Monday, December 11, 2017

The Girl Empress by Amy Mantravadi – Book Review

Mantravadi, Amy. The Girl Empress: The Chronicle of Maud - Volume I. 442 pp.

Somewhat recently, I stumbled across Amy Mantravadi’s blog, and based on the content would say she is Reformed Baptist. As a writer, she is no slouch: I may disagree with some of her conclusions, but nobody can say she is not careful and thorough, so when she announced earlier this year that her book would be released soon, I was intrigued and ordered a copy. You should do likewise.

This novel is the first-person narration of Mathilda (Maud) recounting life to her daughter beginning in early twelfth century England. She is promised by her father, King Henry I, to the German emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Henry V, in an arranged marriage to help unite England with the empire. Such an arrangement was commonplace, and as one might imagine, this period of history is fraught with intrigue as both pope and king vie for power and authority within their overlapping spheres of influence. Added to this is the need to maintain peaceful relations and cooperation between duchies within the empire. Any means possible to solidify the empire were welcome. Medieval royalty and ecclesiastical authority were also noted for maintaining propriety. This is brought out time and again throughout the novel within the royal court (the cover illustration is telling). While this helped maintain civility and order, there are sufficient opportunities for subterfuge and treachery, as well as disease and catastrophe with which the emperor must deal.

Many historical figures and locations are brought out in the book, and I noted one review that disapproved of using so much history. I thought it delightful. The author was able to accurately and interestingly bring together a great number of facts pertinent to the storyline. But then I like history. In addition, the author presents a fascinating tidbit in her introduction:
Empress Mathilda (1102–1167), commonly known by the name Maud, was a real person, the daughter of King Henry I of England and granddaughter of William the Conqueror. She is also my ancestor twenty-eight generations removed, through the Grey and Hungerford families. It is my sincere hope that her story will be told more fully in these novels than it has been before, and that the twelfth century will come alive for a new generation of readers.
Of course, she would want to make this work as accurate as possible with the number of political and geographical interactions. (As a sidebar, I have a feeling all or most these characters will play a part in future volumes.) In addition, because many language groups were governed by the empire, the author interweaved those into the narrative in an appropriate way according to the character whether Latin, German, Italian, or French. The reader need not fear these portions since the dialogue is written in order to allow the reader to understand their meaning; however, if you already have a grasp of them, so much the better.

In all, this was a first-rate read and I cannot wait until the next volume comes out. Besides her blog mentioned earlier, you can find a website dedicated to the novel series – The Chronicle of Maud.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Second Sunday in Advent

Behold, the Lord is coming with strength,
And His arm is with authority.
Behold, His reward is with Him,
And His work before Him.
He will feed His flock like a shepherd
And gather the lambs with His arm;
And He will comfort those with young.

(Is 40:10–11 LXX)

These words are a glimpse of the second coming of the Savior. It is then that He will give the laborers their reward. “He will reward each according to his works,” according to the word of the apostle. “For the day,” he says, “will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.” This is the proclamation that the Lord has ordained to the holy apostles to make in their turn. “Go,” He has said, “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” One can, therefore, see that the oracles of the prophet are thus in agreement with the words of the Gospel.

Of this prophecy also let us observe the fulfillment in the exact way and in the truth of the holy Gospels. In the first place, the Lord has said, “I am the good shepherd, and I know My sheep and am known by My own … and I lay down My life for the sheep.” Moreover, He has likewise gathered the lambs with His arms—by the power of His teachings. For soon He said to the fishermen, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Presently, He called the publicans and ate with them. Again, another time, He allowed even a woman who had led an evil life to shed tears at His feet. He has likewise comforted pregnant women with the thought that they would give birth for salvation. As they learned of the destruction of death and the hope of the resurrection, they possessed sufficient solace for their pains in the expectation of the benefits that had been announced. Finally, while the holy Virgin still carried Him in her womb, He filled Elizabeth, who was with child, with joy.

Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on Isaiah

Thursday, December 7, 2017

More on Psalm 107

While doing a bit of study for yesterday’s post from Psalm 107, I stumbled upon some interesting commentary. Apparently, the Eastern Orthodox church holds that 105-107 (104–106 in their numbering) are considered a unit because they each begin with the heading Alleluia or Praise the Lord.* I looked at these psalms but was confused by the comment: 105 and 107 do not begin with this heading. I checked multiple translations and still found nothing.

