viewpoint seems to end up focusing on proselytizing other Christians much more than evangelizing non-Christians. Somehow the idea that "God has given mankind a book like no other; read it and see!" actually seems to work with atheists and Buddhists and pagans in a way that "God has given mankind a community like no other; join it and see!" doesn't. (Of course as Gregory of Tours attests, "God has given His chosen holy men power like no other; experience it and see!" seems to work best of all.)
*No. 1: "A Symposium on the Canon of Scripture," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 28 (1966), 189-207
No. 2: "The 'Old Testament': A Christian Canon," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 30 (1968), 143-155.
** It's also true (see no. 1, p. 198) that the claim (embraced in Tridentine Catholic polemics) that the Greek Septuagint (see the picture) defined a pre-New Testament canon, likewise on the basis of inspiration, likewise fails, because all Septuagints that contain the Catholic-Orthodox canon were demonstrably copied by Christians.
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
Strangely Appropriate Result
You’re St. Melito of Sardis!
You have a great love of history and liturgy. You’re attached to the traditions of the ancients, yet you recognize that the old world — great as it was — is passing away. You are loyal to the customs of your family, though you do not hesitate to call family members to account for their sins.
This is the first quiz result which 1) resulted in a completely unexpected answer of someone whom I'd barely heard of before; and 2) actually seems to tell me something about myself. I'll have to look into this.
Journalism Professor: We Should Use More Trucks, Less Freight Trains -- In the Name of Energy Efficiency
Well, that's not actually what Steve Hallock, assistant professor of journalism at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, actually said in an NY Times op ed piece. What he said was, that passenger trains should be given more clear priority -- backed up by more regulation of the rail lines -- in the use of American rail lines. (As the husband of a wonderful woman who doesn't like flying or driving, I share his frustration.) But as we know from the post and links here, passenger use and freight use of rail lines seem to be reciprocal: more of one, less of the other.
If adopted, would this actually save energy? Flying people across the country certainly seems inefficient, energy wise, compared to diesel trains -- but then again individual trucks hauling coal along the highways at 60 mph seems inefficient compared to a half-mile long string of lignite chugging along the tracks at 30 mph.
Prediction: trucking industry lobbyists will jump at the chance to be greener than thou.
(Photo: Mayhem Photoblog)
Monday, April 02, 2007
Gregory of Tours: Historian with the Pentecostal Problem
I have begun reading Gregory, Bishop of Tours (AD 536-594), known generally for his History of the Franks. Fortunately, however, I am also reading Walter Goffart's Narrators of Barbarian History (ah, now you see the connection to the Mongol empire), which puts the work much more effectively in context than the translation's introduction. Goffart points out that as it left Gregory's pen, the work was titled simply "The Histories" and was not particularly focused on the Franks. Nor was his intended audience Franks, but rather the Gallo-Romans of what is now central and southern France. I'll probably blog a few parts of it later, but I'd like to blog some of Goffart's introductory comments, where he uses Gregory's other works to define his position and aims as an author and Christian.
Its [i.e. Gregory's "The Course of the Stars"] wider interest stems from Gregory's disproportionately long introductory paragraphs about the Seven Wonders of the World, commentaries that enjoyed a small medieval circulation apart from the treatise they head. Here . . . Gregory is concerned with miracula "wonders," as distinct from more individualized virtutes, "miracles," worked by God through saints and their relics. Gregory sets out a straightforward argument: philosophers, in their learned leisure, have singled out seven miracula "as more marvellous than others"; they include Noah's Ark and Solomon's Temple as well as classical splendors, such as the Colossus of Rhodes, the Theater at Heraclea, and the Pharos [lighthouse] of Alexandria; these wonders, even if some were built pursuant to God's command, were "none the less established by men" and therefore have perished or are subject to destruction; there are other wonders, however, that come directly from God, "which in no age grow old, by no accident fall, by no loss are diminished, except when the Maker shall have ordained that the universe be destroyed"; these are
the annual fruitfulness,
the springs of Grenoble,
the sun, and
the moon and stars.
. . . Before detailing the reckoning of time from the stars, he wished to remind readers emphatically that stellar motion, like the tides and courses of the sun proceeds from God and is not an inevitable operation of nature (pp. 131-32).
Regardless of the distinctions pre-Christian sages might make, [in Gregory's view] ostensibly ordinary and regular operations of nature did not differ from sudden, arbitrary acts of divine power; a continuum existed between expected and unexpected aspects of God's providential rule; and these facts dissolved human pretensions to wisdom and proved them vain. Opennness to wonders was the true and only science offering men liberation from the death-bringing life they endured.
