Psalm 45; Gen. 37: 12-24; 1 Cor. 1: 20-31; Mark 1: 14-28
“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” 1 Cor 27
So clear – so Christian – so difficult to live into.
Religious historian Elaine Pagels in her latest book, Revelations, explores the purpose, context and subsequent use of The Book of Revelation by some who, forgetting Paul, appear to have seen themselves as “wise” and “strong.” Pagels concluding remarks:
But we have seen that the story of this book moves beyond its own pages to include the church leaders who made it the final book in the New Testament canon, which they then declared closed, and scriptural revelation complete. After Athanasius sought to censor all other "revelations" and to silence all whose views differed from the orthodox consensus, his successors worked hard to make sure that Christians could not read "any books except the common catholic books.”
Orthodox Christians acknowledge that some revelation may occur even now, but since most accept as genuine only what agrees with the traditional consensus, those who speak for minority—or original—views are often excluded.
Left out are the visions that lift their hearers beyond apocalyptic polarities to see the human race as a whole—and, for that matter, to see each one of us as a whole, having the capacity for both cruelty and compassion. Those who championed John's Revelation finally succeeded in obliterating visions associated with Origen, the "father of the church" posthumously condemned as a heretic some three hundred years after his death, who envisioned animals, stars, and stones, as well as humans, demons, and angels, sharing a common origin and destiny. Writings not directly connected with Origen, like The Secret Revelation of John, the Gospel of Truth, and Thunder, Perfect Mind, also speak of the kinship of all beings with one another and with God. Living in an increasingly interconnected world, we need such universal visions more than ever. Recovering such lost and silenced voices, even when we don't accept everything they say, reminds us that even our clearest insights are more like glimpses "seen through a glass darkly" than maps of complete and indelible truth.
Many of these secret writings, as we've seen, picture "the living Jesus" inviting questions, inquiry, and discussions about meaning—unlike Tertullian when he complains that "questions make people heretics” and demands that his hearers stop asking questions and accept the “rule of faith.” And unlike those who insist that they already have all the answers they’ll ever need, these sources invite us to recognize our own truths, to find our own voice, and to seek revelation not only past, but ongoing.
Elaine H. Pagels, Revelations: visions, prophecy, & politics in the Book of Revelation, 2012 Viking Penguin, pp 175-177
In their quest of orthodoxy for all Christianity, these “wise” and “strong” might have overreached and a touch of “shame” is in order. Could we do better? Perhaps, perhaps not. We just have to try.
Stanley Hirsch is a member of St. Margaret’s, interested in adult religious education and response to the Gospel through charitable outreach.