Friday, September 30, 2016

Darwin's Revulsion toward Slavery

George Richmond's watercolor
portrait of Darwin, c. 1840. 
I love antique books, and a few months ago I decided to collect a few notable science books from the nineteenth century. Over the next several weeks, I plan to write about them on this blog, teaching myself many new things in the process.

One book that I found was Charles Darwin's first book, A Naturalist's Voyage: Journal of Researches Into the Natural History and Geology of the Countries Visited During the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle Round the World, under the Command of Capt. Fitz Roy, R.A. (London, John Murray, 1839, second revised edition, 1845). The affordable copy that I purchased was an 1889 printing. Looking over the copies for sale at, I learned that 1889 was the first printing with the price 3/6---three pence, six shillings---on the spine, and it was also the last printing to feature Darwin's 1860 postscript of corrections as a separate chapter. From 1890 editions on, those corrections were incorporated into the text.

When I was a kid, I had a notion for a while that I'd like to be a naturalist, which to me generally meant I'd study things to be found outdoors. It would be hard to overestimate the influence of the Evans Public Library in Vandalia, IL, my hometown, in inculcating my interests and favorite subjects---topics dear to me to this day. I got a library card there in 1961, when the place was brand-new and I was four. When I was in grade school, I liked the science books in the children's section including biographies of people like Darwin, Thomas Edison, Marie Curie, and others.

HMS Beagle at Tierra del Fuego
(from Wikipedia)  
Many people know that Charles Darwin' foundational theories were influenced by his voyage on H.M.S. Beagle. When he was 22 in 1831, he had the opportunity to join Captain Robert FitzRoy's survey expedition. (FitzRoy, 1805-1865, is known because of Darwin but he had an eventful life and was a pioneering meteorologist, coining the term "forecast" for daily weather reports.) The trip was supposed to last two years but stretched to five, during which time Darwin explored the lands, read numerous books on board, and kept detailed notes on geology, biology, and anthropology. He also collected specimens of animals, birds, fossils, and stones, back to England for later identification and study. His famous visit to the Galapagos Islands was one of many stops.

His observations led him to question then-prevailing theories about the fixity of species. He wondered instead whether species develop and change over time. But how much time? A book that had been given to him, Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology (1830), advanced the theology of geological uniformitarianism---that the earth is subject to slow changes in ways uniform with current and observable changes---over many millions of years. (I'll write about Lyell soon.) This theory challenged the theory of catastrophism; this theory, which did not require disagreement with biblical chronology, stated that the earth changes in response to catastrophes. Darwin began to think about the progress of life over long periods of time.
On the cover, a horseman
chases an ostrich.

He did not publish his theory right away, however. His Journal was published in 1839, with a revised edition in 1845, and his well-developed theory was not presented until On the Origin of Species (1859), Animals and Plants under Domestication (1868), and The Descent of Man (1871). Even Origin might not have been published when it was but for parallel researches by Alfred Russel Wallace, which caused Darwin to hasten his writing. (I'll also write about Wallace soon.)

I was going to summarize the book, but Darwin visited so many places. Here instead is s a good summary of the book and its contents, with the routes illustrated:

Here is the online text itself:

Near the end of the book is an interesting passage concerning slavery. Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln were both born on February 12, 1809. As everyone knows, Lincoln was repelled by slavery from an early age, and how fascinating to learn that Darwin, too, had experiences as a young man of horror and moral revulsion toward slavery---and like Lincoln he considered it a sin requiring expiation. Darwin surely shared aspects of the colonial world view of the England of his era, and this passage reflects some class sentiments of the time. But he wanted his readers to understand his feelings about slavery:

"On the 19th of August we finally left the shores of Brazil. I thank God, I shall never again visit a slave-country. To this day, if I hear a distant scream, it recalls with painful vividness my feelings, when passing a house near Pernambuco, I heard the most pitiable moans, and could not but suspect that some poor slave was being tortured, yet knew that I was as powerless as a child even to remonstrate. I suspected that these moans were from a tortured slave, for I was told that this was the case in another instance. Near Rio de Janeiro I lived opposite to an old lady, who kept screws to crush the fingers of her female slaves. I have staid in a house where a young household mulatto, daily and hourly, was reviled, beaten, and persecuted enough to break the spirit of the lowest animal. I have seen a little boy, six or seven years old, struck thrice with a horse-whip (before I could interfere) on his naked head, for having handed me a glass of water not quite clean; I saw his father tremble at a mere glance from his master's eye. These latter cruelties were witnessed by me in a Spanish colony, in which it has always been said, that slaves are better treated than by the Portuguese, English, or other European nations. I have seen at Rio Janeiro a powerful negro afraid to ward off a blow directed, as he thought, at his face. I was present when a kind-hearted man was on the point of separating for ever the men, women, and little children of a large number of families who had long lived together. I will not even allude to the many heart-sickening atrocities which I authentically heard of;—nor would I have mentioned the above revolting details, had I not met with several people, so blinded by the constitutional gaiety of the negro, as to speak of slavery as a tolerable evil. Such people have generally visited at the houses of the upper classes, where the domestic slaves are usually well treated; and they have not, like myself, lived amongst the lower classes. Such enquirers will ask slaves about their condition; they forget that the slave must indeed be dull, who does not calculate on the chance of his answer reaching his master's ears.