In this perspective one should not expect the eight books of Miracula to be a record of amazing happenings . . . To grade wonders by degree of supernaturalness hardly concerned Gregory; his object, rather, was to multiply them; "no [ecclesiastical author] has related more miracles than Gregory of Tours." One basis for disbelief had always been that miracles were a thing of the past, richly documented in the Gospels but vanished from the world of everyday experience. The whole thrust of Gregory's Wonders is to illustrate the ordinariness of the miraculous, available today, near at hand, in the most commonplace objects. Far from wishing to stake out a monopoly for [the miracles done by the relics of] his own St. Martin of tours, his narrative celebrate a host of saints, great and small, ancient and modern, and portray the dissemination through every part of Gaul of their holy graves and powerful, wonder-working relics. Gregory himself, who laid no claims to special merit, details personal experiences of the miraculous at every stage of his life and thrusts himself forward as a leading witness to divine generosity. Unlike the miser's hoarded treasure, the riches of heaven were profusely poured out upon humanity, only to be reached for in order to be grasped. Both the Martyrs and the Confessor close with tales of avarice, the message of each book underscored by its contrary (pp. 134-35).
Gregory's determination to multiply the holy is nowhere more apparent than in his positive and uncritical approach to authentication. In the famous foruth-century Life of St. Martin by Suplicius Severus, the first miracle that the saint performs after becoming bishop of Tourse involves the discrediting of a false cult; the people venerated a tomb, thinking its occupant to be a martyr, but Martin summoned up the dead man's spirit and made him confess that he was only an executed robber. Much as Gregory loved the patron of his see, this example went unheeded in his Wonders. . . . St. Martin himself, in his only personal appearances in Gregory's Confessors, calls forth a bishop and religious lady from their graves, lending his prestige to the certification of their holiness and animating their cult. The episcopal authority Gregory wielded, far from being exercised to restrain popular devotion, stoked the delicate flames of belief by increasing the objects of reverence (p. 135).
. . . He may have known that popular piety discriminated among holy objects, just as it preferred martyrs with passion narratives to those without; but Gregory gave no encouragement to such fastidiousness. Where relics were concerned, anything would do: a little dust, a shred of bark, oil from a lamp, wax from a candle, a bit of rope (p. 135) . . . . Early chapters of the Confessors successively celebrate miracles by a stone on which St. Martin sat, a tree that he moved, a chapel at which he prayed, oil from a lamp at his tomb, a grape from a vine that he planted, and a modern apparition of his close to Langes. . . . . (p. 136).
Gregory's lack of discrimination vis-a-vis miracles and relics is consistent with his view that the tides and heavenly bodies were directly and continually actuated by God, not just set in motion at the Creation. Properly, that is, uncritically understood, sudden miraculous events were hardly less frequent or common than the predictable happenings that philosophers called natural phenomena. The ubiquity of miracles is not an idea incidentally reflected in the Wonders. It is the work's central teaching, an unstated lesson conveyed by sheer repetition (p. 136).
As Goffart points out, the usual interpretation is to see this as the result of the age's credulity. Gregory was an able man, but the superstition and credulity of the age infected him as it had everyone else. But Goffart shows that this is not plausible. Gregory's works were directed at an audience which was actually full of skepticism and shrewd common sense, who found it hard to believe or benefit from (as he admits is true for himself as well) from the words of Scripture. Words on a page don't convince, because nobody believes what's written in books. Only what appears before your very eyes, right now, can be believed. And that desire certainty only miracles, especially posthumous miracles, performed by a relic, can give.
As reflected in Gregory's works, his contemporaries in all walks of life credulous and uncritical, but they were also guided by practical common sense. They knew that, as a rule, nothing untoward occurred when one committed perjury, seized church property, oppressed the poor, worked on Sundays, or otherwise offended against divine precepts. To them, as to us, the absence of a thunderbolt from heaven, smiting the offender, was as predictable as tomorrow's sunrise. That comfortable certainty was precisely what Gregory sought to counteract. In opposition to the view of a predictably indifferent nature, operating as it was bound to do, he did not conjure up a contrary philosophy. Their basis was philosophy; his was history -- the evidence, preferably of an eyewitness, recording the multitudinous factual moments when, in defiance of human wisdom and alleged natural necessity, the unexpected occurred (p. 137).
It comes as a surprise to anyone reared on the idea that Merovingian Gaul [i.e. AD 500-750] marks a low point in humane letter that Gregory should still have considered it timely to place himself at the service of Christianity in its combat with the allurements of classical culture. Yet the first preface of the Wonders -- that to the Martyrs -- invokes the locus classicus of Jerome's repudiation of Cicero, amplified in Gregory's rendition into "the clever arguments of Cicero and the false tales of Virgil" (p. 137).
