Saturday, November 18, 2023

Beauty as Spiritual Therapy


Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy concerned with the nature of beauty, art, and taste, and the creation and appreciation of beauty.

Dr. Alice C. Linsley

In this series on aesthetics, we have been exploring impressions of beauty. Is it true that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" or is it possible to speak of an absolute, universal perception of beauty? Clearly, the perception of beauty is subjective and grounded in the individual's sentiments, personal history, and values. Yet the very fact that aesthetics is effectively used instrumentally suggests that humans recognize beauty has value in itself. That may be the truest statement to touch on the universal appreciation of aesthetics.

Arthur Schopenhauer believed that exposure to beauty can help humans overcome misery. It is an antidote to the depression we face as mortals. In his book The Beginning of Wisdom, Leon Kass offers this insight: "Death is the mother of the love of glory, of a beautiful name for splendid deeds. Death is also - and similarly - the mother of beauty, of a concern with the beautification of an ugly world, fated to decay, rife with death." (p. 155)

Clinical psychologists use beauty therapy to elevate mood. Children struggling with difficult life issues often find an emotional outlet through art. In this instrumental view, beauty, art and music are a means to an end. They are tools for building a better future, moral improvement, or bringing a greater measure of health.

St. Paul urged the early Christians to dwell on the good and the lovely. He wrote, "whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." (Philippians 4:8) Thoughts are elevated when we ponder the good and the lovely.

In the great world religions, we find beauty is associated with spiritual elevation. Hinduism urges its adherents to "think of all beautiful things" and God is recognized as the source of goodness, truth, and beauty. (Rig Veda 5.82.5-7) 

In Judaism, beauty is a fleeting reminder of God's goodness. 

Islam asserts "God is beautiful and loves beauty." (Hadith of Muslim)

In Confucianism, we find the instrumental claim that a neighborhood is made beautiful by Goodness (Analects 4:1). 

The arts can never be a replacement for religion. In his book What Good are the Arts?, John Carey writes, “Turning art into a religion often carries with it the assumption that there is a higher morality of art, distinct from conventional morality.” (p.136) That is the position of Aestheticism, the opposite of aesthetic instrumentalism. Aestheticism asserts that art belongs autonomously to the realm of the aesthetic. It has no interest in the application of the arts to religion or emotional or spiritual elevation.

Related reading: A First Look at AestheticsBeauty as the Good; Symbols of Beauty; Aesthetic Instrumentalism

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Symbols of Beauty


Dr. Alice C. Linsley

Judging beauty is likely to stir controversy. It is difficult to escape the impression that the discernment of beauty is highly subjective. Many philosophers and poets agree on that point. The Irish poet Oscar Wilde wrote, "Beauty has as many meanings as man has moods. Beauty is the symbol of symbols. Beauty reveals everything, because it expresses nothing. When it shows us itself, it shows us the whole fiery-coloured world."

Likewise, David Hume believed that beauty is a matter of one's mental disposition. He wrote, "Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty. One person may even perceive deformity, where another is sensible of beauty; and every individual ought to acquiesce in his own sentiment, without pretending to regulate those of others." (Hume 1757, 136)

Immanuel Kant believed that beauty is known by the pleasure it gives to the viewer. He wrote, "The judgment of taste is therefore not a judgment of cognition, and is consequently not logical but aesthetical, by which we understand that whose determining ground can be no other than subjective. Every reference of representations, even that of sensations, may be objective (and then it signifies the real [element] of an empirical representation), save only the reference to the feeling of pleasure and pain, by which nothing in the object is signified, but through which there is a feeling in the subject as it is affected by the representation." (Kant 1790, The Critique of Judgment, Third Critique, section 1)

Hume and Kant perceived that when beauty is treated as a subjective state, it is no longer recognizable as a universal value. Beauty cannot hold a place among the universal forms of Truth, Goodness, and Order. Beauty subjectively judged is fleeting. Such beauty cannot be an eternal form. 

In the East, beauty has been recognized through the contemplation of icons. Icons give pleasure and spiritual attunement. They speak of luminosity and numinosity at the same time. They are designed to mediate the presence of God through beauty. Eastern Orthodox churches are adorned with icons usually on every wall and the ceiling. The colors are vibrant, and the gold reflects light so that one seems to be standing inside a jewel box.

