By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ending the Last Day of the Year with a Bang

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I was discussing with a friend my inability to manufacture affection or enthusiasm for arrogant institutions, including prestigious or elite universities that like to preen on themselves.

So I found this blockbuster article from 2008 entitled "The Disadvantages of an Elite Education" by a former Yale professor whose book on Jane Austen I highly recommend. Here is the link. The article raises many issues about education, about intelligence, about social class structure, about consumerism, about ambition, and about social justice. Let's start the New Year with a lot to think about that needs to be thought about, again, in our time.
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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Philosophy=How to Live

Available at

Update: Courtesy of, my latest book is now available for free through January 1, 2012, as part of a 5-day Kindle ebook promotion. You can get it for yourself and/or send it to someone else as a gift.

That is the old and perennial idea that will not die, in spite of the best efforts of ivory tower academic philosophers. Here is a link to an excellent book review in the Dec. 27, 2011, Wall St. Journal on A Brief History of Thought by Luc Ferry.

I found the book review of Ferry's points quite fetching since they match the insights I got from writing my recent short book on philosopher José Ortega y Gasset (by the way, if readers leave me their email in the comment box, I will send them a free Kindle edition of my book on Ortega via email).

What points does the French philosopher Ferry raise that match what I and others find in Ortega? Here are some of those points quoted from and/or summarized by me from the WSJ book review, which in turn quotes Luc Ferry:

1. Philosophy "gives us the intellectual resources for living 'in a better and freer way.' "

2. Philosophy must face the problem of "salvation" in the face of death. In other words, life presents a problem to be solved.

3. Christianity makes an enormous contribution to philosophy--namely, "that 'the moral worth of a person does not lie in his inherited gifts or natural talents, but in the free use he makes of them.' " So much for our culture's overemphasis on I.Q. and other alleged and exaggerated measures of innate ability. This assertion is right out of Ortega, who emphasizes, as those who read my new book will see, that all of us appear in life with particular circumstances, parameters, and constraints but also with a margin of freedom to decide what we are going to do in those straightened circumstances. Ortega, like Ferry, will give a big and generous nod to the value of Christianity to Western philosophy.

4. Ferry speaks about the need "to reassert the possibility of human freedom--human choice," in the face of a pseudo-scientific determinism that is in vogue (it seems now more than ever). Ortega eloquently emphasizes that such freedom is metaphysically constitutive of human living--we live by deciding what we are going to be, we live with a freedom of decision-making intrinsically ordered to the future.

Yes, it is very providential, in my view, to have this book and book review emphasize the Orteguian themes that I also find crucial for our times. 

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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Queen's Christmas Message 2011

Christmas Message from the King of Spain

It's in Spanish, but non-Spanish speakers may enjoy the initial view of the palace and the sound of the dignified Spanish national anthem. Also, notice the creche.
For English-speakers, I will also add soon the Christmas message of Queen Elizabeth II. You get two monarchs, one Catholic, the other Protestant, both Christian, representing a long history of continuity for both nations and cultures, nations whose cultures have enriched the globe--many of us in the U.S. are happy to share in both cultures. Juan Carlos has reigned in Spain for 36 years, since 1975; Elizabeth II for about 59 years, since 1952.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Bible's Deep Influence on Literature

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Here is the permanent link to an excellent essay by Marilynne Robinson on the Bible's profound effect on our literature: 

Notice the role of the Exodus theme as you read closely.
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Merry Christmas!

My sincere Christmas greetings to all my readers, friends, and students. May this season and the New Year grant you all of your good and fruitful desires.

John 1 (King James/Authorized Version)

 1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
 2The same was in the beginning with God.
 3All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
 4In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
 5And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
 6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
 7The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.
 8He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
 9That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
 10He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
 11He came unto his own, and his own received him not.
 12But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
 13Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
 14And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

Juan 1 (La Biblia de las Américas)

