Maundy Thursday

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

Jesus washing Peter's feetby Steve Byrnes

In the pageant of Easter Week, Maundy Thursday speaks about the last time Jesus ate with his Disciples and how He washed their feet in preparation for participating in the Passover meal (John 13).

I used to go to a church where there was actual foot washing. Although I don’t think there is a requirement for this sort of practice, I learned some things I would never have truly understood through another method:

How hard it is to wash another’s feet.

How hard it is to have someone wash yours.

How it is generally embarrassing for both parties.

It’s really tough when you have someone you look up to, like your pastor, working on your feet. And when you are serving some venerable person and their feet stink or they have a fungus infection… Eeesh!

I’m really glad we don’t do that at my church now. But I’m kind of glad that I went to a church for years where foot washing on Maundy Thursday was the norm. Someone reading might think that this is a contrived and stylized practice, like going from dueling, a marshal game of blood, which developed into fencing, a game of points.

I would agree, but even the domesticated version of foot washing carries with it some of the pangs of the original. We generally wash our own feet (thank you very much!). In Jesus day, it was hospitable (not necessarily customary) when someone came in off the dirt road to have servants who would wash the guests’ feet. It would have been totally over the top and downright improper for the host to dress as a servant and do this dirty, degrading work.

Jesus totally screwed with the Apostles’ perceptions of what was right, so much so that you get an outburst from Peter (which, admittedly, doesn’t take much) to the effect that he is aghast at the prospect and will NEVER allow it.

We should connect with this emotion that Peter had of his Lord washing his feet. We should be shocked at the audacity of it.

Of course there are two levels of conversation going on in John as is just about always the case. All the people in John, the whole cast of characters, is looking down at what their eyes can see and Jesus wants them to hear his voice and look up to heavenly realities.

Peter doesn’t want his feet washed.

Jesus tells him that if he doesn’t participate, he doesn’t have a chance.

Peter’s response is, ‘give me a bath then!’

And here, Jesus has a strange and gentle answer for Peter and for us. He says in John 13:10, ‘The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean.’

So, Peter has already been washed ‘by the word spoken to him (John 15:3), but he still needs his feet washed. I just don’t think we’re talking about road dirt here anymore.

All I know is that this reminds me of the relationship between our baptism, where God’s word was spoken over us connected to the water, making us clean, and confession and absolution, where our Lord comes to us and washes the road grime off of our feet.

I don’t know how tight I can make that analogy, maybe someone could help me with that, but Maundy Thursday and the idea of Jesus washing the apostles feet before they have communion together will be forever connected in my mind with the condescension and humility of what is happening to me in Confession and Absolution, where Jesus girds himself like a servant and washes my smelly feet.

Steve Byrnes is a member of First Lutheran Church in Lake Elsinore, California. He is a graduate of Christ College Irvine (now contained within Concordia University Irvine), majoring in English Literature, and Westminster Seminary in Escondido, where he took a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies.

By Ted R

The Gospel According to Tom Waits

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

The Gospel According to Tom Waitsby Dan van Voorhis

“I saw Judas Iscariot carrying John Wilkes Booth”

This is Tom Waits’ picture of heaven. And he doesn’t put these notorious men there in his “Down There By The Train” just to thumb his nose at the pious (although…), he puts them there because, in his own words, “they’ve been washed by the blood of the Lamb”.

Tom Waits has been warbling his late night ballads about the down and out for four decades. He is at his best when he is singing about the guy who lost the girl and ended up with the bottle. He writes about the outsider and the ne’er-do-well. His compilation of B-sides “Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards” aptly sums up the characters that haunt the back tables of his late night piano bars and the alleys behind them.

That he would name a track “A Good Man is Hard To Find” fits the morose tone of the Flannery O’Connor short story after which it is named. But rather than the anonymous “other” that commits the heinous crime in O’Connor’s story, Waits writes in the first person:

“I always play Russian Roulette in my head
It’s seventeen black and twenty-nine red
How far from the gutter; how far from the pew
I’ll always remember to forget about you”

Waits wants to pen the songs with beautiful melodies and lyrics dark as sin. Whatever his church background, he sings “the big print giveth, and the small print taketh away”. Waits sees the free cheddar, but he’s felt the spring of the trap. He knows that a world that looks like Disneyland is Las Vegas waiting to grow up.