The solution to this puzzle can be found in the layout of the Septuagint. The Hebrew text used by the original translators had moved Praise the Lord from 104:35 to 105:1 and from 106:48 to 107:1, along with removing it from 105:45. The arrangement, therefore, gives a cohesive unit of theology as explained in The Orthodox Study Bible:
Psalm 104, 105, and 106 form a trilogy, each with the heading, Alleluia, which means “praise the Lord.” This heading emphasizes praising the Lord and giving Him thanks for His works of mercy (104:1–3; 105:1, 2; 106:1, 2). These works are traced in great detail from Abraham on, and are fulfilled in the coming of Christ to save mankind: He sent His word and healed them, and delivered them from their corruptions (106:20). The Father sent His Word, who crushed the gates of bronze and shattered the bars of iron (106:16). He trampled death by His death and Resurrection, bestowing life on those in the tombs (those sitting in the darkness and shadow of death, bound in poverty and fetters, 106:10; He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and broke their chains to pieces, 106:14). The response of those who are wise and shall keep these things, and shall understand the mercies of the Lord (106:43) is “Alleluia.”
If one follows the theme of each psalm, there is a recognizable progression: God’s faithfulness to His people (105) demonstrated in His continual forgiveness of sin (106) resulting in the overflow of thanksgiving for His works (107).

Someone may retort that there is a problem with this unit because the book of Psalms is divided into five sub-books with a division between 106 and 107. I contend that this issue actually adds to the beauty of the progression because of the arc created within the triplet. Book Four ends with a description of His character and willingness to display it over and again, while Book Five begins a cascading chorus of praise to God carried through to the end.

Read and meditate on these three psalms. Follow the progression of His mighty promises, to our sin and desperate need for mercy, and His glorious work for which we respond with abundant thanks.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Thanksgiving, and Then Some

On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, we heard good teaching from Psalm 107 on God’s deliverance of sinners. The psalmist presents four main characteristics of sinners:
  • Wandering (4-9)
  • Rebellious (10-16)
  • Self-destructive (17-22)
  • Self-confident (23-32)
While each person reflects aspects of all these, we are shown how the Lord applies pressure in the neediest area so that the individual would come to an end of himself, cry out, and relish in divine goodness and mercy. It is the third group to which I draw your attention using the Septuagint.*
He helped them out of their lawless ways,
For they were humbled because of their transgressions.
Their soul abhorred all manner of food,
And they drew near the gates of death.
Then they cried to the Lord in their afflictions,
And He saved them from their distresses.
Those described here willingly continued in their sin to their detriment knowing full well that they were hastening their demise. Some embraced their ignorance (Prov 1:22) while others were professing to be wise, yet became fools (Ro 1:22). Like a continual descent into a maelstrom, the sinner continues in a foolhardy, self-destructive life bound by their own passions, not comprehending the consequence of their choices nor seeking escape. Some foolish people will realize their complete inability to rescue themselves, and at this point, they will cry out for rescue.
He sent His Word and healed them,
And delivered them from their corruptions.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for His mercies
And His wonders to the sons of men,
And let them offer a sacrifice of praise;
And let them proclaim His works with exceeding joy.
Notice here that the Lord heals by the sending of His Word. Foolishness and simple-mindedness are met with prudence and wisdom. And it is not as if there is just knowledge being passed from one to another as if receiving a lecture of wise or proverbial sayings, rather, the word shared has an active role.
You, O men, I exhort,
And I utter my voice to the sons of men;
Understand astuteness, O simple ones,
And put it in your hearts, O uninstructed ones.
Obey me, for I speak sacred things,
And from my lips I will bring forth things that are true. (Pr 8:6–8)
Wisdom is personified in this chapter, not just for rhetorical effect, but because the basis of wisdom is a person—one who was a witness to the very beginning of creation and took an active part in all that was made, even rejoicing in what was made (Pr 8:22–31). No individual fits this description save for Christ Himself who has been for all eternity both God and the Word (Jn 1:1–5) as explained by Tertullian:
In Him, at any rate, and with Him, did [Wisdom] construct the universe, He not being ignorant of what she was making. “Except Wisdom,” however, is a phrase of the same sense exactly as “except the Son,” who is Christ, “the Wisdom and Power of God,” according to the apostle, who only knows the mind of the Father.… And if I am not mistaken, there is also another passage in which it is written: “By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the hosts of them by His Spirit.” Now this Word, the Power of God and the Wisdom of God, must be the very Son of God. So that, if [He did] all things by the Son, He must have stretched out the heavens by the Son, and so not have stretched them out alone, except in the sense in which He is “alone” from all other gods.… By thus attaching the Son to Himself, He becomes His own interpreter in what sense He stretched out the heavens alone, meaning alone with His Son, even as He is one with His Son. The utterance, therefore, will be in like manner the Son’s, “I have stretched out the heavens alone,” because by the Word were the heavens established. Inasmuch, then, as the heaven was prepared when Wisdom was present in the Word, and since all things were made by the Word, it is quite correct to say that even the Son stretched out the heaven alone, because He alone ministered to the Father’s work.

