This Pentecost, it is worthwhile remembering one of the chief servants of the church who defended and helped establish the biblical teaching of the Holy Spirit.
Originally posted on the pocket scroll:
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I have read this treatise twice, once in the older, Anglo-Catholic Victorian translation, and once (most recently) in this translation. This book is the classic exposition of why we can call the Holy Spirit ‘God’. St Basil begins with a liturgical complaint, which he deals with using all of his grammatical skills, then moves along to demonstrate through the Scriptures using logic as well as the life of the Church, why it is that we can call the Holy Spirit ‘God’ alongside God the Father and God the Son.
In today’s milieu, unless you’re a Oneness Pentecostal or a Mormon or a Jehovah’s Witness or a Christadelphian, the divinity of the Holy Spirit is practically a non-issue. And, in the decades since the Charismatic Renewal came upon mainline Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, the logic parsing and…
View original 172 more words
As many of you may already be aware, U.S. President Barack Obama spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast this past Thursday, a tradition of U.S. presidents going back to President Eisenhower in the 1950’s. The Prayer Breakfast itself is a rather interesting subject on its own, since it seems to be a sort of pan-Christian, and perhaps even pan-religious group, with the Dali Lama receiving invites along with social gospel liberal evangelicals like Jim Wallis. In other words, it is a rather large tent with a variety of different Christian and even non-Christian groups represented. This means that to expect orthodox Christianity from it is a bit of a stretch. While it is true that historically Christians (especially evangelicals) have been the most prominent backers and speakers, there has always been a sort of pseudo-civic religion aspect to the entire experience. This also implies that in an era in which we worship pluralism (everyone is basically the same, which goes for religions also), and “tolerance” is the buzz-word of popular culture, orthodox Christians in the U.S. should not exactly be shocked when things are said and spoken there that either make little sense or are typical of the age in which we live.
Enter President Barack Obama, who professes a form of Christianity, was raised in an Islamic madrassa for a time in Indonesia, and seems to be aligned with the typical academic “elite” view of social gospel Christianity that is professed in Ivy League divinity schools and the like. When you create the environment above with President Obama and mix them together, you get statements like this:
“Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ…” Barack Obama, National Prayer Breakfast, 2015
Now this statement followed a listing of a litany of crimes committed by Islamic hardline groups such as ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda and the like. Because of this context, it seems (however rightly or wrongly) that Obama is comparing ISIS and Boko Haram to the medieval crusaders as some sort of “corruptive” equivalence. Not surprisingly, the response from the blogopshere and talk radio was swift. Some of this response was of course a bit over the top and full of “red meat” for certain constitutes. This “shock” really shouldn’t be much of one, since this sort of thinking has been dominant in post-Enlightenment and anti-Christian circles (and even some Christian ones) since 18th century France and in Protestant polemics against Rome. And this is key, as Obama’s comment’s here seem to simply come out of the typical historical and sociological ignorance that is reflected in popular culture:
Part of the problem here is that the president knows little, perhaps nothing, about the Crusades or the Inquisition. He is not alone in that, of course. Medieval historians have long lamented the gulf between fact and popular perceptions when it comes to these events. The Crusades were not brutal wars of colonial oppression or zealous attempts to spread Christianity by the sword. The First Crusade was called in 1095 by Pope Urban II in response to desperate appeals from the Christians of the Middle East, who had lately been conquered and continued to be persecuted by the Turks. And these were only the latest in more than four centuries of attacks on Christian peoples by Muslim powers. At some point Christianity as a faith and as a culture had to defend itself or else be subsumed by Islam. The work of the Crusader, who put his life at risk and underwent enormous expense, was to save Christian people and restore Christian lands. This was no perversion of Christianity. Christ had commanded his followers to be like the Good Samaritan, hurrying to bind up the wounds of their brother who had been robbed and beaten. This was the same Christ who said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” That is how Crusaders honestly saw themselves following their Christian faith.
– Dr. Thomas F. Madden, St. Louis University, Medieval History department
ABC News quotes a different Crusades historian in addition to Madden:
(Thomas) Asbridge said he doesn’t have a problem with the president reminding the world that the Christian Church “advocated violence, and at times even encouraged its adherents to engage in warfare” but to suggest a causal link between ISIS and the distant medieval phenomenon of the Crusades is “grounded in the manipulation and misrepresentation of historical evidence.”