"It is argued that self-interest will prevent excessive cruelty; as if self-interest protected our domestic animals, which are far less likely than degraded slaves, to stir up the rage of their savage masters. It is an argument long since protested against with noble feeling, and strikingly exemplified, by the ever illustrious Humboldt. It is often attempted to palliate slavery by comparing the state of slaves with our poorer countrymen: if the misery of our poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin; but how this bears on slavery, I cannot see; as well might the use of the thumb-screw be defended in one land, by showing that men in another land suffered from some dreadful disease. Those who look tenderly at the slave-owner, and with a cold heart at the slave, never seem to put themselves into the position of the latter;—what a cheerless prospect, with not even a hope of change! picture to yourself the chance, ever hanging over you, of your wife and your little children—those objects which nature urges even the slave to call his own—being torn from you and sold like beasts to the first bidder! And these deeds are done and palliated by men, who profess to love their neighbours as themselves, who believe in God, and pray that his Will be done on earth! It makes one's blood boil, yet heart tremble, to think that we Englishmen and our American descendants, with their boastful cry of liberty, have been and are so guilty: but it is a consolation to reflect, that we [Englishmen] at least have made a greater sacrifice, than ever made by any nation, to expiate our sin" [via the Slave Trade Act 1807 and the Slavery Abolition Act 1833] (pp. 499-500).

After I posted this, a colleague drew my attention to a U of Chicago Press book, in which the author argues that Darwin's abolitionist passions lay behind his scientific reflections. I'll look for this book soon!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Headache (Poem)

I want to take off my head
and float it in hot but not boiling water
and the reattach it (with just
a quarter-turn) and go about my day
without that pain from my nape
to my temples, that even an amateur,
family massage couldn’t help.

I want to take off my head
and kneed it on a table, not out of shape
but to work those muscles below the scalp,
and I’ll feel so much better for my work
and not share my sourness with others,
because a headache spreads.

I want to remove my head and return it
for more handsome, smarter,
but close enough to the way I am
so that people would see me and say,
You’re looking good! What’s different? 
You must’ve gotten great rest 
when you had that headache.

For All the Saints: Vincent de Paul, Lancelot Andrewes

Because of a hectic week, blues about American politics, and sickness, I missed a couple of important saints this week. St. Vincent de Paul (1581-1660) is well known because of his association with charitable organizations, and he is the namesake of many churches. He founded the Ladies of Charity and the Congregation of Priests of the Mission (Vincentians), and he cofounded (with St. Louise de Marillac) the Daughters of Charity. Vincent had an eventful life, even at one point being kidnapped by pirates and sold as a slave! He escaped after two years in slavery and returned to France, where he was from and where he had already been ordained. He was called to help the poor and spent much of his ministry was directed toward them. He also helped priests be better instructed in their work. His feast day is September 27. This site has more about him.

Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626) is honored on the Episcopal calendar on September 26 and on the Anglican calendar September 25. He was an English bishop, scholar, and preacher who served in the Church of England during the time of Elizabeth I and James I, and he supervised the translation of the King James Bible. He was known as a fine preacher and his sermons were praised for their beauty.

I go through phases where I want to learn a lot about a particular subject. (That's one reason for these posts about saints.). In the 1980s I was inspired by T. S. Eliot's poetry and studied several books. Andrewes' name immediately came to mind in that context, because Eliot quoted lines from one of the bishop's sermons at the beginning of "The Gift of the Magi," and he influenced not only that poem but "Little Gidding" as well. One of Eliot's books of literary criticism was For Lancelot Andrewes: An Essay on Style and Order. Here is a website with more on all this:

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A Year's Music: Ross Edwards' "Maninyas," Howard Blake's "The Leeds"

Late last year, I committed to writing occasional, informal blog posts about favorite music during 2016. I'll continue such posts, Lord willing, beyond this year. But meanwhile, here are two favorite violin pieces that I highly recommend.

Sometimes, while driving, I hear music on the radio I’d like to hear again. Driving U.S. 89 between Ash Fork and Prescott, AZ years ago, I loved a certain piece on the classical station, which the announcer identified.  All I could remember, though, was "Dawndee" and “mountain air”----appropriate, since Bill Williams Mountain stood prominently in the distance.  Somehow I figured out later that the piece was “Symphony on a French Mountain Air” by Vincent D’Indy.

All this to say: a few years ago, something similar happened. As my family and I were returning to St. Louis on I-70 from our daughter’s college in Pennsylvania, I loved an unusual violin piece as we passed across the West Virginia border into Ohio. I glanced at the radio dial and tried to remember the piece’s title until we could stop. The dial of my satellite radio read “Edwards Maninyas.” The composition was so stylistically interesting and---I correctly surmised----evocative of the natural world.

The piece is Ross Edwards' “Maninyas: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra.” ( As explained at the composer’s site (, Edwards developed a musical style by listening to the natural environment around his home north of Sydney.  One aspect of his style is “isolated sound events ... conceived for their spatial and timbral intensity. Rather than hearing a logically ordered sequence of events, the listener becomes aware of the uniqueness of each acoustic experience....The other style is characterised by an abstraction of insect and bird sounds, lively tempi and rhythms, angular pentatonic melodies and simple drone-lke harmonies and is now referred to as the maninya style.” On this recording, violinist Adele Anthony also performs the Sibelius concerto, interesting in a different way!