Against Praxeas 19
and Eusebius of Caesarea:
The divine and perfect essence existing before things begotten, the rational and firstborn image of the unbegotten nature, the true and only-begotten Son of the God of the universe, being one with many names, and one called God by many titles, is honored in this passage under the style and name of wisdom, and we have learned to call him Word of God, light, life, truth, and, to crown all, “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Now, therefore, in the passage before us, he passes through the words of the wise Solomon, speaking of himself as the living wisdom of God and self-existent, saying, “I, wisdom, have dwelt with counsel and knowledge, and I have called upon understanding,” and that which follows. He also adds, as one who has undertaken the government and providence of the universe: “By me kings reign, and princes decree justice. By me princes become great.” Then saying that he will record the things of ages past, he goes on to say, “The Lord created me as the beginning of his ways for his works, he established me before time was.” By which he teaches both that he himself is begotten, and not the same as the unbegotten, one called into being before all ages, set forth as a kind of foundation for all begotten things. And it is probable that the divine apostle started from this when he said of him: “Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature, for all things were created in him, of things in heaven and things in earth.” For he is called “firstborn of every creature,” in accordance with the words “The Lord created me as the beginning of his road to his works.” And he would naturally be considered the image of God, as being that which was begotten of the nature of the unbegotten. And, therefore, the passage before us agrees when it says, “Before the mountains were established, and before all the hills, he begets me.” Hence we call him only-begotten Son, and the firstborn Word of God, who is the same as this wisdom.

Proof of the Gospel 5.1
This same Word and Wisdom comes to the sinner with the promise of succor and rest of sins forgiven. Under the Mosaic covenant, the believer lived by faith under the promise that Messiah would suffer and die for His people; we now look back at Jesus giving His life on the cross. From neither end of the timeline does mortal understand the breadth and depth of God’s wondrous works to the children of men. It is ours but to praise and thank Him for those works and worship so great a God and Savior.

* For comparison, the first two lines in NKJV read: Fools, because of their transgression, and because of their iniquities, were afflicted. This section, otherwise, is basically the same.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the First Sunday in Advent

But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars of heaven will fall, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of earth to the farthest part of heaven.

Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that it is near—at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. (Mark 13:24-31)

If you examine the whole passage of this Gospel Scripture, from the inquiry of the disciples down to the parable of the fig-tree you will find that it makes sense at every point in connection with the coming of the Son of man, so that it consistently ascribes to Him both the sorrows and the joys, and the catastrophes and the promises; nor can you separate them from Him in either respect. For as much, then, as there is but one Son of man whose advent is placed between the two issues of catastrophe and promise, it must necessarily follow that to that one Son of man belong both the judgments upon the nations and the prayers of the saints. He who thus comes in midway so as to be common to both issues, will terminate one of them by inflicting judgment on the nations at His coming; and will at the same time commence the other by fulfilling the longings of His saints.… Reflect, in short, on the picture presented in the parable: “Behold the fig-tree, and all the trees; when they produce their fruit, men know that summer is at hand. So likewise when you see these things come to pass, know that the kingdom of God is very near.” Now, if the fructification of the common trees is an antecedent sign of the approach of summer, so in like manner do the great conflicts of the world indicate the arrival of that kingdom which they precede. But every sign is His, to whom belong the thing of which it is the sign; and to everything is appointed its sign by Him to whom the thing belongs. If, therefore, these tribulations are the signs of the kingdom, just as the maturity of the trees is of the summer, it follows that the kingdom is the Creator’s to whom are ascribed the tribulations which are the signs of the kingdom. Since the beneficent Deity had premised that these things must necessarily come to pass, although so terrible and dreadful, as they had been predicted by the law and the prophets, therefore He did not destroy the law and the prophets, when He affirmed that what had been foretold must be certainly fulfilled. He further declares, “that heaven and earth shall not pass away till all things be fulfilled.”