Of course we could add quotes about the Crusades in general from other historians and sociologists of religion, many of whom have been quoted on this site (See here and here). The point here is that in spite of the good work done by many, the Crusades still remain as one of the most woefully misunderstood events in the history of the world (the Inquisition a close second). When the presumed leader of the western world, while dealing with an almost weekly account of some act done by ISIS or Boko Haram, seems to use historical ignorance to make some sort of relativistic statement about religion, we have work to do.
As this Christmastide begins to end with the last two days of Christmas, listening to the last two parts of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio (if you already haven’t done so) is a great way to finish the season. This being said, here are the last two albums (and some runners-up for your consideration) for days 11 and 12 of Christmastide.
Day 11 (Jan. 4th): Dream Season: The Christmas Harp, Yolanda Kondonassis. This album is a favorite for members of my family (my wife and son), and contains some beautiful music. It does have a rather interesting “vibe” when the percussion accompanist plays along, but overall the quality is quite good, especially considering Kondonassis is one of the world’s great harpists. The harp has always been associated with “heavenly” or “ancient” music, so having an album of such music for the end of Christmastide is more than appropriate. You can purchase the album here, and a couple of the selections are available on YouTube as part of a different collection (same recording however):
Day 12 (Jan. 5th): A Festival of Carols in Brass, Philadelphia Brass Ensemble. To complete our survey of excellent Christmas music, this collection is a bit of a modern classic. This is festive brass to the max, with mostly straightforward arrangements of the vast majority of what most people think are the “normal” carols and hymns of Christmastide. The playing is uniformly of a high quality, and the atmosphere is “festive” in a good way. While free on YouTube, this is a great addition to your physical collection as well.
As always, any feedback on this series is welcome. I hope all of you enjoyed at least a few selections from “Music for Christmastide.” Here are some runners-up as a bonus below:
Joy to the World (Royal Philharmonic/London Symphony)
Classical Christmas (Lumiere String Quartet)
Songs of Angels (Robert Shaw Chorus)
Christmas Carols (Andrew Parrot, Taverner Consort)
A String Quartet Christmas (Arturo Delmoni)
O Come All Ye Faithful (King’s College)
Carols from Trinity (Choir of Trinity College)
The Glorious Sound of Christmas (Ormandy, Philadelphia Orchestra)
(Part 5 of 6 for Music of Christmastide)
As we continue in the New Year, the last few days of Christmastide are upon us. If you are listening to the Bach Christmas Oratorio, now would be a good time to acquaint yourselves with parts 5 and 6 (involving the visit of the Magi).
Day 9 (Jan. 2nd): “Salvation is Created” (and other works) by Pavel Tchesnokov. While originally intended as a communion hymn, this work is very appropriate for Christmastide, and is often done, either by a symphonic band or choir (even men’s choir). Why is this work appropriate? One, it is one of the most beautiful simple choral works one can hear, the text is beautiful, and it is a good introduction to the huge output of Russian Orthodox choral music in the years before communism. In fact, Tchesnokov wrote hundreds of sacred works, but most were suppressed or hidden because of the Soviet authorities. Here is the text and a video:
Salvation is made in the midst of the earth, O God. Alleluia
Day 19 (Jan. 3rd): Christmas Organ Music (performed by Kevin Bowyer). This is a fantastic album with the “king of instruments” playing a variety of familiar Christmas melodies, along with some compositions that might be unfamiliar. A hidden gem is Brahms’ “Es ist ein ros’ Entsprungen” (Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming), in which he looks back towards Bach after a career of late Romantic classicism. The album is relatively cheap and can be found for download here. The entire album is also free on YouTube!
The first 6 days have been filled mostly with actual “thorough-composed” works for Christmastide, such as Cantatas for church, oratorios, and the like. For these next two days, I have selected 2 albums that are more “collections” or “compilations” of carols, done in a tasteful way. Of course, you should still be listening to the Bach Christmas Oratorio throughout the 12 days!
Day 7 (Dec. 31st): Noels & Carols From The Olde World, by Apollo’s Fire. This album is extremely charming, with some great takes on tunes such as “Fum, Fum, Fum,” “I Saw Three Ships,” and many others. This entire album is actually free on YouTube thanks to Apollo’s Fire, one of the great American period instrument ensembles, based in Cleveland. If you don’t know their work, now is as good of time as any, starting with this evocative album.