Here is another recording of the first movement:

As long as I’m recommending violin concertos, I should recommend Howard Blake’s “Violin Concerto ‘The Leeds.’” A few years ago I ordered from my CD club a 5-disc set of English concertos called “My England.” A standout on the set was this 1993 concerto by Blake, whose name I didn’t recognize, but who wrote the music for a VHS tape that my young daughter played and played and played as a kid: “The Snowman.”

If the world was just, this piece would be in the repertoire. Fortunately it's available as a download and once again on CD (with Blake’s piece “A Month in the Country”).  ( The concerto’s first movement, Allegro assai, lasts almost twenty minutes, with the violinist playing an uplifting, birdsong-like melody and its variations almost continually.  The second, Adagio movement is shorter but is so intense and beautiful. The last movement, Allegro con brio, is as uplifting as the others but more playful and joyful. I apologize if I’ve “gushed” a little bit but I do hope that, if you love violin music, you might try these two pieces.

Here are the three movements of the piece:

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Bible Road Trips: Jesus Goes to Solitary Places

an old postcard 
The Bible has many stories of roads and highways. This is an occasional series of meditations based on those scriptures. 

Jesus Goes Off to Pray

This post isn't about a specific road, but a habit of Jesus to go off by himself to private places. In the Gospels, there are several stories of Jesus being alone in prayer (e.g., Mt 14:23, Mk 1:35). Do you have personal get-away places, where you’re thankful to be on the way to that place and then to be there? I had a friend in Flagstaff, AZ who liked to drive up U.S. 89 a bit, where he had a spot to be by himself and for quiet thought and prayer.

In my imagination, Jesus’ private journeys for solitary prayer were locations that he picked and could follow the terrain to get there--personally favorite places. Years ago, my grandmother's pond, on her farm near Brownstown, Illinois, was that kind of place for me. Jesus' followers always figured out where he had gone, though, so it was never completely private for him.

Why did Jesus go away to such places? That is, why did he need to pray? He was God incarnate, after all. It's a common question, that many of us have thought about.

For a long time I’ve drawn comfort from passages in the book of Hebrews, where we read: that he “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Heb. 5:8-9).

Jesus is fully God, but also fully human. He was also a humble person, not someone entitled to having servants, for he himself was a servant. Because he was that kind of everyday person, he had to learn things, including religious faith and obedience. He was also tempted, and he experienced heartbreaking rejection. He knew he could meet a violent end. Yet his life was lead in conformity to God’s purposes. All in all prayer helped keep Jesus growing in wisdom and steadiness in his life and mission.

A book that I enjoy is Housing Heaven's Fire: The Challenge of Holiness by John C. Haughey, SJ (Loyola Press, 2002). We don’t use the word “true” so often as a transitive verb--to make something level and square, or to bring something to the desired accuracy---but Fr. Haughty reclaims that form in discussing Jesus. He writes that the Holy Spirit trued Jesus, that is, crafted him and kept him in “accurate” with God’s purposes.

“The Spirit gently crafted the identity of Jesus and accompanied him as he carried out all that God had intended. Specifically, Jesus needed the gifts of wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and counsel to meet the challenges of having the new creation emerge from the old. The Spirit’s accompaniment of Jesus can be described by saying that the Spirit trued him, deftly bending each aspects of his humanity to do and become that for which he was sent. When his will flagged or recoiled, the gifts of courage, the fear of the Lord, and piety stabilized him or trued him so that he could become the instrument God needed for the salvation of the world. What Jesus needed were great gifts of both intellect and will, which, according to the church, is what the gifts of the Spirit effect in the rest of us” (p. 85).

Fr. Haughey goes on to talk about the power of the Scriptures to true Jesus’ heart and mind, and that is certainly the case with us, too. Fortunately for us---as the Hebrews passage indicates---Jesus is now fully with us and has the power to help us, in our reading and in our quiet places. The same truing Spirit guides, helps, and directs us as well.

During the upcoming week, think about the quiet places where you go to be "trued", and the ways to them.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Taking Darwin on Vacation, 1950

Ten years ago I wrote appreciatively about Charles Darwin in my study book, What about Religion and Science? (Abingdon Press, 2007), available as an e-book from It's too bad anyone still has to defend Darwin, nearly 160 years after he began to publish his observations and theories. His groundbreaking work revolutionized and is foundational for many areas of science; and yet outside the scientific community, his theories remain controversial. For instance, every few years, some school board makes the news by foolishly attempting to include "other theories" into school curriculum.

I love antique books, and a few months ago I decided to collect a few foundational science books of that era. Over the next several weeks, I plan to write about them on this blog. My first purchase was The Origin of Species. I keep it beside my books about Lincoln, with whom Darwin shares a February 12, 1809 birth date.

By surveying books for sale on eBay and, I learned some of the interesting publication history of Origin. The original British publisher of most of Darwin's books was John Murray of London. The first edition of Origin came out in November 1859 and sold out quickly. Copies are worth tens of thousands of dollars today. Through subsequent editions, Darwin made refinements and clarifications to the text until the 6th edition, so all printings from 1876 are based on this edition. He also changed the title slightly, which had been On the Origin of Species, and he dropped the "on." He first used the expression "survival of the fittest," which had been coined by Herbert Spencer, in the fifth edition. His American publisher was D. Appleton of New York, with the first edition of Origin in 1860. Interesting to think of this revolutionary text appearing in the U.S. when Lincoln was running for president.
"shameless commerce" 

Darwin considered books to be key sources of data for Origin: for instance, his two-volume The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication (London, John Murray, 1868). The many facts and demonstrations in that 1000-page text helped support his theory of natural selection. This was also the book where Darwin developed his hypothesis of "pangenesis" that attempted to describe the ways characteristics are inherited among generations. Remember that the science of genetics still lay in the future (Gregor Mendel's experiments and publications were rediscovered and discussed in 1900 and after). Darwin's pangenesis hypothesis was unsustainable but did offer a creative solution for that time.