Following the thought of Plato, perfect beauty exists only in the eternal Form of beauty (Platonic epistemology). He believed that the love of beauty in the material sphere can lead to the love of the Ultimate Beauty. Icons are vehicles for apprehending the Ultimate Beauty of God. They are like windows through which something of the eternal can be seen. In this sense, icons are symbols of beauty.

Related reading: A First Look at Aesthetics, Glimpses of Beauty and Truth; Beauty as the Good

Saturday, August 5, 2023

First Lords and Their Authority


Dear Readers,

It has been 40 years coming, but my book The First Lords of the Earth is now available to purchase on Amazon. Options include Kindle, paperback, or hard cover. All are priced to accommodate book lovers on a tight budget.

This book identifies the social structure and religious beliefs of the early Hebrew ruler-priest caste (6200-4000 years ago), their dispersion out of Africa, their territorial expansion, trade routes, and influence on the populations of the Fertile Crescent and Ancient Near East.

The biblical Hebrew recognized three types of authority: derived, attributed, and achieved. Because the ruler was seen as God's earthly representative and the one to enforce divine law, his authority was derived from God.

If the ruler proved over time to be just or righteous in his actions and decrees, the priests would attribute deification. This was noted by the SR designation in the ruler's epithet and or royal name. The historical ruler Osiris was deified as is evident in his name O-SiR. Among the Sumerians and Akkadians SR designated a king (šarrum) and a queen (šarratum).

The early Hebrew rulers were judged after death and the righteous were often deified. Deification or apotheosis was an expression of the flamboyant honor shown to royal masters by their servants. 

Clan chiefs, regional rulers, and high kings achieved authority by victory in combat, great skill in hunting lions, and by living lives of high moral standing. 
Readers of this blog will find the sections on authority and ancient moral codes of special interest. This is an excerpt from Chapter 11 of the book:

The Rights of Kings

In the ancient world, it was understood that a king had the right to control trade through his kingdom and to be treated with honor. Emissaries arrived with gifts. Subjects came before the King with tribute.

In April 1892, the New York Times reported on the refusal of the King of Jebu to allow cargo to pass through his independent country which was the only access to the interior of Africa from Lagos. After an unfriendly meeting between the King and the acting British governor of Lagos, the trade route was closed. The British then formed a treaty with the King of Jebu that included payment of £500 to keep the roads and rivers of his country open. However, the British overstepped in requiring the King to forgo his royal right to assess tolls and taxes on the merchants traveling through his kingdom. Eventually, the treaty was broken. The situation became tense when the King threatened to attack Lagos, then the capital of Nigeria.

In the context of the rights of ancient kings, the £500 would have been regarded as a token of honor. However, to deny the King his right to control commerce through his territory was a tragic misstep on the part of the British. It was a diminishment of the King’s authority. Further, that was taken as disrespect of the High God from whom his authority was derived.

Take freedom or property from the average person and you diminish his humanity. Take away the rights of a king and you have cause for war.

*  *  *

There is ancient history, anthropology, and Biblical studies wrapped into one fascinating read. I hope you will find it helpful and informative.

Best wishes to you all,

Alice C. Linsley

Monday, July 3, 2023

Pennsylvania Art Theft Suspects Plead Guilty

Thieves stole a copy of this silkscreen from the Everhart Museum in Scranton in 2005.

Three suspects have entered guilty pleas in the case of a Pennsylvania burglary ring that stole millions worth of artworks and sports memorabilia over a period of over 20 years, including a Jackson Pollock painting and Andy Warhol screen print.

On Friday, 45-year-old Ralph Parry and 50-year-old Francesco “Frank” Tassiello, 50, entered guilty pleas to conspiracy to commit theft of major artwork, concealment and disposal of major artwork, and interstate transportation of stolen property. Daryl Rinker, also aged 50, pled guilty on the latter two counts.

The three were among nine suspects from Lackawanna County that the United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania charged last month in connection with 18 heists targeting antique weapons, trophies and medals, and other valuables.

Among the institutions hit were the Sterling Hill Mining Museum, Ogdensburg, New Jersey ($400,000 in gold nuggets in 2011); the USGA Golf Museum and Library, Liberty Corner, New Jersey (Ben Hogan’s U.S. Amateur Trophy and a Hickok Belt in 2012); and the Franklin Mineral Museum in Franklin, New Jersey (various gems and minerals in 2017).

Read more here

Friday, April 21, 2023

Binary Reasoning Informs Christian Morality and Ethics


Alice C. Linsley

Thank you, Bishop Hewett and the reverend fathers who invited me to speak at this beautiful and historic All Saints Episcopal Church in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania.