Tertullian, Against Marcion IV.39

Friday, November 24, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Last Sunday of the Year

When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. (Mt 25:31–32)

How can He be the Son of man when He is God and will come to judge all nations? He is the Son of man because He appeared on earth as a man and was persecuted as a man. Therefore this person who they said was a man will raise all nations from the dead and judge every person according to his works. Every race on earth will see Him, both those who rejected Him and those who despised Him as a man. They will see Him then, but not everyone in the same way: some will see Him in punishment and others in heavenly bliss. All nations will be gathered together by the angels from the foundation of the world, beginning first with Adam and Eve down to the last person on earth—whoever experienced human birth. “And He will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” He, our Lord, who knows our thoughts, who foresees all human works and knows how to judge righteously, will separate them according to the merits of each person, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

Epiphanius the Latin, Interpretation of the Gospels 38

Friday, November 17, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Last Judgment, St Elias Church, Brampton, ON

“And it shall come to pass at that time
That I will search Jerusalem with lamps,
And punish the men
Who are settled in complacency,
Who say in their heart,
‘The Lord will not do good,
Nor will He do evil.’
Therefore their goods shall become booty,
And their houses a desolation;
They shall build houses, but not inhabit them;
They shall plant vineyards, but not drink their wine.”

The great day of the Lord is near;
It is near and hastens quickly.
The noise of the day of the Lord is bitter;
There the mighty men shall cry out.
That day is a day of wrath,
A day of trouble and distress,
A day of devastation and desolation,
A day of darkness and gloominess,
A day of clouds and thick darkness,
A day of trumpet and alarm
Against the fortified cities
And against the high towers. (Zeph 1:12–16)

Let the insincere hear what is written, He that walks in simplicity walks surely (Prov 10:9). For indeed simplicity of conduct is an assurance of great security. Let them hear what is said by the mouth of the wise man, The holy spirit of discipline will flee deceit (Sirach 1:5). Let them hear what is again affirmed by the witness of Scripture, His communing is with the simple (Prov 3:32). For God’s communing is His revealing of secrets to human minds by the illumination of His presence. He is therefore said to commune with the simple, because He illuminates with the ray of His visitation concerning supernal mysteries the minds of those whom no shade of duplicity obscures. But it is a special evil of the double-minded, that, while they deceive others by their crooked and double conduct, they glory as though they were surpassingly prudent beyond others; and, since they do not consider the strictness of retribution, they exult, miserable men that they are, in their own losses. But let them hear how the prophet Zephaniah holds out over them the power of divine rebuke, saying,
Behold the day of the Lord comes, great and horrible, the day of wrath, that day; a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of cloud and whirlwind, a day of trumpet and clangor, upon all fenced cities, and upon all lofty corners.
For what is expressed by fenced cities but minds suspected, and surrounded ever with a fallacious defense; minds which, as often as their fault is attacked, suffer not the darts of truth to reach them? And what is signified by lofty corners (a wall being always double in corners) but insincere hearts; which, while they shun the simplicity of truth, are in a manner doubled back upon themselves in the crookedness of duplicity, and, what is worse, from their very fault of insincerity lift themselves in their thoughts with the pride of prudence? Therefore the day of the Lord comes full of vengeance and rebuke upon fenced cities and upon lofty corners, because the wrath of the last judgment both destroys human hearts that have been closed by defenses against the truth, and unfolds such as have been folded up in duplicities. For then the fenced cities fall, because souls which God has not penetrated will be damned. Then the lofty corners tumble, because hearts which erect themselves in the prudence of insincerity are prostrated by the sentence of righteousness.