 1En el principio existía el Verbo, y el Verbo estaba con Dios, y el Verbo era Dios.    2El estaba en el principio con Dios.
    3Todas las cosas fueron hechas por medio de El, y sin El nada de lo que ha sido hecho, fue hecho.
    4En El estaba la vida, y la vida era la luz de los hombres.
    5Y la luz brilla en las tinieblas, y las tinieblas no la comprendieron.
    6Vino al mundo un hombre enviado por Dios, cuyo nombre era Juan.
    7Este vino como testigo, para testificar de la luz, a fin de que todos creyeran por medio de él.
    8No era él la luz, sino que vino para dar testimonio de la luz.
    9Existía la luz verdadera que, al venir al mundo, alumbra a todo hombre.
    10En el mundo estaba, y el mundo fue hecho por medio de El, y el mundo no le conoció.
    11A lo suyo vino, y los suyos no le recibieron.
    12Pero a todos los que le recibieron, les dio el derecho de llegar a ser hijos de Dios, es decir, a los que creen en su nombre,
    13que no nacieron de sangre, ni de la voluntad de la carne, ni de la voluntad del hombre, sino de Dios.
El Verbo se hace carne
 14Y el Verbo se hizo carne, y habitó entre nosotros, y vimos su gloria, gloria como del unigénito del Padre, lleno de gracia y de verdad.

Ioannes 1 (Vulgate)

 1in principio erat Verbum et Verbum erat apud Deum et Deus erat Verbum
 2hoc erat in principio apud Deum
 3omnia per ipsum facta sunt et sine ipso factum est nihil quod factum est
 4in ipso vita erat et vita erat lux hominum
 5et lux in tenebris lucet et tenebrae eam non conprehenderunt
 6fuit homo missus a Deo cui nomen erat Iohannes
 7hic venit in testimonium ut testimonium perhiberet de lumine ut omnes crederent per illum
 8non erat ille lux sed ut testimonium perhiberet de lumine
 9erat lux vera quae inluminat omnem hominem venientem in mundum
 10in mundo erat et mundus per ipsum factus est et mundus eum non cognovit
 11in propria venit et sui eum non receperunt
 12quotquot autem receperunt eum dedit eis potestatem filios Dei fieri his qui credunt in nomine eius
 13qui non ex sanguinibus neque ex voluntate carnis neque ex voluntate viri sed ex Deo nati sunt
 14et Verbum caro factum est et habitavit in nobis et vidimus gloriam eius gloriam quasi unigeniti a Patre plenum gratiae et veritatis

A Philosophy of Dramatic Freedom and Responsibility

That is why I am attracted to the writings of the twentieth-century philosopher José Ortega y Gasset  (1883-1955). It also helps that he expresses his ideas with wonderful metaphors and verve.

 So, now, to show my appreciation for his writings, I have just published a Kindle book on his views of philosophy. 

See the link above! By the way, if you happen to be an Amazon Prime member (students can join for half-price, or $39 per year), you get to read the book for free.

If you are serious about submitting a customer review to Amazon, submit a comment to this post telling me so and giving me your email address; and I will send you a free copy of the book via email.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hispanics, Parish Policy, and the Competition

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Our Rhode Island friend sends this link to a report entitled "The Coming Latino Catholic Majority." The article reports again what people have been noting for several years: there is a major demographic change among U.S. Catholics. In that sense, there is nothing new in the article.

But, something does stand out, at least for me. The article points out that one obstacle to Hispanic participation in the sacraments, especially if they are migrants, are rigid parish policies that are not flexible enough to accommodate particular personal situations, such as moving from one community to another. Wow. What a way to drop the ball: policy, policy, policy.

Recently, I fired my kids' medical providers because their policies (and ineptitude in scheduling routine appointments) made the simple, banal process of getting an updated immunization an unnecessarily bureaucratic, frustrating, and time-wasting process. My answer to the obtuse office staff was this: I understand your policy, and I am finding another doctor (which I did that same day).

Guess what Hispanics or others will do if parish policies block their participation in the sacraments? They will go to the competition, as I did in the medical marketplace. But this time it won't be to another doctor--it will likely be to another Christian tradition. If pride comes before a fall, so does rigidity. In fact, rigidity may really reflect a disguised pride and arrogance that imagines itself immune to competition.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Cuba Trip

Front side of the church "Virgen de la Ca...
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Sanctuary of Our Lady of Charity
Santiago de Cuba

[Bold & link added by blogger]

VATICAN CITY, 20 DEC 2011 (VIS) - Cuba is preparing to greet Benedict XVI "with affection and respect", and President Raul Castro has welcomed "with satisfaction" the official announcement of the Pope's visit to the country, according to an official note released on Cuban media today. The visit is due to take place at the end of March 2012.

  On Sunday 18 December, the Cuban president met with a Holy See delegation to discuss preparations for the forthcoming visit, which the Holy Father himself announced during a Mass on 12 December for the Solemnity of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patron of Latin America, and for the two hundredth anniversary of the independence of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. During the meeting "the excellent relations between Cuba and the Holy See were highlighted, and certain details of the Pope's visit were examined".