I will try to keep my remarks brief. What a speaker really needs is a conclusion and I hope to get there before you stop listening.

The late Colorado oil magnate, Raymond Duncan, once said, "If the speaker won't boil it down, the audience must sweat it out."

For the most part my remarks will be directed to the choir, as they say, so feel free at any time to shout “Amen!” or “Hallelujah!”, in a seemly Anglican manner, of course.

A few of you may be aware that I lived in this area for 16 years. I lived for 5 years in Malvern in a small Mennonite community. The women of the community taught how to grow and preserve vegetables, how to sew, smoke hams, and repair a broken lawn mower using parts from their supplies of cannibalized machines. A strong bond of affection developed between us, and the year before I left to go to seminary, the women asked me to lead a one-day retreat at their church on the book of Ruth.

During those years my family and I worshipped at the Church of the Good Samaritan in Paoli. The rector at that time was the Rev. Daniel Kilmer Sullivan, a Canadian by birth and a good priest. As demonstrated by Fr. Rix, Canada has produced some very fine clergy!

Fr. Dan’s assistant was the Rev. Dr. Henry Lawrence Thompson III who became the Dean of Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge.

Looking back, I recognize that Fr. Sullivan was under pressure from the Diocese to put forward a woman for ordination from his parish. After a year of discernment, I met with Bishop Lyman Ogilby with whom I established immediate report when he learned that I had spent part of my childhood in the Philippines. Bishop Ogilby had been a missionary bishop in the Philippines when it was still a U.S. territory.

While I lived in this area, I saw radical developments in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania. In 1974, eleven women were irregularly admitted to the priesthood, including several lesbians. The late Louie Crew was promoting gay activism and in that same year he founded the first chapter of Integrity. In 1977, Bishop Paul Moore of New York ordained the lesbian Ellen Marie Barrett, who had served as Integrity's first co-president.

In 1983, I began my seminary studies at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Mount Airy. While there, I studied Anglican Polity under the Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Steenson who Pope Benedict XVI appointed as the first Ordinary of the Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter on January 1, 2012. Dr. Steenson was the first person to challenge me on the question of women and the priesthood.

I did my internship at All Hallows, Wyncote, and I served as a deacon for 9 months at Trinity Episcopal Church in Swarthmore. Then I served as the Chaplain at the Church Farm Church in Exton, Pennsylvania.

During those years I was having many significant dreams which I recorded in journals. One dream proved to be prophetic. In the dream, I was vested and standing in the procession of priests. We were preparing to process into the church. Suddenly, off to my right there appeared a gleaming white pearl and I knew that it was the “Pearl of Great Price”. The only way I could take hold of it was to leave the procession of priests and turn my back on my bishop. That is what I did on the Sunday of Gene Robinson’s consecration.

I left the Episcopal priesthood, turning my back on Bishop Stacy Sauls to take hold of something or rather Someone of infinitely greater value; the Son of God, who came into the world to save sinners like me. And to Him I offer my joyful praise and adoration. I can do no other.

I recount this personal history as a backdrop to the doubts that began to form in my mind about women and the priesthood. I was ordained to the priesthood by Allen Bartlett in June 1988. There was a disquieting smirk on his face when I turned to give the final blessing.

Honestly, I sometimes wonder if he would have approved this Bible-believing traditionist for ordination if it had been up to him. I did not aspire to break the glass ceiling like Barbara Harris, the first African American female bishop, or to defy the Church's teaching on marriage like the lesbian bishop Mary Glasspool, or to distinguish myself by breaking from my religious roots, as did Bishop Geralyn Wolfe, a convert from Judaism.

My doubts about women’s ordination launched me into a ten-year study of that dangerous innovation. In my investigation I drew on my background in anthropology, philosophy, and linguistics. I noted that no women served as priests among the biblical Hebrew. Likewise, men did not serve as midwives. This suggested that men and women have distinct types of blood work: the priests in the place of blood sacrifice where women were forbidden to enter, and the woman in the birthing chamber where men were forbidden to enter. Two types of blood work in two distinct places and the two were always maintained apart. I pondered that a great deal.

Among the biblical Hebrew who delivered to us the authoritative moral law, male and female are distinct physiologically, anatomically, emotionally, and in the work they were created to perform. This seems obvious even to those who minimize the distinction between males and females. Some realities cannot be denied.