His anti-heroes have bad livers and broken hearts. When Waits sings the blues, it’s not about losing a woman, it’s about being stabbed by her. (In “Tom Traubert’s Blues” his protagonist ends up without the girl and an “old shirt that is stained with blood and whiskey”.)

Waits is not a saint, but neither are his friends…

“If there’s one thing you can say
About Mankind
There’s nothing kind about man
You can drive out nature with a pitch fork
But it always comes roaring back again”

But redemption comes in the blood. One of Waits’ most haunting songs, “Jesus’ Blood never Failed Me Yet”, is a duet he recorded with a homeless man singing, looped it, and sang along with the minimalist orchestra of Gavin Bryars swelling at just the right moments.

But getting back to Judas and Booth, surely he doesn’t believe that the kingdom of heaven is such a place for them? Well, he croons in a voice textured by years of smoke:

“there’s room for the forsaken
if you’re there on time
you’ll be washed of all your sins
and all of your crimes”

Dan is the chair of History and Political Thought at Concordia University in Irvine. He is also the co-host of Virtue in the Wasteland Podcast, a weekly podcast found on iTunes and at virtueinthewasteland.com

By Ted R

Bloody Gardens

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

Bloody Gardensby Jeff Mallinson

The idea of a garden is almost always pleasant.

But there is a bloody business to them.

They require a microcosmic battle. We root out weeds, hunt and kill unwanted insects. We prune. Tilling the soil is a classic human vocation. It is, therefore, fitting that we find the high points of Jewish and Christian imagery within the context of a garden.

There was, of course, the Garden of Eden, where, we are told, our ancestors lost their connection to the Creator and began to experience their relationship to the earth in terms of curses. St. Irenaeus found it significant that Jesus of Nazareth retraced the steps of human history, succeeding where we had failed.

We were kicked out of a garden. Jesus goes to a garden called Gethsemane to sweat blood, then ends up in a garden tomb after His crucifixion. And for those in the Christian church, that work of re-chaptering the human story allows one to say, cosmically, that it is all finished.

God is restoring the unrest of our earthly gardens. Nonetheless, for believers, this hope is not yet realized. We are already promised a garden that is free from bloodshed, and we have Jesus to thank for this. We remember His work as we prepare for Holy Week and the joy of Easter.

But, in our penultimate reality, our gardens can still be war zones. The original balance has not been fully realized. On Monday April 7, Dutch Jesuit Frans van der Lugt was shot in the head twice in the garden of his monastery in the besieged city of Homs, Syria. He refused to abandon his post, despite unrest in his world.

This reminds us that, for all our best efforts—political and evangelistic—we seek God through the cross. Our gardens are still bloody, but the blood of the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world will one day restore peace to our gardens: every piece of cultivated soil from Argentina to Syria will be set right. Rejoice with us in this promise, even as we mourn the loss of a monk who stood courageously in the face of manifest evil.

Dr. Jeff Mallinson is Associate Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Concordia University and Director of the League of Faithful Masks, through which he co-hosts the Virtue in the Wasteland Podcast. He earned his D.Phil. from the University of Oxford. His book, several chapter contributions, and articles reflect his interest in the intersections of Reformation thought, philosophy of religion, and culture.

By Ted R

Technology and Art

Monday, April 7th, 2014

I just saw Tim’s Vermeer and I’m so impressed with Penn Jillette right now!

The premise: Tim Jenison (a friend of Jillette’s, inventor of the Video Toaster, master tinkerer and all around Texas rich guy) tries his hand at matching one of the greatest oil painters of the renaissance, the Dutch Master, Johannes Vermeer, by painting a duplicate of The Music Lesson, a masterwork in the use of color and light.

The only problem Tim has is that he is not a painter.

And this begins the story of a fascination that spans years; the mystery of how Vermeer created such photorealistic images in oils and the attempt to reverse-engineer his methods and duplicate his results.

Anyway, if you go in for this kind of odd documentary like I do, it’s crazy good.

This movie is not simply about the glorious obsession of an engineer-artist, but the intersection of technology and art – one of my favorite topics and, apparently, one of the magician-producer, Penn Jillette’s as well.

Today, we tend to put technology and art into separate categories. This was not true during the Renaissance. The Lutheran Reformers would never have made such a distinction.

Christian Theology was considered (and this before the Reformation) to be the Queen of the Sciences.

The concept of Theology as science is foreign to our ‘enlightened’ century where the subject has been removed to the Liberal Arts category.