  Benedict XVI's visit, his second to Latin America following his trip to Brazil in 2007, will coincide initiatives organised by the local episcopate to celebrate the four hundredth anniversary of the discovery of the image of "Nuestra Senora de la Caridad del Cobre", patron of the island. One of these initiatives is a Marian Jubilee Year, which will begin on 7 January 2012 and end on 5 January 2013.

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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Rembrandt Depicts Jesus the Jew

Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In a recent art exhibition, the point was made that Rembrandt appears to have pioneered the depiction of Jesus as a Jew. Rembrandt had his studio in the Jewish Quarter of Amsterdam and may have used a young Sephardic Jew as one of his models for depicting the face of Jesus. You can find more information at this link. The illustration is similar to what I saw at the exhibit.
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Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Hero

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You will see from my translation of this passage from the writings of Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset, why I like reading him. You may, too:

I am I and my circumstance, and, if I do not save it, I do not save myself. Benefac loco illi quo natus es ["Do good in that place where you have been born"], we read in the Bible. And in the Platonic School this is given as the project of all culture: "save the appearances," the phenomena. That is to say, search for the meaning of what surrounds us.  . . .

There is nothing on the globe through which there does not pass some divine nerve: the difficulty lies in getting to it and in our allowing it to penetrate us. . . .
Nothing impedes heroism--which is the activity of the spirit--as much as to consider it limited to certain specific spheres of life. It is certain that there exists, everywhere-- underground--the possibility of heroism  and that every man, if he strikes with vigor the earth on which he strides, should expect a fountain to erupt. For Moses the Hero, every rock is a spring.
José Ortega y Gasset, Meditations on Quixote (1914), pp. 43-45 passim (Spanish edition 1957; published Madrid, Revista de Occidente).

Note: I am not sure what Bible verse Ortega is referring to in the excerpt. My guess is that it may be Genesis 32:9: "dixitque Iacob Deus patris mei Abraham et Deus patris mei Isaac Domine qui dixisti mihi revertere in terram tuam et in locum nativitatis tuae et benefaciam tibi." 

So, maybe, the sense of what Ortega quotes should possibly be more like this: "I will do good for you in the place of your birth," a sense that is also consistent with Ortega's point.

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Pope to Visit Cuba and Mexico Next Year

English: Hotel Nacional de Cuba in Havana, Cuba.
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Havana, Cuba
Here is the link to the Miami Herald news story. The visit is set to take place before Easter. What is the significance of this trip?

Well, since this Pope does not travel as widely as the previous Pope, his choices are arguably more strategically considered. Mexico is the Spanish-speaking behemoth in the Western Hemisphere (Portuguese-speaking Brazil is the overall behemoth and commonly noted as the the country with the largest population of Catholics in the world). Latin America as a whole contains almost half of all Catholics worldwide.

Another strategic angle for us in the U.S. is that Hispanic Catholics, especially those of Mexican origin, are transforming the Church in the U.S. In contrast to, say France, where a diminishing number of French Catholics exists with a large influx of Muslims, in the U.S., the situation is one in which the immigrant influx actually bolsters the Catholic presence. Thus, a visit to Mexico is also an indirect visit to the Church in the U.S. because of the large role Mexican Catholics now play in the demographics of the Church in the U.S.

As to Cuba, we see the priority of re-evangelization in the wake of a looming and inevitable post-Communist reality. Sooner or later, there will no longer be a Communist dictatorship in Cuba. The transition is not only political but also cultural and religious. For decades now, Cuba has exported Communist ideology to the Caribbean, to Latin America, and even to Africa. The new Cuba may in the future be known for exporting Christian evangelists, both Catholic and Protestant, as its dynamic, entrepreneurial, and energetic population enjoys a newly found freedom in religious matters. Cuba's prime natural resource is its people and their dynamism--a resource that has now been muzzled for decades; but that is set to break out of its current bondage.
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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What is Success?

As one thinks, inevitably, of the legacy he or she will leave behind, the question looms: what is success in life?

Of course, my evaluation will be quite subjective; and yet, I think, it also has some objectively valid elements for all to consider.

1. Is Making A Lot of Money Success?

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Here, I have no hesitation at all in giving a resounding "No." Since my teenage years, I had a strong disdain for those who made money and the social status or rank it grants central to their identity. I saw "up close" people during those years who judged the world through the world of status and prestige related to money. I intuitively disdained that point of view. Nothing in the intervening decades has changed my opinion. If you have made a lot of money, then use it for productive purposes; but the fact itself of having made large amounts of money and being able to buy high-ticket assets, such as a large house or houses in an exclusive neighborhood, just does not equal success in my book. I had that view long before I knew what my future level of income would be. Is there much to argue about here? Not for me. This criterion for success is an easy one to jettison, in spite of so many others living as if it were the central, if not only, criterion for success.