Consider the recent news about University of Pittsburgh professor Gabby Yearwood. When he was asked by swimmer Riley Gaines if an archeologist can differentiate between two sets of 100-year bones as male and female, Professor Yearwood answered “no” to which the entire audience laughed. Yearwood responded, "I'm not sure why I'm being laughed at! I'm the expert... I have a Ph.D.!" Those college students recognize that someone can get a Ph.D. in anthropology and still be ignorant of basic facts about the difference between males and females. Forensic medicine has been identifying the sex of older human remains since the 16th century, and today we have the advantage of genetic testing as well.

Pondering the two distinct types of blood work took me deeper into consideration of the binary reasoning of the biblical Hebrew. That reasoning is based on empirical observation of the hierarchies in the order of creation. These hierarchies are expressed in a small number of binary sets: Creator-creature, life-death, heaven-earth, male-female, and sun-moon. The Apostle Paul uses this binary reasoning in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 when he contrasts the Creator and the creature, the sun and the moon, and the perishable and the imperishable.

The spiritual rot we are experiencing in some parts of our Anglican world is due to rejection of the authority of Scripture and the binary reasoning of the Bible. We have too few bishops like Bishop Hewett who will defend the Faith and uphold godly practices.

Too few Anglican priests proclaim our catholic Faith; many because they do not understand it, some because they do not believe it. Our divisions are the fruit of theological waffling by generations of leaders who have heeded the noise of our culture rather than the voice of the Spirit of God.

Many of our parishes do not focus on the study of Scripture. One is more likely to find a group studying a contemporary devotional or a popular spiritual self-help book. I hope each of your parishes makes the study of Scripture a high priority.

Do not neglect women’s Bible studies because wives have a profound influence on their husbands. Wives need to study the Bible so that they may recognize God’s truth and help to form their children in that truth. Your parish will prosper when the women become rooted in sound teaching and in the wisdom of God.

It is evident that when the Scriptures are neglected, people go astray, and wolves at the door gain access to the flock. The wolves seek to eviscerate the Gospel because they hate the Lord of Life.

We must remain vigilant against ideologies that promote rebellion against God’s order, and we must teach our children to recognize expressions of that rebellion such as radical feminism, gay activism, and Godless political ideologies. Rebellion is evident in the slogan of the 2019 American Socialist Party Convention that met in Chicago.

We must impress upon our children that the Christian Faith and the authority of Scripture remain unchanged and are unchangeable. Anglicans have not been as protective of the Faith as we should have been. Our confession is Christ crucified, risen, and coming again. Until His arrival, we make disciples, strengthen one another, and receive Him in the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist.

The kerygma and the Nicene Creed express Anglican dogma, and the Bible informs and shapes our doctrine and practice. We require nothing to be believed that is not attested by these our authorities. That is why we reject innovations, be they from Rome, the Episcopal Church, or the Church of England. That is why we refute falsehoods, be they ideological or theological.

The Church receives its Tradition concerning Jesus Messiah from the early Hebrew through the Apostles. That sacred Tradition builds a hedge around the observable order of creation. What the Creator has established is to be guarded. Life is greater than death. Thus, the Hebrew were never to boil a baby goat in its mother's milk (forbidden three places in Scripture). This blurs the distinction between life and death because the mother’s milk is to sustain the life of the offspring.

There is a binary distinction between humans and non-human animals. Bestiality is forbidden as it blurs the distinction between humans and animals.

Homosex is forbidden because it blurs the distinction between male and female, a binary set established by God in the beginning and by which humanity is to survive extinction.

The hedge extended even to the sowing of seed and to textiles. They were not to sow two types of seed in the same field or weave cloth of two different types of fiber.

To us moderns, such prohibitions sound strange because we have blurred the binary distinctions. In fact, some have rejected binary reasoning entirely though it is the logical outcome of empirical observations of the order of creation.

The spilling of human semen (onanism) was regarded as an unrighteous act because this violates the divinely established order in creation. The seed that should fall to the earth is the seed of the plants with roots in the earth. The seed of man should fall on his own type (the womb), from which man comes forth.

In 191 A.D., Clement of Alexandria wrote, “Because of its divine institution for the propagation of man, the seed is not to be vainly ejaculated, nor is it to be damaged, nor is it to be wasted.” (The Instruction of Children)

The prohibition against onanism reflects the ancient wisdom that was informed by observation of immutable (fixed) patterns in nature. It is based on reality, not imagined entities or moral relativism. Dr. David C. Innes of King’s College in New York City, recently wrote, “Living in reality also means living in principled awareness of who is in charge of all things and thus living in recognition of what is true.”