For NRP, theology is both science and art.

As science, theology has a Subject Who has condescended to make Himself available for study (our systems begin and end with Jesus). His life and sayings were recorded in part by friends as well as enemies. His trial, execution and resurrection were recorded by eye witnesses. We have excellent transmission of those testimonies by every standard of historical research – no one who’s done the work denies this part. That data drives the propositional truths of our faith.

As art, it comes with the way these truths relate to one another and the weight and focus given to each in the context of historical narrative (which is the way God revealed himself – perhaps because, as science has shown, we are hard-wired for story). How these observations and systems of thought continually relate to the scriptures, as a frame to a picture, is another aspect of the art. How these truths are communicated is still another.

For a culture that oscillates at the bustling intersection of art and technology, we want to present and communicate the art and findings of our theology in technologically advanced and artful ways, just like the Reformers did in their day.

Ultimately, the arbitrary divorce between high tech and high art is silly. I think Tim’s Vermeer does a great job of demonstrating this truth.

I promise I haven’t spoiled the movie. Go see for yourself!

P.S. Incidentally, we will be an all Mac shop. Haters need not comment.

Steve Byrnes is a member of First Lutheran Church in Lake Elsinore, California. He is a graduate of Christ College Irvine (now contained within Concordia University Irvine), majoring in English Literature, and Westminster Seminary in Escondido, where he took a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies.

By Steve B

Psalms: A Study (Part II)

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

Psalms: A Study (Part I)

Previously, I went over Psalm 139. On this study, I focused on some strategy for reading and I gave an overview of the entire book along with a brief exploration of Psalm 140.

I have included notes as an attachment (couldn’t find the actual hand-out, so you get my notes!). I hope you find this helpful in your studies too.

<Download the MP3>

Steve Byrnes is a member of First Lutheran Church in Lake Elsinore, California. He is a graduate of Christ College Irvine (now contained within Concordia University Irvine), majoring in English Literature, and Westminster Seminary in Escondido, where he took a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies.

By Steve B

The Utility of Natural Law

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

by Korey Maas

The LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) has now published a document on The Natural Knowledge of God, which also addresses the related topic of “natural law.” Readers of First Things will know that a recent article there published on this subject has sparked some heated debate. The Utility of Natural LawThose who might follow the regular (and regularly brutal) internecine feuds of the Reformed community might also know that natural law has become a contentious issue, part and parcel of the ongoing Reformed debate concerning two kingdoms theology.

Though I have no desire to wade too deeply into these waters, it is worth at least a brief reminder that Lutherans also have a dog in this fight—not only as a matter of historic Lutheran doctrine concerning the reality of natural law, but also regarding its continuing validity and utility. (For a quick introduction, do see, in addition to the brief excursus in the above-noted CTCR document, the essays gathered together in Natural Law: A Lutheran Reappraisal.) On this latter point, the utility of natural law, I offer here only a few remarks as they relate to Christian participation in the public square.

First, by way of looking backward, it is worth recalling that the reformers granted something like practical primacy to the natural law in matters pertaining to the “left-hand” kingdom of God. Not only would Melanchthon insist in his 1555 Loci Communes that “external life is to be regulated according to this natural light”; Luther could be even more blunt in his 1525 How Christians Should Regard Moses: “Where [Moses] gives the commandments, we are not to follow him except so far as he agrees with the natural law.”

That is to say, in the public square, concerning public law, policy, and moral norms, debate is best carried out not with reference to that special revelation unique to a particular religion, but by appeal to that natural knowledge of the law possessed by all (even while recognizing human attempts, often successful, to suppress it). Even believing rightly that the Decalogue, or the Sermon on the Mount, much more clearly reveals these moral norms, the practical logic of Melanchthon’s view is evident, perhaps especially in the contemporary context of our pluralistic and multicultural society.

To see this logic, the (stereo)typically beer-swilling Lutheran need only ask how he would take to a Mormon or Muslim legislator introducing a bill to prohibit such imbibing on the grounds that his personal religion opposes it. Or the introduction of a bill outlawing blood transfusions on the grounds that Jehovah’s Witnesses deem them sinful.