The pastorate he undertook to exercise through his writings could hardly have been directed elsewhere than among the educated, Roman-descended, and hereditarily Christian elements of the Frankish kingdom. The palpable events they were being invited to contemplate were mainly those occurring in their own neighborhood. Addressed to such ears, the [cautionary] tale of Jerome's attachment to classical letters was not wholly anachronistic. Neither were Gregory's efforts to combat "philosophy" (p. 138).
Gregory's miracle stories have three characteristics: 1) they are in his lifetime; 2) they are simply presented one after another; and 3) they make no attempt to hold up the saints as models of conduct. Why?
His reason for appealing to the span of living memory is set ou in the preface to the first book about St. Martin: "The miracles that the Lord our God [performed through] St. Martin in the flesh He now deigns to confirm daily to strengthen the belief of the faithful . . . . Therefore let no one doubt past miracles when he beholds the gift of present signs given forth, since he sees the lame made straight, the blind given sight, etc." (p. 139). . . . The Incarnation was an academic notion if located in the days of Caesar Augustus; it was credible if the miracle of the Word taking flesh occurred repeatedly in the present (pp. 139-40).
Even when connections are obvious, as in the five chapters of Martyrs featuring Arian heretics, Gregory simply runs on from one episode to the next. He plainly asserts that sheer quantity will have greater impact than any verbal at persuasion, such as a thread of argument woven through a more compact whole; as he puts it, the eloquence he lacks will be compensated for by "the very accumulation of numerous miracles" (p. 140).
The lesson of recent miracles was one of deeds, not words. For words in books were futile, incapable of convincing or of occasioning changes in conduct. Gregory claims to have personally experienced their impotence. Tutored by the priest Avitus at Clermont, he had bent over the Scriptures, but "they did not bring me to discernment . . . because I am unable to heed them." If words could move, and not just entertain, men would be living by the Gospel, as they manifestly were not (p. 140) . . . . The verbal recreation of forgotten examples of conduct was a pointless exercise among men possessing rich stores of skepticism (p. 141).
"Therefore because those things which St. Illidius carried out [while alive] before this time [=the present] have, we believe, been forgotten and not come to our knowledge, we shall set out those [miracles done by his relics] which we have experienced by the witness of our own eyes or have learned were perceived by faithful men." Gregory's time frame was very narrow. The past beyond the observer's memory was as good as lost . . . but within what was left, there were were . . . affirmation of divine power that were apprehensible to the sense. And such facts were anything but rare (p. 142).
Goffart points out how both Gregory of Tours and his more or less contemporary Pope Gregory the Great were dealing with the legacy of attacks on the smooth language of the pagan philosophers. Gregory the Great used the analogy of the cave like Plato, but unlike Plato, it was not philosophy that brought to mind the truths beyond the sense but willingness to belief some concrete message.
For both Gregories, however, there remained the grave pastoral problem of how to penetrate the skepticism and doubt of their congregations, of how to overcome the understandable reluctance of men to grasp anything except visible experience. It was very well for divine revelation to be the source of truth, but how else was that revelation to be communicated if not through books? The point of departure for Pope Gregory's allegory [of the cave] is that the Scriptures and Christian letters are unconvincing. Men hear what they say about heaven, but the readings remain mere talk, at best conveying what others, but not the listeners, have experienced (p. 144).
. . . . The foundation of humanistic culture had been the faith [Plato] pioneered in the potential of language -- the inherent power of properly constructed verbal sequences to compel assent. Together with many other Christians, Gregory of Tours celebrated the Lord's "destruction of the vanity of worldly wisdom"; but, where the persuasive force of language was concerned the destruction cut both ways . . . In a baptized world, discourse no longer persuaded as it once had. For the language in which Christian truth was clothed was indistinguishable from, and no more credible than, the language in which philosophical "vanities" were expressed. By undermining the instrument it shared with pagan culture, Christianity had, in its triumph, created a population of skeptics. Few witnesses are more forthright than the two Gregories in testifying to the vanished force of properly constructed verbal sequences. Only experience, not words, commanded credence (pp. 144-45).
[Gregory] would set before them the wonders of today. God's free, inexplicable, and unexpected intrusions into daily life, served up "hot off the fire," were Bishop Gregory's challenge to the skepticism of his audience; and history, conceived in the Wonders as an aggregate of such episodes, was the form he gave to his militant anti-intellectualism. . . . Because words on a page were futile, he would turn his back on style and assign persuasiveness to facts (p. 145).
This is the Pentecostal problem -- how to make people who routinely discount all book learning believe a book, even if it is God's book. And this is the Pentecostal solution: make experience of God's miraculous power a daily affair.