You may be wondering how this relates to the binary reasoning that informs Christian ethics and morality. Consider what Bishop Hewett wrote in his homily for the First Sunday after the Epiphany:

Ethics is man’s study about what is good and right and true. Morality is God’s revelation to man about what is good and right and true. Ethics come from man and morality comes from God. God reveals the moral law to Moses on Mt. Sinai. The Law comes from the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Ghost. The moral Law is the straight edge against which everything must be measured.


I am reminded of something C.S. Lewis wrote in his book Reflections on the Psalms. He wrote, “Some give morality a wholly new meaning which we cannot accept, some deny its possibility. Perhaps we shall all learn, sharply enough, to value the clean air and ‘sweet reasonableness’ of the Christian ethics which in a more Christian age we might have taken for granted.”

We daily encounter a general contempt for Christianity. May it teach us to value the sweetness and solidity of the moral path God has laid before us.

As Christ’s followers, we understand that Christian ethics cannot be separated from the moral law established by divine authority. The Scriptures and our catholic Faith inform us as to what is good and right and true. When we drift away from these authorities, we become complacent about the Gospel. Complacency leads to decadence, and decadence leads to corruption.

Attempts to revise Christianity come from those who reject divine authority. Rejection of divine authority expresses itself in the invention of identities that have no basis in the observable order of creation. A boy can declare himself a girl and his delusion must be accepted by school authorities, or they will face a lawsuit. Rather than affirm what is wholesome, the headlines promote the anomalous as normal. Such delusion is the product of senseless and darkened minds as Paul attests in the second chapter of Romans.

Anglicans are to meet the rejection of God’s authority in a reasoned and compassionate way. We must seek, as God does, to reason together using the authority of Scripture. We cannot claim Scripture as a primary authority if we reject the binary reasoning of the Bible.

This evening we will examine that binary reasoning in greater detail so that we may be understand how it informs our Christian morality and ethics, and that we may be better prepared to defend the Faith against seemingly overwhelming attacks.

What is “binary reasoning”?
The biblical Hebrew were very concrete thinkers. Their perceptions of God were based on their empirical observations of the order in Creation. They noticed that trees only reproduce trees, and birds only reproduce birds. The Book of Genesis speaks of how each reproduces according to its “kind”. They observed that humans only reproduce humans and that humans come in two sexes: male and female. They noticed that the loss of blood brings death and they logically associated blood with life.

In the Bible we find binary sets, that is sets of two entities that appear to be opposite yet complementary. The four basic sets for the biblical writers are:





Note that one of the entities of the set is greater than or superior to its opposite. The creature is dependent upon the infinitely greater Creator for all things. The Creator is greater than the creature. That is the very definition of God which even an atheist must admit. It is the greater that stoops to save the weaker. The Almighty condescends out of His compassion. "For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich." (2 Cor. 8:9)

Life, or immortality, or the imperishable is superior to death, decay, and extinction. Anyone who has lost a loved one knows that life is greater than death. It can be argued based on 100,000 years of burial in red ocher, a symbolic blood covering, that humans hope to escape mortality. We yearn for the immortal nature for which we were first created. God told the Israelites to choose life rather than death. Life comes through loving obedience. Death comes through disobedience and spiritual rebellion.

The male of our species is larger and stronger than the female. The sun’s brightness surpasses the brightness of the moon.

Note the consistent logic here: Without the Creator there would be no creature. Eve comes after Adam as she is taken from his side. Without the sun, there would be no refulgent light from the moon.

The binary sets present hierarchies, and in our society the term “hierarchy”, like the term “binary”, has become a bad word.

The entities of the binary sets are not equal in function, strength, or glory. The binary reasoning of the biblical writers is diametrically opposed to the dualism of Eastern religions that arose in the Axial Age (900-200 B.C.). There is no Ying-Yan in the Bible because the sets observed by the biblical writers are not equal.

The binary sets of the Bible are not arbitrary and subjective. They are based on empirical observation and experience. The biblical binary sets are not subjective. The opposites of tall and short do not constitute a binary set because those descriptions are subjective. Were I standing next to a Watusi warrior I would appear short. However, were I standing next to a Pygmy, I would appear tall.

On the other hand, it is universally evident that males are anatomically larger and stronger than females. The larger and stronger is to protect the smaller and weaker.