I also learned that Darwin did not use the word "evolution" until his two-volume work, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (London, John Murray, 1871). Not only that, but Darwin was a distinguished botanist, publishing books on plant movements, insectivorous plants, cross and self pollination, and domesticated plants. Early editions of these works are also treasurable antiquarian texts.

I found on eBay an affordable copy of Origin of Species that attracted me because it came out in 1890, the year of my Fayette County, IL grandmothers' births. An interesting thing about this copy, which intrigued me, is that a previous owner had underlined passages, apparently while reading the book on vacation with family. The book seller, gossamer258751, erased all he could without damaging the pages; those few that remained were in hard to erase red pencil.

I thought it would be fun to share the passages that the previous owner found interesting. Here are a few.

1890 printing
"It may metaphorically be said that natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinising, throughout the world, the slightest variations; rejecting those that are bad, preserving and adding up all that are good; silently and insensibly working, whenever and wherever opportunity offers, the improvement of each organic being in relation to its organic and inorganic conditions of life" (pp. 65-66).

"... I have collected so large a body of facts, and made so many experiments showing, in accordance with the almost universal belief of breeders, that with animals and plants a cross between different varieties, or between individuals of the same variety but of another staring, gives vigor and fertility to the offspring; and on the other hand, that close interbreeding diminishes vigor and fertility; that these facts along incline time to believe that it is a general law of nature that no organic being fertilizes itself for a perpetuity of generations; but that a cross with another individual is occasionally---perhaps at long intervals of time---indispensable" (p. 76).

"The mere lapse of time by itself does nothing, either for or against natural selection. I state this because it has been erroneously asserted that the element of time has been assumed by me to play an all-important part in modifying species, as if all the forms of life were necessarily undergoing change through some innate law. Lapse of time is only so far important, and its importance in this respect is great, that it gives a better chance of beneficial variations arising and of their being selected, accumulated, and fixed" (p. 82).

"These domestic instincts, when thus tested by crossing, resemble natural instincts, which in a like manner become curiously blended together, and for a long period exhibit traces of the instincts of either parent: for example, Le Roy describes a dog, who's great-grandfather was a world, and this dog showed a trace of its wild parentage only in one way, by not coming in a straight line to his master, when called" (p. 210).

"Origin" is still in print, but John
Murray published the book
until 1929. This is a copy
of that last, 1929 printing.
"Salt-water fish can with care be slowly accustomed to live in fresh water; and, according to Valenciennes, there is hardly a single group of which all the members are confined to fresh water, so that a marine species belonging to a fresh-water group might travel far along the shores of the sea, and could, it is probable, become adapted without much difficulty to the fresh waters of a distant land" (p. 344).

"[I]f we make due allowance for our ignorance of the full effects of changes of climate and of the level of the land, which have certainly occurred within the recent period and of other changes which have probably occurred,---if we remember how ignorant we are with respect to the many curious means of occasional transport,---if we bear in mind, and this is a very important consideration, how often a species may have ranged continuously over a wide area, and then have become extinct in the intermediate tracts,---the difficulty is not insuperable in believing that all the individuals of the same species, wherever found, are descended from common parents" (p. 359).

"I see no good reason why the views given in this volume should shock the religious feelings of any one. It is satisfactory, as showing how transient such impressions are, to remember that the greatest discovery ever made by man, namely, the law of the attraction of gravity, was also attacked by Leibnitz [sic], 'as subversive of natural and inferentially of revealed, religion.' A celebrated authority and divine has written to me that 'he has gradually learnt to see that it is just as noble a conception of the Deity to believe that He created a few original forms capable of self-development into other and needful forms, as to believe that He required a fresh act of creation to supply the voids caused by the action of His laws'" (pp. 421-422).

And…. on page 248, a small brown spot is circled in pencil, and in the margin is written, "Celine's Suntan Lotion, Barranquilla, Colombia, 3-21-50."

Here is the text of Origin available online:


Friday, September 23, 2016

Black Lives Resources

Among the many news stories this week about the deaths of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte and Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, I also noticed this link, shared by a faculty colleague on Facebook. On the link are syllabi for Black Lives Matter courses; the professor, Frank Leon Roberts, is a Ford Foundation Fellow at Yale and NYU, and this course is offered at the Gallatin School of NYU. I thought that the reading list and course design looked very helpful for those of us wanting to incorporate more of these resources into our courses, and to learn more and listen better:

Sunday, September 18, 2016

For All the Saints: Hildegard of Bingen

I'm a day late to post something about Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), but I can't overlook a notable woman of the church who, in fact, was recently declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict XVI. She is honored on September 17 in the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican/Episcopal traditions. Here are good descriptions of her and her life and ministry:

The picture is from Wikipedia: "Illumination from the Liber Scivias showing Hildegard receiving a vision and dictating to her scribe and secretary"

Bible Road Trips: Pathways in Creation

Paul Gauguin, "Pere Jean's Path" (1885)
The Bible has many stories of roads and highways. This is an occasional series of meditations based on these scriptures. 

