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

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Privileged Semester for Thinking

I was privileged again to teach a graduate course on the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. I sincerely hope my students got as much out of the course as I did. Teachers learn as they teach--if they ponder what they are teaching as they teach.

And ponder I did. Teaching becomes then the occasion for an intellectual adventure in which you are "forced" by the necessity of regular lectures "to go deep" in regards to your subject matter. For me, Spanish expresses it better: profundizar, to make something profound, to deepen one's thought on a matter.

The lens I use for the Synoptic Gospels (academese for Matthew, Mark, and Luke) is the New Exodus. For both the gospel writers and for Paul, the book of Isaiah, especially its second section, gives the theme of the New Exodus, namely, that, as in the original Exodus of Moses and Aaron, so Adonai is making a New Exodus in a new time to rescue his people from their current slavery and exile.

As in the time of Second Isaiah (academese, again, for the second big section of the book of Isaiah), so in the time of the gospels: Adonai is once again doing something new, a new Exodus to--this time--definitively and conclusively rescue all his people in all nations from slavery and exile. And so Jesus becomes the New Moses (of course, he is more than just a New Moses). In Mark, Jesus is the new Moses as prophet. In Matthew, he is the new Moses as Teacher and Lawgiver. In Luke, he is the new Moses as liberator.

When you read the gospels with this New Exodus template, you get a sense of their flow and intimate connection with the Hebrew Bible and with each other--and with the letters of Paul. You get what I think every teacher should strive for: to propose (never impose) on students, especially graduate students, a synthesis, a schema, and a framework to organize the inexhaustible material and context of the Scriptures.

Just as the Teacher (Qoheleth) in Ecclesiastes tells us that of the "making [of] many books there is no end; and [that] much study is a weariness of the flesh," so we often confuse learning with the mere accumulation of facts and data: author, date, place of composition, geography, book outline, the location of a particular story in the text, etc. What rescues the flesh from weariness in study is to find a way to put it all together--to elegantly tie together all that you study. In that elegant creativity lies the thrill of intellectual discovery and beauty.

In my privileged semester, I again contemplated the reality that biblical theology is a theology of liberation. Of course, I do not mean an ideological theology of mere politics or social activism, but rather what is truly a theology of liberation, which includes liberation from all forms of slavery, whether very personal or quite social, cultural, economic, and political. Aren't all these realities, in any event, on a continuum? In this way, the Scriptures are books of liberation from all that enslaves on all levels of existence.

This insight takes what is best in what is, in a very particular way, known as "liberation theology" and saves it from the Babylonian captivity of secular ideology, neo-Marxism, and crude class warfare. In the end, all Christian and biblical theology is a liberation theology, as our current Pope reminds us--with a special and urgent preference to care for those most marginalized in our societies, for the sick, the poor, the lepers, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the Samaritans all around us and in us.

(Image under GNU Free Documentation License)

A Conservative Free-Marketer Urges His Colleagues to Listen to Pope Francis

Here is the link to the article.

As someone who studied diligently to obtain his M.A. in Economics and who also taught Principles of Microeconomics, Principles of Macroeconomics, and Intermediate Microeconomics in a state university and also a graduate MBA course in economics at a Catholic university, this quote from the article rings true:

"What it turns out is that economists actually know very, very little, and that a lot of what we thought we knew turned out to be wrong."

(Actually, as a lawyer, I can make the same observation about American law--there is much less intellectual weight there than meets the eye, regardless of our august courtrooms and robed functionaries.)

(Graph in public domain)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Joy of the Gospel: The Revolution of Tenderness

The Pope's new document--with Francis as the sole author--was released today. I read it all of it this morning. It is lengthy but worth it. Go to this Vatican link.

Here are three quotes that stood out in the eyes of this reader. Read the document yourself and share your own favorite lines. 

The Vatican link above has hyperlinks to different sections of the document--so you can jump around and read first those parts that interest you the most.

1. "The Son of God, by becoming flesh, summoned us to the revolution of tenderness" (The Joy of the Gospel, 88);

2. "Our infinite sadness can only be cured by an infinite love" (265);

3. "We achieve fulfilment when we break down walls and our heart is filled with faces and names!" (274).

See also Washington Post, BBC, CNN.

For Spanish language coverage, see El País.
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Friday, November 22, 2013

Pulling It Out

We human beings tend to be intimidated by many little things. Yet, our experience tells us that we can really "pull it out."

The challenges are legion (pun intended for those with a biblical bent). Yet, we persist and, often to our surprise, actually win.

And we can also take comfort in this reality: the nobility of heroic persistence is its own reward and victory. The true victory is in the journey. And often we even get the extra of reaching our goals.