This is merely to say that one should be willing to acknowledge a distinction between that which is recognized as a moral truth (even with the aid of Scripture) and the sorts of arguments with which such a truth might be persuasively advanced and defended. The unwillingness of many contemporary American Christians to recognize this distinction has, I would submit, been an absolute disaster—and in more than one respect. Not only do appeals to personal religious convictions prove entirely unconvincing to those not sharing such convictions (and so serve no temporal good in the left-hand kingdom); but explicit appeal to Christianity in what are primarily moral or legal issues unwittingly fuels the perception that Christianity—like every other religion—is fundamentally a religion of law, concerned above all with moralism and legalism (and so does a disservice to the Gospel concerns of the right-hand kingdom).

Putting it crassly, this approach invites preventable losses in both kingdoms. Better, then (though no silver bullet, to be sure), is to take a line not unlike that set forth in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession itself. Not only would the Lutheran confessors there go so far as to deem it “insane” to govern civil society by the specific laws revealed in Scripture (16.3); but, despite their unambiguous hostility to Aristotelian philosophy when and where it intruded upon the Gospel, they could just as forcefully assert that “Aristotle wrote so eruditely about social ethics that nothing further needs to be added” (4.14).

Korey D. Maas (DPhil, Oxford) is Assistant Professor of History at Hillsdale College, Hillsdale, Michigan.

By Ted R

Vicious Circles

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

Vicious Circlesby Jeff Mallinson

A clever skeptic named James Huber created a clever skit called “Kissing Hank’s Butt”. That’s the version he created for use in G-rated contexts. His main site uses more mature language. Many Christians will find it offensive. But I might go so far as to say it should be required reading for anyone who cares about apologetics and evangelism.

It is a parody of course, and with that it is a caricature of believers. But it is helpful to note what it looks like to the outside world when our co-religionists are doing it wrong. I mention all this to highlight one bit of the dialog. The whole thing revolves around the idea that there is a millionaire philanthropist, Hank, who revealed some truths on a “list” to a guy named Karl; the chief revelation is that if you kiss Hank’s butt, he will give you a million dollars when you leave town. Conversely, if you refuse to kiss Hank’s butt, he will beat the tar out of you. The main character is simply called “Me”.

Me: “You’re saying Hank’s always right because the list says so, the list is right because Hank dictated it, and we know that Hank dictated it because the list says so. That’s circular logic, no different than saying ‘Hank’s right because He says He’s right.’”

John: “Now you’re getting it! It’s so rewarding to see someone come around to Hank’s way of thinking.”

This is poking fun at the ‘vicious circles’ which religious people often use to support their belief in God and God’s revelation. But this isn’t the only way to go. The response to this sort of thing (and the Flew-Wisdom Parable, if you are familiar with that) is that we agree. Fideism—belief apart from any evidence—is just plain silly. We can debate the best epistemology; we can debate the best ways to help people evaluate their beliefs. Set aside your thoughts about the merits of Reformed Epistemology, Postmodern Aesthetic Apologetics, theistic proofs, or old school evidentialism for the moment. For now, it is enough to share with our friends who aren’t Christian that we do have a reason for the hope that is within us. We need to be clear that circular reasoning, pure and simple, isn’t what is required to consider the claims of Christianity.

The problem that arises is the reality of our deep-seated biases. Philosophers in both the analytic and continental traditions seem to agree these days that absolute certainty, neutrality, or pure objectivity are not available to us. We all have backstories. We all have biases. Moreover, because of the fall, sin affects our ability to weigh evidence and use it rightly (Romans 1:19-23).

So, ought we despair about the ‘vicious circles’ of knowledge in which we find ourselves? No. We need to stick with the evidence, but also we need to evaluate the network of beliefs through which we evaluate this evidence.

Since the criteria are important to any future posts I write related to the topic of apologetics, allow me to restate them here. As you read them, think of ways in which this might not only help you evaluate your own religious beliefs, but also help you make decisions about your paradigms. Paradigms are networks of beliefs that, according to philosopher of religion and science, Ian Barbour, can be judged according to four “trans-paradigmatic criteria.” I will conclude by summarizing them here:

1. Agreement with data
Ask yourself: Does what I believe take account of the evidence around me? Am I ignoring important data that challenge my beliefs?

2. Coherence
Ask yourself: Do the things I believe fit together? Am I playing some kind of game when I think about religion that I would never play in other areas of knowledge? Are my core beliefs contradictory or do they bolster each other?

3. Scope
Ask yourself: Does my understanding of the world take all domains of knowledge into account or am I deceiving myself by having tunnel vision with respect to truth and reality?