Gregory the Great, Pastoral Care 11

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Feast, Not Fast

The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were fasting. Then they came and said to Him, “Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” (Mk 2:18)

Fasting in Scripture was required on the Day of Atonement (Lv 16:31-34) but was used during times of distress (2 Ch 20:3; Es 4:16), mourning (Zech 7:5), or repentance (Joel 2:15). By the time of Jesus, a regular routine was in place as manifest by the weekly fasting among the disciples of both John and the Pharisees.  This common practice, then, binds two groups of disciples together into an unlikely amalgam in order that they might ask Jesus why His disciples did not also fast.

And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.” (Mk 2:19–20)

Jesus’ answer to their query would have delivered both warm delight and biting chill. On the one hand, His statement is a reference to His office and work as their Messiah. Psalm 45 prophetically tells of the marriage between Messiah and His bride. By describing Himself as the bridegroom, He announces that He is the prophesied Anointed One. As a result, the only sensible thing for the friends to be doing is rejoicing with the Bridegroom. On the other hand, He foretells, in veiled terms, His departure from them. This was unexpected because the people had a myopic view of what Messiah would accomplish. These words are hints to what would befall Him at the hands of wicked men when nailed to the cross for the sin of the world.

“No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; or else the new piece pulls away from the old, and the tear is made worse. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins.” (Mk 2:21–22)

The visiting disciples needed to be educated of what Messiah’s ultimate purpose would be. Something glorious was impending, even already present. No longer would the high priest need to be replaced, because the great High Priest (He 4:14–16) would always live to make intercession for His people (He 7:25). No longer would there be a covenant with temporal measures, because the new covenant would be eternal in every aspect, changing even the heart and mind of each one who believes (He 8:10–12). No longer would a trek need to be made to an earthly sanctuary, because Christ has entered the heavenly sanctuary on our behalf (He 9:11–12). No longer would the blood of bulls and goats be required to cover sin, because the final sacrifice for all sin had been made (He 9:24–26).

The Lord gave to these visiting disciples not what they wanted, but what they needed. Both the repentant and self-righteous needed to know that their expectations and hopes were far less than what would come to fulfill the enormity and wonder of God’s redemption promised at the Fall. That group had yet to see the culmination of Good Friday through Easter, while we look back upon it, but the message is the same: Messiah has come to deliver the new covenant in His blood. Believe it. What else could His followers do but rejoice with Him?

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Believers Need the Law

But since believers are not completely renewed in this world, but the old Adam clings to them even to the grave, there also remains in them the struggle between the spirit and the flesh. Therefore they delight indeed in God’s Law according to the inner man, but the law in their members struggles against the law in their mind; hence they are never without the Law, and nevertheless are not under, but in the Law, and live and walk in the Law of the Lord, and yet do nothing from constraint of the Law.

But as far as the old Adam is concerned, which still clings to them, he must be driven not only with the Law, but also with punishments; nevertheless he does everything against his will and under coercion, no less than the godless are driven and held in obedience by the threats of the Law (1 Co 9:27; Ro 7:18–19).

So, too, this doctrine of the Law is needful for believers, in order that they may not hit upon a holiness and devotion of their own, and under the pretext of the Spirit of God set up a self-chosen worship, without God's Word and command, as it is written:
You shall not do according to all that we are doing here today, everyone doing whatever is right in his own eyes…. Be careful to obey all these words that I command you,… [but] everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it. (De 12:8, 28, 32).
Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration VI, 18–20

Friday, November 10, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost

May all who seek You greatly rejoice and be glad in You;
And let those who love Your salvation always say,
“Let God be magnified!”

But I am poor and needy;
O God, help me!
You are my helper and my deliverer;
O Lord, do not delay. (Ps 70:4–5 LXX)

Believe Him who is man and God; believe, O man. Believe, O man, the living God, who suffered and is adored. Believe, slaves, Him who died; believe, all you of human kind, Him who alone is God of all men. Believe, and receive salvation as your reward. Seek God, and your soul shall live. He who seeks God is busying himself about his own salvation. Have you found God? Then you have life. Let us then seek, in order that we may live. The reward of seeking is life with God. “Let all who seek You be glad and rejoice in You; and let them say continually, God be magnified.”

Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Heathen X

“Fill with complete satisfaction,” David is saying, “those who love You so that they may celebrate in song Your kindnesses. I am bereft of such people’s righteousness and a victim of poverty I have no wealth of virtue. I have benefited from Your providence; come to my aid as quickly as possible, and do not put off my request.” It is in fact, not only David but also the whole choir of the saints who make this entreaty.

Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on the Psalms