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2. Is Gaining a Public Position of Power Success?

Now, I admit that, as a young person, I did view successful politicians and leaders, such as Presidents and prime ministers and justices of the Supreme Court, to be the epitome of success. Well, I have changed my mind. Maybe, it's due to the fact that such achievements are now out of my reach (in fact, I turned my back on any future in politics quite early on, in spite of my strong early interest in political history, because I could see that my personality was not "fake" enough and self-prostituting enough for success in that task). For me, confirmation of a "No" answer to this criterion comes from a real-life example: Bill Clinton, who, in my opinion, has managed to be one of the most obvious successful failures in American culture.

As to power in the private realm, I am not even remotely tempted to equate corporate power with success.

3. What Is Success Then?

Cover of "Meditations (Penguin Classics)&...
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I invite interested readers to answer that question with their own comments to this blog post. My own proposed answer is this: improving the lives of others, especially by giving them the tools to create positive change for themselves. Transmitting wisdom captures it for me. Have we transmitted wisdom to others, whether  in the private realm or the public realm or in both realms? Of course, such transmission of wisdom means that we have first discovered it for ourselves.  That transmission of wisdom defines success for me, although I do not dare to pretend that this one definition of success rules out any other definitions of success. Yet, I think that other definitions of success will contain elements of or be variations, in some form, of this particular definition.

In other words, for me, success is learning more truth and living more in truth so that your character reflects truth. Anything else is really a distraction. Hence, Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor, was not a success because he was the most powerful individual, both politically and economically, both publicly and privately, of his time--but because of the evidence of his private Meditations, which, apparently, were not even intended for public circulation.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Teacher's End of Semester Reflections

16th Century Classroom, University of Salamanca, Spain
via Flickr/Wikimedia Commons
With my having finished yesterday a challenging and bracing semester of teaching an Introduction to Scripture course, it is time to take stock.

1.) First, students should never underestimate the impact that their earnest efforts and dedication can have on a teacher. It's just plain inspiring. Also, everyone likes gratitude; and I am sincerely energized by the gratitude expressed by students who were obviously sincerely moved by the course.

2.) It was amazing to me how our assigned biblical readings and themes tracked the Sunday liturgical readings, with no coordination, at least by me.

3.) I continue to be thankful for my discovery (from reading the work of others) of the New Exodus theme which gives a textually-based hermeneutic for the entire canon of the Bible. In our zeal for accumulating information, we sometimes miss the forest for the trees, as the saying goes. It's nice to see the forest since we will never master all the information available to us. For more on the New Exodus theme, see this link.

4.) I finished the semester by having each student give an oral presentation or oratio on a parable from the Gospels. This format is particularly fitting for biblical studies since the Good News was first proclaimed and handed down precisely as oral proclamation and teaching (Catholics and some others like to call it "oral tradition"). Of course, the Master never wrote down his own sermons or teachings--he taught by word of mouth. 

In addition, we believe that Paul dictated many, if not all, of his letters; and scholars detect, in at least some of Paul's letters, features that were standard in Greco-Roman orations. Thus, to present the Bible in oral speech, is very much to engage in--what verb can I devise here?--"Bible-ing." Speaking the Bible is in the very character of a Bible that was intended, especially when it comes to the letters of the New Testament, to be read aloud and which arose from oral speech in the first place.

5.) I am also thankful for the amazing scholars who dare to write introductions to the entire Old Testament/Hebrew Bible and introductions to the entire New Testament. It is an amazing feat to cover it all in one volume. While, as is no surprise and as is inevitable, I do not always agree with the wording or articulation of various points by textbook writers, their work is invaluable as a starting-point in a survey course. In addition, critically engaging with the work of reputable scholars models for students what they are called to do in their own research in various scholarly commentaries and other sources: to read and listen with an open and humble mind, but also to not be afraid to criticize and note one's own divergent view of what a scholar writes. We have no choice but to use the admittedly imperfect because no human scholar has ever produced or ever will produce the perfect, although we sometimes pretend otherwise.