Read Genesis 1:1-2:4

There is a famous Jethro Tull song, "Locomotive Breath," about a man facing imminent death, who picks up a Bible and turns to the first page. If you were a person in a desperate situation, and if you reach for a Bible, where would you start?

We all know what that first page contains: the story of God’s creation of all things. It is soon followed by the stories of Adam and Eve in the garden.

The cadence of the writer of Genesis 1:1-2:4 (called “the priestly writer” by biblical scholars) is familiar but it never gets old. God says… and it was so… and it was good…. evening and morning… If you’re like me, the words take you out of the indoor setting where you’re reading the Bible and sets you in the natural world, perhaps a favorite location where you feel close to God. Perhaps you begin to imagine the greater natural processes: the formation of the planet reflected in great geological formations, the shifting of tectonic plates, and beyond our own world, the planets, stars, constellations.

A wonderful thing about Bible study is that, as you delve into that long text over a period of time, you begin to see connections. For instance, you read Genesis 1, but you remember some of the psalms praise God while extolling the wonders of creation: for instance,e Psalm 8, 19, and 104. So did the prophets (Second Isaiah being a notable example) who saw the strength of God in international relations connected to God’s might in the natural world. When we get to the New Testament, we learn that not only is Jesus our savior but the meaning of creation:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Col. 1:15-17).

Of course, we don’t hear about highways and roads in Genesis 1---and these devotions have been about Bible roads. But I grew up wandering my grandmother's farm, which had paths worn by the cows who grazed her pastures, and so when I read Genesis 1, in my imagination I see the pathways worn by the larger animals of God’s creation. The animals roam, migrate.

The lions roar for their prey
    and seek their food from God.
The sun rises, and they steal away;
    they return and lie down in their dens (Ps. 104:21-22).

And where they roam, they wear down the earth.
Through our history as a species, humans have used animal trails, for we too have migrated and wandered, seeking the things we need. I remember a historic marker along US 150 in Indiana, commemorating the buffalo trail that had one crossed that area from the river to the hills, and early settlers of that area used the trail. But, of course, humans introduce technology as we claim our dominion over creation, and our trails and paths become wide and hard enough to use repeatedly by our vehicles.

What beauty simply to follow a trail, though, unspoiled by human technology. To follow the animals in their way brings peace of mind; how wonderful are my childhood memories of following those paths on Grandma's farm.

But whether you take the pathways of nature or technology, think about page 1 of Genesis as a call for you to keeping journeying and exploring God’s beautiful world. It can be the natural world, or beautiful human-made places. A Facebook friend noted the anniversary of a friend’s suicide and sadly commented, “She never saw California, she never saw Paris!” If you’re struggling with something in your life, make a goal to journey to some new location—even if it’s a local place. Walk the grass and enjoy the trees. Know that God cares for you and guides you and has made all things good.

Friday, September 16, 2016

For All the Saints: Cyprian of Carthage

The third-century bishop and writer Cyprian (c. 200 – 258) is honored today on some church calendars, and yesterday on others--but Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant calendars all honor him.

The Orthodox Saints site has this:

"Holy Hieromartyr Cyprian of Carthage (258)

"He was born to wealthy and noble parents in Carthage (north Africa), and became a prominent lawyer in that city. Around the year 246 he embraced the Christian faith and was baptized by the priest Caecilianus. Immediately he gave all his goods to the poor and retired to a quiet place in the country to devote himself to prayer and study of Christian writings. In 248 or 249 he was elected Bishop of Carthage by the insistence of the people, though some priests opposed the consecration of such a new Christian.

"Soon after his election, the Emperor Decius began a terrible persecution of Christians, during which Cyprian, in hiding, upheld his flock by letters. During this time many Christians gave in to fear of death and either sacrificed to the idols or signed statements that they had done so. When the persecution ended, the problem arose of how to treat the apostates who wished to be received back into the Church. Rigorist groups such as the Novatians and Montanists held that these lapsi had removed themselves from all hope of salvation and could never re-enter the Church. Cyprian rejected this view (as well as the position of some who would immediately reconcile the apostates); he established the position, still standard in the Church, that apostates could be restored after confession and long penance. His position led to a schism in the Church at Carthage when Cyprian's opponents set up Maximus the Montanist as a rival Bishop. The schism was only ended by a plague that swept the Empire and the city of Carthage in 253-254, together with a renewed persecution of Christians. Saint Cyprian's tireless care for the suffering during this time won most of the schismatics back to his side. When peace returned, Cyprian called a series of Councils in Carthage to resolve the conflicts that had troubled the Church. He upheld the African (and Eastern) churches' practice of reconciling heretics to the Church by Baptism rather than by laying on of hands, as was done in Rome; though Cyprian did not seek to impose this practice on other churches, Rome was not so tolerant and broke with the African church until the death of Pope Stephen.

"In 256, yet another persecution broke out under the Emperor Valerian. Cyprian was arrested and brought before the Proconsul of the region. He refused to defend himself, and when told that he was to be executed, said only Deo Gratias!(Thanks be to God!). At his execution the holy bishop ordered that twenty-five gold pieces be given to the executioner, and put on the blindfold with his own hands."