The Greeks gave us the word "protagonist"--the one who struggles. In Spanish, we say "a la lucha" as we get up each day--"to the struggle." Every language says it.

(Image of Aeneas carrying his father Anchises in public domain)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Horace Giving Thanks

As we approach Thanksgiving week, we can listen to Horace teaching us gratitude.

Here is Dryden translating Horace in Ode 3.29:

Happy the man, and happy he alone,
He, who can call to day his own:
He, secure within, can say
To morrow do thy worst, for I have liv'd to day.
Be fair, or foul, or rain, or shine,
The joys I have possest, in spight of fate are mine.
Not Heav'n it self upon the past has pow'r;
But what has been, has been, and I have had my hour.

And modern poet Charles Tomlinson translates the same lines:

Happy the man who to himself can say
"Whatever awaits me now, I've lived today.
Let tomorrow's sky be filled
With cloud or sunshine--why should I
Discount the happiness I've had:
Fate itself cannot undo what's done
Or take away that hour's content
That came and went, yet lives within the mind.

Both translations are quoted from Horace The Odes: New Translations by Contemporary Poets, ed. J.D. McClatchy (Princeton Univ. Press, 2002), pp. 5, 241.

Each of us has that hour of magical gratitude. As for me, I fondly recall an extended holiday in the very middle of Spain with my children.

(Image below under Creative Commons License, Wikimedia Commons)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Not Perfectionism, But Always More

Sometimes people speak at cross-purposes when they really do agree. For example, some are troubled when I say: "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." They take it as an excuse for the status quo. But that is not the case.

To always seek more means to be practical and to embrace the more that is possible and is always less than perfect. The standard of perfectionism leads to paralysis because there is nothing perfect on this side of heaven and because perfectionism injects fear of the risk of failure that we all must embrace. Perfectionism is also very pessimistic and denies the possible breakthroughs that can come from persistent and patient incrementalism. For example, often, we fail to realize great gains, especially in education, when we give up prematurely on people.

As a result, the greatest ally of the status quo is paralyzing perfectionism. The greatest enemy of the status quo is the good that always seeks more. If we say it in Latin, we would say:

"Semper Magis, Quamvis Imperfectum"--Always More, However Imperfect.

(Image under GNU Free Documentation License, Wikimedia Commons)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Composce Mentem: Control Your Emotions and Your Feelings

That's the observation at the heart of one of the poems or odes of Horace (Ode 1.16). You can translate it variously: control your mind, control your feelings, check your emotions, get yourself together, etc.

The poem is about a man, now older, trying to lure back a woman with whom insults appear to have been traded. He seeks to reconcile with his former girlfriend or amica. In the course of this ode, he teases her with an exaggerated description of the evil effects of her anger--the anger found in all human beings which shakes the minds of many and even overturns cities under seige. He confesses to his own excessive anger in his youth.

Now the same poet who gave us carpe diem asks the estranged woman to give her heart (animum) back to him.

As usual with Horace, we can find a broader canvas. Horace emerged from a time of great and angry conflicts and civil disturbances in Rome and Italy, a time of civil wars. Vengeance and hatred tilted back and forth with many casualties.

Horace, with great good luck, survived because he was shown mercy (clementia) by Octavian, the victor in these conflicts. So, the message of composce mentem is also social and political: let us compose our minds, put away our angers, and reconcile. A timeless and wise message for all because time is short.

(The image of the alleged home of Horace in Venosa, southern Italy, is in the public domain.)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

From Catholic News Service

“God meddles in our miseries, he approaches our wounds and heals them with his hands; it was to have hands he became man.”

“God does not save us only by decree, with a law, he saves us with tenderness, he saves us with caresses, he saves us with his life given for us.”

– Pope Francis Oct. 22 homily

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Romanitas of Collegiality

"Romanitas," just as it sounds, refers to a certain "Romanness" which could be pre-Christian or Christian. "Collegiality" refers to group consultation and decision-making; think of a synod that discusses and sets goals.

In this time of overdue reform in the Catholic Church, Pope Francis has already taken the collegial or synodal turn: he has established a council of eight cardinal-advisors and is gearing up for a series of meetings and an extraordinary synod to discuss pressing challenges.

I found it of interest that such collegiality is very, very anciently Roman:

"the business of the gods was very serious, and the collegiate mentality of the Romans abhorred a single individual with the sole authority to mediate an important relationship."

David Potter, Ancient Rome: A New History (2009), p. 38.

More heads are better than one. It's common sense with an ancient pedigree--a pedigree very fitting for the see of Rome.

(Image of reconstructed Roman Senate/Curia Julia under GNU Free Documentation License, Wikimedia Commons)