4. Fertility
When I go about my exploration of the world, do my beliefs help me predict new experiences in the world? Or, is it often the case that my beliefs cause me to expect one thing but the evidence turns out to point in directions I didn’t expect?

In each of these areas, our paradigms will be challenged. We should expect our perspective on the world to run into anomalies and challenges, whatever we think. Nonetheless, if our paradigm keeps coming up against the evidence, is blatantly self-contradictory, fails to take into account all aspects of experience, or seems to consistently fail to predict future evidence, we might be ready for an intellectual conversion. I invite you to stick with the conversation on this site and see whether Christian beliefs are true. In the end, I hope you will taste and then see that the Lord is good.

Dr. Jeff Mallinson is Associate Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Concordia University and Director of the League of Faithful Masks, through which he co-hosts the Virtue in the Wasteland Podcast. He earned his D.Phil. from the University of Oxford. His book, several chapter contributions, and articles reflect his interest in the intersections of Reformation thought, philosophy of religion, and culture.

By Ted R

Please Pass The Ham

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

Please Pass The Hamby Dan Deen

One night last month I neglected student papers and settled in for a riveting night of entertainment. It was fight night, and I, like most men, enjoy a good ol’ fashion brawl. I had the television queued up, my bowl of pretzels, and a six back of wonderful Stone IPA chilling. (By the by, if anybody from Stone finds their way to this blog, I am open to sponsorship negotiations. God knows I do a good bit of fundraising and donation to that fine brewery.)

The venue was a live-streamed debate (2/4/14) between Ken Ham, CEO of Answers in Genesis, and Bill Nye of television fame, Bill Nye the Science Guy (1992-1998). The debate was about young-earth creationism as a viable scientific model. I realize that this is not your standard gladiatorial event, however, such events get nerd blood flowing faster than a thirteen year old with unrestricted access to the Internet.

Much like the 2014 Superbowl, the debate itself was lackluster and utterly predictable. However, one aspect of the debate struck me as worthy of commentary; the way Mr. Ham presented himself as a Christian intellectual. Mr. Ham’s ethos, I believe, is characteristic of much Christendom, regardless of the topic of discussion. Christians have developed a nasty habit toward intellectual arrogance. Let me explain.

During the question and answer period, an audience participant asked a very good question of Mr. Ham, “What, if anything, would ever change your mind?” Mr. Ham’s response? Nothing. Mr. Nye’s response? Evidence. The problem: Mr. Ham’s response alerted the entire non-Christian viewership that he was not interested in real debate. Honest debate requires that the interlocutors, at least in principle, are willing to be wrong.

An unwillingness to conceive the possibility of wrongness is the height of hubris, or what we call arrogance. It may be an intellectual arrogance, but it is arrogance nonetheless. This intellectual arrogance, or unwillingness for honest debate, is readily recognized by the outsider. What the outsider sees is not a Christian searching, perhaps struggling for truth, but a preacher looking to transform the entire cognitive life of the outsider. What they are thinking is, “I don’t need another mother!” (And in my case, “Please pass the ham!”)

Notice how the intellectual arrogance leads to an expression of moral arrogance, or lack of care for the individual. Mr. Ham was not actually listening or responding to Mr. Nye. Nothing Mr. Nye could say would be counted as evidence against his position. This uncaring attitude toward Mr. Nye and the outsider ought to remind us of the parable of the good Samaritan.

A last attempt to get at what I saw in the debate. Christian intellectual arrogance presents itself like a parent scolding a misbehaving child. Your child weaves a tale about how the cookies disappeared off the counter. As a parent you dutifully listen, correct the child’s fib, then discipline. The parent is not really listening or giving the child a voice in the debate. This mentality is appropriate for dealing with naughty children, but not mature conversation.

I fear that many Christians, my own denomination chief of sinners, feel this is an adequate way to engage the world. We do not need more preachers in the public square, we need thinkers. We must do better than this, in our public debates, in our education of the laity, and in our private conversations if we truly desire to engage the culture. At least the night was not a total loss—the beer was cold.

Prof. Daniel Deen is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Concordia University Irvine. He is completing a Ph.D. from Florida State University addressing questions at the intersection of science and religion.

By Ted R

Psalms: A Study (Part I)

Monday, March 17th, 2014

Psalms: A Study (Part I)

My pastor was off on vacation and he honored me with the request to teach adult Sunday School while he was away with his family.