When we come to the sun and moon, we recognize what is stated in Genesis, chapter 1: God created two great lights in the heavens. The sun is the greater light, and the moon is the lesser light that rules the night. Indeed, the moon does not shine at all. It reflects the light of the sun.

For the biblical Hebrew ultimate authority rests with the High God whose symbol was the sun. In Genesis 1:16, the sun is said to be the greater light that rules the day. The word “rule” speaks of what is above all and over all. That makes the sun a fitting symbol for the highest and ultimate authority.

Let us be clear that the Hebrew did not worship a Sun God. That is evident in Psalm 19 where we are told that God has set a tent for the sun which comes forth as a bridegroom from his chamber and rejoices to run his circuit.

Among archaic populations, the sun was perceived as inseminating the earth. One can imagine how this perception developed as people observed particles of light or sunbeams filtered through the forest canopy. The meteoritic iron found on the earth's surface was worn by chiefs and rulers because it represented power from on high. King Tut's dagger had a gold sheath and a tip made of meteoritic iron.

This binary reasoning poses ultimate authority with the God who is a king, not a queen. In his book on Women and the Priesthood (p. 240), the late Fr. Thomas Hopko wrote, "In his actions in and toward the world of his creation, the one God and Father reveals himself primarily and essentially in a 'masculine' way."

In the sun-moon set, the sun is regarded as having masculine qualities and the moon as having female qualities. This was expressed in the appearance of the king and queen. The king appeared with sun-darkened skin and his queen appeared with whitened skin.

In the Ancient Near East, the sun-moon binary set was expressed in the way royal couples presented themselves in public. The king appeared with skin darkened by the sun and the powdered queen appeared pale as the moon. The sun-moon binary set among the early Hebrew is often a reference for a royal couple. Joseph speaks of his father and mother as the sun and the moon (Gen. 37:9). This attests the high social rank of his Hebrew parents.

Two Wives Establish a Kingdom
It was common for high-ranking Hebrew rulers to have two wives. One was usually a half-sister as was Sarah to Abraham. The second wife was usually a cousin, as was Keturah to Abraham. Abraham’s father had two wives. The Hebrew priest Elkanah had two wives: Peninnah and Hannah. Other Hebrew rulers with two wives include Lamech, Jacob, Amram, Moses, Jesse, and Joash.

In 1 Chronicles 4:5, we read that "Ashur, the father of Tekoa, had two wives, Helah and Naarah."

In 1 Chronicles 4:17-18, we read that Mered had two wives and one was "Pharaoh’s daughter Bithiah, whom Mered had married."

The two wives in the Song of Solomon represent the two horizons or dusk and dawn. One of Solomon’s wives is described as having sun-darkened skin ("dark as the tents of Kedar") and the other is described as having skin as pale as the moon (S. of S. 6:10). For the rulers of the Ancient Near East, the two wives represent a claim to a vast territory that extends from horizon to horizon. 

The two wives’ settlements were at the extreme boundaries of the ruler’s territory. Abraham's north-south territorial boundaries were marked by the separate settlement of his two wives. Sarah resided in Hebron and his cousin wife Keturah resided in Beersheba to the south.

Consider the story of Lamech’s two wives in Genesis, chapter 4. Their names, Adah and Tzillah, are derived from the words for dawn and dusk.

This narrative suggests that Lamech ruled over a vast territory. The sun-moon binary set and the east-west solar arc are used in the Bible to speak of the authority and sovereignty of divinely appointed Hebrew rulers. They expected a woman of their ruler-priest caste to conceive the Son of God by divine overshadowing, just as happened with the Virgin Mary (Lk. 1:35).

The Virgin Mary was a descendant of the early Hebrew ruler-priests. Even the Talmud recognizes that. Sanhedrin 106a says Jesus' mother was a whore: “She who was the descendant of princes and governors played the harlot with carpenters.”

The divine appointment of the Theotokos is an example of the binary balance of authority among the biblical Hebrew.

Binary Balance of Authority and Narrative Representation

The social structure of the biblical Hebrew reflects that binary balance. It was neither matriarchal nor patriarchal. It was characterized by a balance of authority between males and females that is extraordinary in any age.

Binary balance is expressed in many features of the Hebrew social structure. There were male rulers and female rulers; male prophets and female prophets. Both males and females could inherit property and wealth. Consider the distinct duties and responsibilities of the mother's house (Ru. 1) versus the father's house (Gen. 38:11). Some Hebrew names honor a male ancestor and some honor a female ancestor.