One of Cyprian's famous sayings, from his treatise on the unity of the church, is "He cannot have God as a father who does not have the Church as a mother." It was written in the context of schisms and heresy, but it has always raised issues about the "visible church" and the invisible "body of Christ," the extent to which the first represents the second, and the universality of grace.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Landscape: Renoir

For the past year or so, I've been posting landscape paintings---for no other motive than I enjoy that type of art and hoped to keep track of ones that moved me. I could have started a Tumblog or a Pinterest page or other site for them, but this site is where I post all my other interests, after all.

During the past few months I "collected" some paintings, waited to post them later, and instead they've accumulated as "draft" posts. So today, I'm posting all the ones I've gathered lately.

Here is Pierre-Auguste Renoir's "On the Shore of the Seine" (1879). Others follow below, as September 13th posts.

Landscape: Bierstadt

Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902), "Cows Watering in a Landscape."

Landscape: Harold Newton

Harold Newton, "Eddie's Place' (c. 1960). From:

Copied under fair use principles.

On this artist and group of artists, see:

Landscape: Théodore Rousseau

Théodore Rousseau, "Les Chênes d'Apremont" (1850-1852). From:éodore_Rousseau

Landscape: Richet

Léon Richet (1847-1907), "Les Arbres à Barbizon". From:

Copied under fair use principles.

Landscape: van Goyen

Jan van Goyen (1596–1656), "River Landscape with a Church in the Distance" (1644). From:

Landscapes: Samuel Palmer

Samuel Palmer, "Coming from Evening Church," 1830. (Tate Gallery)

Samuel Palmer, "The Gleaning Field," c. 1833.

Copied under fair use principles.

For All the Saints: John Chrysostom

Church father and Doctor of the Church John Chrysostom (c. 345 – 407) is honored today on the Roman Catholic, Episcopal, and Lutheran calendars, and on November 13th in the Orthodox tradition. The Orthodox Saints site has this:

"He was born in Antioch to pious parents around 345. His mother was widowed at the age of twenty, and devoted herself to rearing her son in piety. He received his literary and oratorical training from the greatest pagan teachers of the day. Though an illustrious and profitable career as a secular orator was open to him, he chose instead to dedicate himself to God. He lived as a monk from 374 to 38, eventually dwelling as a hermit in a cave near Antioch. Here his extreme ascetic practices ruined his health, so that he was forced to return to Antioch, where he was ordained to the priesthood. In Antioch his astonishing gifts of preaching first showed themselves, earning him the epithet Chrysostomos, "Golden-mouth", by which he became universally know. His gifts became so far-famed that he was chosen to succeed St Nectarius as Patriarch of Constantinople. He was taken to Constantinople secretly (some say he was actually kidnapped) to avoid the opposition of the Antiochian people to losing their beloved preacher. He was made Patriarch of Constantinople in 398.
"Archbishop John shone in his sermons as always, often censuring the corrupt morals and luxurious living of the nobility. For this he incurred the anger of the Empress Eudoxia, who had him exiled to Pontus in 403. The people protested by rioting, and the following night an earthquake shook the city, so frightening the Empress that she had Chrysostom called back. The reconciliation was short-lived. Saint John did not at all moderate the intensity of his sermons, and when the Empress had a silver statue of herself erected outside the Great Church in 403, accompanied by much revelry, the Patriarch spoke out against her, earning her unforgiving anger. In 404 he was exiled to Cucusus, near Armenia. When Pope Innocent of Rome interceded on his behalf, the imperial family only exiled him further, to a town called Pityus near the Caucasus. The journey was so difficult and his guards so cruel that the frail Archbishop gave up his soul to God before reaching his final place of exile, in 407. His last words were "Glory be to God for all things."
"Saint John Chrysostom is the author of more written works than any other Church Father: his works include 1,447 recorded sermons, 240 epistles, and complete commentaries on Genesis, the Gospels of Matthew and John, the Acts of the Apostles, and all the Epistles of St Paul.... " 

Here is more information from what was previously the American site:

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Bible Road Trips: The Lord is Your Keeper

The Bible has many stories of roads and highways. This is an occasional series of meditations based on these scriptures. 

Read Psalm 121:1-8

I like the idea of going on a religious pilgrimage. Some of my friends have. I suppose getting in the car and driving to church is a kind of pilgrimage, but it doesn’t have the same mystique, somehow, as traveling with a group on a common journey to an unusual place.

Within the book of Psalms, the songs numbered 120 through 132 are likely songs for pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem for the Jewish festivals. They are the “psalms of ascent” because Jerusalem is a high elevation in the land. Call them “songs for going uphill.”

But “uphill” seems like a metaphor for other times. Recall the myth of Sisyphus, who daily rolled a stone up a mountain only to have it roll back down. That may be a a fair description of your own life!

Among these psalms (among all of the psalms, in fact), I particularly love 121. To me, this little psalm is the Bible in a nutshell. It begins with human question: I’m on a journey, and I need help; who will help me? The answer: the God who made heaven and earth. You can’t get a better answer than that! The creator and master of all spiritual and physical reality is concerned for and available to help an everyday person who reaches out to God in need and faith. Furthermore (verse 4), this is the God who has always been the Lord of Israel, known throughout biblical history as a God who, though sometimes seemingly absent and silent, does respond and rescues us with love and power.

God keeps us. The word “keep” can mean possession, or protection, or faithfulness (as “to keep a promise”). God has claimed us in a loving way, and God protects us as we go through life’s difficulties, even the most awful. God is a “place” of rest and shelter, a cool place to go when the course of our lives becomes uncomfortable and exhausting.