At the time, we had been studying the Book of Psalms for quite a while and were getting close to the end of the book. I had two Sundays to cover and the appointed Psalms were 139 and 140.

This one is on Psalm 139.

<Download the MP3>

I have included notes as an attachment. I pray this is helpful to you.

Steve Byrnes is a member of First Lutheran Church in Lake Elsinore, California. He is a graduate of Christ College Irvine (now contained within Concordia University Irvine), majoring in English Literature, and Westminster Seminary in Escondido, where he took a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies.

By Steve B

The Unhelpfulness of Hagiography II

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

by Korey Maas

(Read The Unhelpfulness of Hagiography I)

The Unhelpfulness of HagiographyEven putting to the side More’s purposes in the writing of Utopia, and Bolt’s in composing A Man for All Seasons, certain contexts pertaining to each are revealing. Published in 1516, Utopia was given birth a year before Martin Luther would set in train those events leading eventually to the division of Western Christendom, and more than a decade before More ascended to become England’s Lord Chancellor in the midst of this division. While Bolt’s play could hardly ignore More’s years as Chancellor, they are glided through quickly, set almost entirely in the company of More’s family and friends, and focused specifically on his unraveling relationship with his king. Which is simply—but importantly—to say, the two works upon which the nearly canonical view of More are based have nothing at all to say about More’s own involvement with what Chaput describes as “judicial murder.”

That six men during More’s short Chancellorship were sentenced to death by burning because they would not renounce that which they believed to be true is not a disputed question. Nor is More’s own stated conviction that heretics were “well and worthily burned.” To be sure, as even the “revisionist” Elton recognizes, More “was not at all out of step with the official policy of those years.” No less certainly, as Elton again acknowledges, “the more scurrilous stories of his personal ill-treatment of accused heretics have been properly buried.” But, he immediately continues, “that is not to make him into a tolerant liberal.” No, it was left to Bolt, some four hundred years later, to make him into a tolerant liberal, a “hero of selfhood” as Bolt would have it.

Once granted that Hilary Mantel is not the only author to engage in “rewriting the narrative” on Thomas More, it becomes increasingly difficult to suppose, as Chaput does, that the “entire structures of the two Mores and real More theories” derive merely from antipathy to More’s Christian faith. Instead, such theories derive also from the recognition that the same Thomas More who is admired, as Pope Benedict XVI noted, “for the integrity with which he followed his conscience, even at the cost of displeasing his sovereign,” could not himself, when it counted, admire the integrity with which Protestants followed their own consciences, even at the cost of displeasing the sovereign. Such theories derive also from the fact that the eloquent idealist who could in Utopia speak of the “[k]indness and good nature [which] unite men more effectually and with greater strength than any agreements whatsoever” was also the crude polemicist who, addressing Luther, could speak of throwing “back into your paternity’s sh***y mouth, truly the s**t-pool of all s**t, all the muck and s**t which your damnable rottenness has vomited up.” And yet—

And yet I hasten to add that Archbishop Chaput is none the less entirely correct; there are not “two” Thomas Mores, but one. To ask his rhetorical question, then, “which is it: More the saint or More the sinner?” is to invite the only possible answer: yes. More was, as his nemesis Luther would describe all true Christians, “simul justus et peccator,” at the same time righteous and a sinner. Like all sinner-saints, at work in the one More were what St. Paul could describe as “two laws” constantly warring with one another (see, e.g., Romans 7:22-23). With More, as with us all, sometimes the spirit prevailed, sometimes the flesh.

Thus, it is for this reason also that the legacy of Thomas More continues to matter for the church, and to matter especially right now, as the State would yet again attempt to coerce Christians into acting both against their consciences and contrary to their faith. Not only because the “real” Thomas More bravely and rightly refused to act against his own conscience, and so paid for this refusal with his life; but also because the very same Thomas More, when it was in his power to do so, would condemn others to die for similarly refusing.

It is in each respect that More is truly “a man for all seasons”—and for all denominations. His death as martyr and his life as Chancellor testify in uniquely powerful, if very different, ways to the enduring truth that the coercion of conscience and the denial of religious liberty—even when not leading to the block or to the pyre—are profound evils.

Korey D. Maas (DPhil, Oxford) is Assistant Professor of History at Hillsdale College, Hillsdale, Michigan.

By Ted R