In the Hebrew double unilineal descent pattern, both the patrilineage and the matrilineage are recognized and honored, but in different ways.

There is binary balance in the biblical narratives also. The blood symbolism of the Passover associated with Moses has a parallel in the blood symbolism of the scarlet cord associated with Rahab. Consider the two occasions when death passed over. Moses' people were saved when they put the blood of the lamb on the doors. Rahab's household was saved when she hung a scarlet cord from her window.

The abusive behavior of drunken Noah toward his sons has a parallel in the abusive behavior of drunken Lot toward his daughters. Their behavior causes trouble for their children. Noah curses his son and/or grandson. Lot impregnates his daughters.

Consider the gender distinction expressed between the oak and the palm. The male prophet at Mamre sat under a firm and upright oak, representing the masculine principle. Deborah sat under a date nut palm, representing the feminine principle.

In the stories of the Moreh’s oak and Deborah’s palm, we also find directional distinctions of a binary nature. The Moreh’s oak is located on an east-west axis between Ai and Bethel. Deborah’s palm is located on a north-south axis between Bethel and Ramah.

There is binary balance in the New Testament narratives also. At the presentation of Jesus in the Temple His identity as Messiah is affirmed by the priest Simeon and by the prophetess Anna. Jesus restored the widow of Nain's deceased son to his mother (Lk. 7:11-17). Jesus restored Jairus' deceased daughter to her father (Mk. 5:21-43).

The binary reasoning of the Bible involves recognition of fixed sets and the distinction between the entities in the set. In his commentary on the book of Genesis, Leon Kass notes, “Opposition is the key to the discovery of the distinction between error and truth.” (The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis, p. 238.)

In the Johannine writings the Church and the world are a binary set comprised of unequal entities. Because the Church belongs to the One who has overcome the world, the Church is the stronger entity of the set. 1 John 4:4 reminds us that, “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”

Consider the implications of that reality. Persecution does not defeat the Church. Censorship does not silence the Church. His resurrection power is invincibly at work in us.

Now with a clearer understanding of the binary reasoning of the biblical writers, we may take up the implications for Christian morality.

Family life

Speaking of family life, the Anglican Divine Jeremy Taylor says that marriage is the seminary of the church which “daily brings forth sons and daughters unto God…Marriage is the mother of the world, and preserves kingdoms, and fills cities, and churches, and heaven itself!"

The Church opposes homosexuality and adultery equally because they destabilize families and societies. These have destabilized many local churches as well.

Gregory of Nyssa minimized the distinction between males and females, believing that we were created to become sexless angelic beings. However, most of the Church Fathers held the institution of marriage in high esteem and encouraged it for the procreation of children to be brought up in the Faith.

St. John Chrysostom observed a binary hierarchy in both family and church. He wrote, “Were there is equal authority, there never is peace. A household cannot be a democracy, ruled by everyone, but the authority must necessarily rest in one person. The same is true for the Church: when men are led by the Spirit of Christ, then there is peace. There were five thousand men in the Jerusalem church, and they were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they were subject to one another; this surely is an illustration of wisdom and godly fear. Notice, however, that Paul explains love in detail, comparing it to Christ’s love for the church and our love for our own flesh.”

Church life

Paul’s chain of command in 1 Corinthians chapter 11 reflects the biblical hierarchies. He explains, “the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” He also says that the head of the Church is Christ (Col. 1:18). Paul is not imposing hierarchy upon the Church. Rather, he wants the Church to reflect the divine order of creation.

Homosexuality, transvestism, and gender and species confusion oppose the order of creation and deny divine authority. The Triune God has a purpose for each person. Rebellion against His purpose brings gradual loss of the divine image. Therefore, those who oppose His authority are to be pitied and we are to humbly pray for them.

Christian Ethics

How does the binary reasoning of the Bible inform Christian ethics? Remember that biblical binary sets are comprised of two entities that are not equal. The Church and the world are not equal in power and glory. As we are joined by grace to the glory of the Almighty through our baptism, we become part of the stronger entity, the Church.

The weak of the world need our voices to defend them, our hands to help them, and our witness to give them hope.

In reference to abortion, we are to defend the defenseless and advocate for the unborn.

In reference to euthanasia, we seek to maintain space for God to work to the natural end.

In reference to the poor who Jesus declared the “least among us”, we are to provide their basic needs, encourage them, and treat them with dignity.

In reference to the sick whose weakness makes them vulnerable, we are to visit, offer prayer, anoint with oil, and encourage.