Day 8 (Jan. 1st): Christmas Star: Carols for the Christmas Season, Rutter and the Cambridge Singers. This album is beautifully done, even if it is a bit of your typical “warm and fuzzy choir” album. Some of the arrangements are quite good, especially the Baroque-ish take on “Joy to the World” in the style of Handel, and “O Come All Ye Faithful” is quite powerful. If you like Christmas carols, and/or the English choral tradition, you can sing along with much of this album, as my wife and I did on an 8 hour car trip one Christmastide. These arrangements are exceedingly popular in the English speaking world, especially at orchestra Christmas concerts (been there done that). The entire album is fairly inexpensive and can purchased here. Below is the aforementioned “Joy to the World” which is probably my favorite arrangement of that hymn/carol.
Special Note (Bonus listening): January 1st is also the Holy Name Day and Circumcision of Jesus in the Church Calendar, and J.S. Bach wrote an outstanding cantata (of course) to celebrate this day: BWV 190, “Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied.” Here is a translation, and enjoy the festive trumpets!
Day 5 (Dec. 29th): “Von Himmel Hoch,” by Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn’s chief claim to fame for Christmas music is the tune for “Hark the Herald,” but this cantata, heavily influenced by Bach, is much more intentional on his part. In fact, the “Hark” tune actually comes from a secular cantata! Most English speaking Christians know “Von Himmel Hoch” as “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come,” and/or, “Welcome to Earth, O Noble Guest,” found in most Lutheran (and some Anglican) hymnals.
“From heaven above to earth I come
To bear good news to every home;
Glad tidings of great joy I bring,
Whereof I now will say and sing…”
Welcome to earth, Thou noble Guest,
Through whom the sinful world is blest!
Thou com’st to share my misery;
What thanks shall I return to Thee?”
Here is the opening chorus:
Here is a link to another disc that contains Mendelssohn’s “Magnificat” (Mary’s song) and other related works in addition to this one.
Day 6 (Dec. 30th): Christmas Oratorio (Oratorio de Noël), Saint-Saëns. Saint-Saëns is an interesting case, in that while he played organ in churches throughout his life (and was considered one of the greatest organists of his day), and wrote pieces such as this, he himself was fashionably agnostic (in the 19th century French academy that is) about faith. Yet early in his career, he composed this beautiful work, with the heritage of church music before him and the liturgical heritage of the Roman church in his ears. The prelude is in the style of Bach-Romanticized (a staunch Lutheran), and the choral music is very much French Catholic. So here we have a composer writing a beautiful work for the Christ-Child fully within the stream of Western music but not believing it? Or perhaps he did and then left the faith? Either way, this music is certainly a worthy addition to your listening during Christmastide.
For part 2 of our series on Music for Christmastide, we will cover December 27th and 28th, or Days 3 and 4 of the 12 Days of Christmas. As was mentioned in part 1, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio can and should be used throughout the 12 days in addition to the individual pieces here. Happy listening!
Day 3(Dec. 27th): Mass for Christmas Day, Praetorius. . This piece is a fascinating look at how Christmas was celebrated in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, with “hold-overs” from the medieval era with some distinctly Lutheran “flavor.” In particular, the recording done by Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort is quite good, and if you have good sound available to you, the acoustics inside the church give a nice “authentic” effect. Listen for some rousing renditions of “In Dulci Jubilo” (Good Christian Men Rejoice) and other familiar tunes. “Rousing” and “festive” while still being reverent.
Day 4 (Dec. 28th): O Magnum Mysterium (and other works), Victoria. If you have yet to make your acquaintance with the glories of Renascence church music, this piece by Victoria serves this purpose better than many others I can think of. Victoria was a pastor/priest in addition to being a brilliant composer, arguably the best in Spain during his time. Watch (or just listen) to this beautiful rendition by The Sixteen, and contemplate this text, translated from Latin:
O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord.
In addition to this Motet, Victoria also composed an entire liturgy, which can be found with more music related to the birth of the Savior on this disc. Listen to the familiar “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” (Glory to God in the Highest) which comes from the Angels at Christmas, but is also sung every time the liturgy is performed in the West (Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Anglican).
Days 5 and 6 to follow…comments on your experiences with these pieces are of course welcome!