All in all, teaching (especially when teaching the greatest work of literature ever written in any culture anywhere) is one of the pinnacles of the human experience. This semester again confirmed that truth for me.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Guadalupe's Children--Here, Now, Unignorable

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I can do no better than the blog "Whispers in the Loggia" which gives us photos from around the country labelled as "Scenes from a Revolution" in the Catholic Church in the U.S., as it transitions from a Eurocentric particular church to a profoundly Hispanic particular church. See the link.

What is the deeper meaning of such an immense change? We shall find out in future decades what God is planning to do. A Spanish proverb famously tells us that God writes straight with crooked lines. So we have to wait and see.

This change reminds me of one surprising conversation a few years ago with a member of the Catholic clergy who could not initially think of a reason for a Catholic theologian to learn Spanish--in spite of its being the original language of Sts. Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Jesus, and John of the Cross, not to mention the modern writings of St. Josemaría Escrivá. It's time to renew our minds.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

"Aliens," Our Lady of Guadalupe, and Lincoln

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The upcoming feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness and empress of all the Americas (North, Central, and South, let it be noted) is a time to reflect on how we think of our Mexican neighbors within our borders. I find it amazing that political conservatives who like to pat themselves on the back as being so "logical" and so "smart" fail to see the profound irony of terming as "aliens" people who in the 19th century had sovereign rights over most of the American West and arguably lost those rights in a war of conquest opposed by no less than the young Abraham Lincoln himself, a man many of us consider, by far, the greatest American leader ever. (Listen to conservative talk radio to get a taste of that high, ever-flowing intellectual self-esteem.)

In addition, the culturally Hispanic nature of the West is so obvious that you would have to be obtuse not to see it. Just name the states with Spanish names like California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Montana; just name at least a small sample of the cities with historic Spanish names: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, San Antonio, San Diego, Santa Clara, San Bernardino, etc.

How can those people be aliens in the very land they first settled and named? The answer is that they can be "aliens" only in an artificial, legal sense of the term. For the record, I am not in favor of lawlessness or chaos or spill-over crime on the border. But, maybe, we need a new term for those who do not enter legally. In keeping with the history of the American West, I propose the name "illegal pioneers." For the people we usually associate with being aliens are products of the very same culture that first opened and settled the American West and founded so many of its great cities. 

Maybe, the new name will lead some to pause before they rhetorically shoot from the hip and sabotage any effort at regularizing the status of the "illegal pioneers." The problem for many in America is similar to that of some European countries dealing with refugees from former colonial possessions--if your priority was a homogeneous country, then you should have refrained from inserting yourself into very different parts of the world or of your own continent. Thus, Abraham Lincoln's opposition to the Mexican-American War was, in a way, prophetic for our times.
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Salute to Hanukkah: A Festival of Liberation

By the way, Christmas is also a festival of liberation and freedom. Hanukkah is on Dec. 21st. See this link for more information on Hanukkah.
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Friday, December 9, 2011

The Caricature of Paul by Martin Luther

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Martin Luther famously disdained the Letter of James which talks about the necessity of good works, but cooler heads prevailed among his successors and associates so that all Christians still accept the same, exact New Testament canon of 27 books, including the Letter of James. After teaching this semester on Paul's letters, especially those to the Romans and to the Galatians, the following is how I would summarize concisely what Paul was passionately arguing:

We are justified by the obedience of faith in Christ and by the obedience of faith of Christ, not by circumcision or other religious rituals of Judaism.

Notice that, in my view, Paul's message is not the simplistic message from Luther about faith versus works. The works that count (the works of agape and mercy, that is) are included in the Pauline phrase "obedience of faith," a phrase that frames the Letter to the Romans by appearing in Romans Ch. 1 and in the last chapter of Romans (Ch. 16). Scholars like to call such literary framing an inclusio or envelope structure that tips us off on what the author thinks is extraordinarily important. Don't trust me--look up the "obedience of faith" in the first and last chapters of Romans.

Thus, good works (as opposed to ritual works) are already included as intrinsic to faith. It is a false choice to present faith and good works as exclusive of each other. In my view, Martin Luther's reading of Paul was a caricature with tragic consequences of unnecessary division that continue to this day.

Notice that, in my statement, the obedience of faith is, as we would expect as Christians, in Christ; but also notice that it is the obedience of faith of Christ--the Christ's whose own obedience to the Father won us liberation from bondage.

Paul argues ferociously against works, but we have to ask: which works? Paul targets circumcision and the other ritual works of the old religion. In contrast, Paul emphasizes the need to engage in a life of obedience and good works as a result of faith. There is no contradiction between Paul and James. But there is a contradiction between the caricature proposed by Martin Luther and the actual writings of both Paul and James.
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