God keeps our very lives. Even when it seems that evil is stronger, God keeps us from the ultimate powers of evil; our lives continue with God after our physical death, because God keeps our lives.

God “will keep your going out and coming in, from this time forth and for ever more.” What a promise for your whole life!  Think of all the times you leave your home and then come back; it’s all part of the way your life is going. God protects and helps us through all those small and long journeys.

Does the psalm really promise everything it seems to? Read through the psalm, and you may think that God will protect you from every danger, that you’ll never be sunburned or uncomfortable, that no evil will befall you. You know that life is just not like that. Terrible things happen to people.

But the difficulties and pain of life do not negate the watchful care of God, who somehow can bring good out of evil and turn pain into joy. Writer David Barker notes, “The spirit of the psalm is to evoke trust in Yahweh, the Keeper of the pilgrim, and the Keeper of Israel, the Maker of heaven and earth. Often things that happen in the life of the pilgrim would not be his or her choice. But the psalm is not pointing in this direction. The direction is upward, toward God. The believer must recognize that life is a gift from God, the Giver of life. The pilgrim can rest confidently, knowing that God’s glory will prevail, and that justice … and righteousness …will ultimately rule.”(1)

The psalmist invites us to do something paradoxical: on whatever journey we’re on, we keep a look-out for what’s happening on the path, but we mostly look upward toward God, and that’s where our gaze should remain.

(I think about this whole psalm at my site


1. David G. Barker, “‘The Lord Watches Over You’: A Pilgrimage Reading of Psalm 121.”

John Adams' "On the Transmigration of Souls"

Cover of the Nonesuch Records CD
I'm listening to this well-known John Adams piece on this 15th anniversary of 9/11. The piece, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003, is a 25-minute composition for orchestral, chorus, children's choir, and a pre-recorded tape of mundane phrases of people who were looking for their loved ones on that day. (1)

Wikipedia quotes an interview with Adams: "I want to avoid words like 'requiem' or 'memorial' when describing this piece because they too easily suggest conventions that this piece doesn't share. If pressed, I'd probably call the piece a 'memory space.' It's a place where you can go and be alone with your thoughts and emotions. The link to a particular historical event – in this case to 9/11 – is there if you want to contemplate it. But I hope that the piece will summon human experience that goes beyond this particular event.... Transmigration means 'the movement from one place to another' or 'the transition from one state of being to another.' But in this case I meant it to imply the movement of the soul from one state to another. And I don’t just mean the transition from living to dead, but also the change that takes place within the souls of those that stay behind, of those who suffer pain and loss and then themselves come away from that experience."(2)

Here is the piece, conducted by Lorin Maazel:




Thursday, September 8, 2016

Nativity of Mary

             Giotto's "Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary"
Today is the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In Orthodox Christianity, her birth is also celebrated on this day, as the Nativity of the Theotokos. The day is nine months after the solemnity of Mary's Immaculate Conception (December 8th). Her birth is recorded not in the canonical scriptures but in the second-century Infancy Gospel (Protoevangelium) of James, chapter 5, while the feast itself dates from the fifth century. (The text of the James writing can be found here.) She is one of the few persons whose birth rather than death date are commemorated by the church, because of her special place in the history of salvation. This site gives information about the Western feast, while this site provides material on the Eastern observance.

I enjoy studying the Orthodox prayer book The Festal Menaion (1). A former student recommended the book for the beauty of the prayers' language. As someone who likes to discover continuities between the two testaments, I love how the words weave themes and images from across the Bible. Here are some of the prayers and words of praise in the liturgy for Mary's birth (pp. 98-130):

"O Undefiled, by thy holy Nativity Joachim and Ann were set free from the reproach of childlessness, and Adam and Eve from the corruption of death. Delivered from the guilt of sin, Thy people keep the feast as they sing unto thee: The barren woman bears the Theotokos who sustains our life."

"The bush on the mountain that was not consumed by fire, and the Chaldean furnace that brought refreshment as the dew, plainly prefigured thee, O Bride of God. For in a material womb, unconsumed thou hast received the divine and immaterial fire."

"Thou wise parents, O Undefiled, brought thee, who art the Holy of Holies, as an offering to the house of the Lord, there to be reared in holiness and made ready to become His Mother... Thou art become a golden censer, for the Fire made His tabernacle in thy womb, even the Word from the Holy Spirit..."

"She is the divine sanctuary of the eternal Essence; through her cruel hell has been trampled under foot, and Eve with all her line is established secure in life..."

"O Undefiled, in thy birth are not fulfilled the prophecies of those inspired by God, who in their faith called thee Tabernacle and Gate, spiritual Mountain, Bush and Rod of Aaron sprung from the root of David."

"Come, O ye people, and let us sing a song to Christ our God, who divided the sea and through it led His people , whom He had brought out of Egyptian bondage: for he has been glorified... Today the Bridge of Life is born. Through her mortal men, fallen into hell, find their way up again, and they glorify in song Christ the Giver of Life."

"Blessed is thy womb, O Ann sober in spirit, for it brought forth the fruit of virginity, even her that without seed bore Jesus, the food and the Deliverer of creation. The whole creation calls thee blessed, O ever-Virgin born today of Ann: thou spotless branch of the root of Jesse, that brought forth Christ as flower."


1. Translated by Mother Mary of the Orthodox Monastery of the Veil of the Mother of God, Bussy-en-Othe, France, and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware of the University of Oxford. Published in South Canaan, PA by St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 1998.

Monday, September 5, 2016

For All the Saints: St. Teresa of Calcutta

Today is the feast day of a saint who was canonized only yesterday! Everyone knows about Mother Teresa (1910-1997). provides a good article about her life: She was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, of Albanian parents, in the city of Skopje, then part of the Ottoman empire, now Macedonia. Her hometown still honors her: I found this early photo online.

At the age of 18 she went to Ireland to join Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, known as the Sisters of Loreto (not to be confused with a different order, the Sisters of Loretto, which founded the university where my wife and I work). At the order, she received the name Sister Mary Teresa after St. Therese of Lisieux. The following year, she made her first trip to Calcutta and soon became a teacher for girls in that city. Several years later, in 1946, she felt a call to specially serve the poor and to establish a community for the help of the severely impoverished, the Missionaries of Charity. In 1948, she began this work, and her organization was officially established in Calcutta in 1950. The work spread throughout India and to many other countries as well. She also founded related organizations for men, like the Missionaries of Charity Brothers. She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.

Please read that article for a more full account of her work. That author also writes, "Hidden from all eyes, even from those closest to her, was her interior life marked by an experience of a deep, painful and abiding feeling of being separated from God, even rejected by Him, along with an ever increasing longing for His love. She called her inner experience, the darkness. The 'painful night' of her soul, which began around the time she started her work for the poor and continued to the end of her life, led Mother Teresa to an ever more profound union with God. Through the darkness she mystically participated in the thirst of Jesus, in His painful and burning longing for love, and she shared in the interior desolation of the poor."

She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2003, and in 2015 a second miracle attributed to her intercession was confirmed, leading to her formal canonization by Pope Francis yesterday. Here is one news story:

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Landscape: Eakin

Thomas Eakin, "Cowboys in the Badlands" (1888).

Cavalieri's "Rappresentatione di anima et di corpo"

Here is a fascinating work that has been well-reviewed since it was released: Emilio de Cavalieri's  Rappresentatione di anima et di corpo, with the Concerto Vocale & Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, conducted by René Jacobs. From the year 1600, it is sometimes considered the first opera, or the first oratorio. For certain, it is an allegorical dialogue of the soul and the body; as the summary linked below indicates, the piece is comprised with "a succession of vignettes among personified characters like Body, Soul, Intellect, and Counsel who confront such metaphysical realities as Pleasure and The World in their quest to determine the true nature and goal of human life."

Here is the performance on YouTube: Here is a good summary of the piece, with a link to the same video:

For All the Saints: Prudence Crandall

On the Episcopal calendar, Prudence Crandall (1803-1890) is honored today, the anniversary of her birth, as a prophetic witness. She was a Quaker school teacher who admitted an African American student into her private school in Canterbury, Ct, the first integrated classroom in the U.S. The student was named Sarah Harris, who wanted to teach other free blacks. Crandall refused to expel Harris when townspeople objected. Crandall shortly opened a school for African American girls, and effort supported by William Lloyd Garrison. Crandall suffered legal repercussions, including a night in jail, and a new Connecticut law (on the books for five years) that preheated schools for black students from outside the state, without local permission. Violence by townspeople forced Crandall finally to close the school. She was finally vindicated by the town and state and was recognized for her courageous work. Here are two sites about her:

Harris (1812-1878) went on to be an abolitionist and activist and has a dormitory named for her at the University of Rhode Island:

Today is also the feast day of Pope St. Gregory the Great, whom I wrote about in March:

Thursday, September 1, 2016

For All the Saints: Simeon Stylites

Here's a saint famous for his eccentric type of devotion. Simeon (c. 388-459) is honored today in the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, and on January 5 in the Roman Catholic Church. He was a Syriac Christian ascetic who sought withdrawal from the world by sitting on a platform atop a pillar. (The Greek word style, στυλη, means pillar.)

The Orthodox Saints site has this:

"Born in Syria, he was a shepherd, but at the age of eighteen he left home and became a monk, practicing the strictest asceticism. At times he fasted for forty days. After a few years at a monastery he took up an ascetical discipline unique at that time: mounting a pillar, he stood on it night and day in prayer. Though he sought only seclusion and prayer, his holiness became famous, and thousands would make pilgrimage to receive a word from him or to touch his garments. Countless nomadic Arabs came to faith in Christ through the power of his example and prayers. To retreat further from the world, he used progressively taller pillars: his first pillar was about ten feet high, his final one about fifty. He was known also for the soundness of his counsel: he confirmed the Orthodox doctrine at the Council of Chalcedon and persuaded the Empress Eudocia, who had been seduced by Monophysite beliefs, to return to the true Christian faith. After about forty years lived in asceticism, he reposed in peace at the age of sixty-nine.

"He was at first suspected of taking up his way of life out of pride, but his monastic brethren confirmed his humility thus: They went to him as a group, and told him that the brotherhood had decided that he should come down from his pillar and rejoin them. Immediately he began to climb down from the pillar. Seeing his obedience and humility, they told him to remain with their blessing."

Reading about him in various online articles, I discovered he first used a pillar because, as a popular ascetic, he had so many visitors. People brought him bread and milk. As time went on, he chose taller pillars. He still had many visitors, to whom he devoted particular times of the day. One article notes that holy persons like him served a social need not only as an example of Christian ascetic piety but also as arbitrator in disagreements.