In reference to prisoners who can be set free by the Gospel, we are to visit, lead Bible studies, proclaim salvation, and encourage through counsel and prayer.

In reference to orphans and widows, we are to be their family, and the local parish is to be their home and a place of protection.

I conclusion, the binary reasoning of the Bible presents us with a clear picture of the Creator’s immutable authority to which the humble bow and against which the arrogant rail. The lawlessness and spiritual rebellion of our day is not a new development. The Apostles Paul, Peter, and John offer us appropriate warnings.

Writing in the second century, Irenaeus said we are to avoid heretics, “while cherishing with the utmost diligence the things pertaining to the Church, and to lay hold of the tradition of truth. . .. What if the apostles had not in fact left writings to us? Would it not be necessary to follow the order of tradition, which was handed down to those to whom they entrusted the churches?”

In 372, Bishop Basil of Caesarea wrote, “The teachings of the fathers are despised, the apostolic traditions are ignored, and the churches are filled with the inventions of innovators. The shepherds have been driven out, and in their place, they bring in ravening wolves to tear apart the flock of Christ.” (Epistula 9:2)

We should not be surprised that there is a crisis of authority in Anglicanism. Nor should we be discouraged that the world considers us weak. God exchanges our weakness for strength. We are regarded as foolish, but our wisdom is of God.

We hold fast the faith proclaimed by the Apostles and we uphold the authority of Scripture. When discouraged, we remember our Lord’s assurance: “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Mt. 16:18)

He is the Lord of Life who was with God in the beginning. In him was life, and that life is the light of the world (Jn. 1:4). He said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Jn. 16:33)

Related reading: "What Does it Mean to Be Contrary to Nature?" by Dr. David Bradshaw

Friday, February 17, 2023

Beauty as the Good

Bellinzona, Switzerland is a place of extraordinary beauty.

Alice C. Linsley

What follows is a general consideration of beauty as the Good. The topic is addressed from different cultural perspectives and time periods. Doubtless, the reader will decide whether the concept of “beauty as the Good” is important, substantial, and valuable. Richard Hooker, a bright light of the English Renaissance, holds our human reasoning in high regard. He wrote, "Of things created, the noblest and most resembling God, are creatures indued with the admirable guifte of understanding." (The Dublin Fragments; V: The creation and governance of the world not yet considered as being evill. And touching the first beginning of evill in the World.) It is hoped that the reader will employ that admirable gift.

Is beauty simply a physical attribute? Or is there a spiritual dimension to beauty that is perceived as good? Can the arts: poetry, painting, sculpture, etc. fully capture the essence of beauty? 

Around 600 B.C., the Greek poet Sappho asserted that “what is beautiful is good” but Plato argued that poetry is inferior to Beauty as a Form. The German poet Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805) wrote that “physical beauty is the sign of an interior beauty, a spiritual and moral beauty.” Yet as history proves many physically attractive people have shown themselves to be quite evil.

When Plato speaks of beauty, he is not referring to that which is physically appealing or attractive. He is speaking of an Ideal or a Form. The Form is eternal and unchanging. Therefore, beauty is not subjective or dependent upon cultural norms. It is something other, and a testimony to eternal realities.

Plato conceives of rational inquiry into the truth and the good as superior to the arts. Sculpture and poetry are good in a much as they have the potential to point to eternal realities. Plato encourages consideration of beautiful things because such contemplation can point to the soul’s eternal nature, a very Greek concept. For Plato, there is pleasure in such contemplation of the eternal.

The Hebrew mindset also finds pleasure in the contemplation of beauty. In the Hebrew Scriptures beauty is equated with glory, purity, honor, and pleasantness. In the Bible, beauty has a direct reference to God. The Hebrew delight in the “beauty of holiness”.

Clearly, there is a cultural difference between the Greek and the Hebrew understandings of beauty. For the Greek, beauty is the preoccupation of the soul. For the Hebrew, beauty is righteousness. Both conceptions are well defined within their immediate cultural contexts. Both generally agree that beauty has certain qualities: balance, symmetry, harmony, luminosity, etc.; qualities which are also ascribed to Goodness.

Christian theology contributes to this discussion by asserting that all truth is God's truth; all goodness is God's goodness, and all beauty is God's beauty. In this view, truth, goodness, and beauty have God as the point of reference. This cannot be proven by empirical observation. Further, there is the danger of slipping into pantheism or panentheism. 

For the modern person there is no aesthetic value in the soul or in righteousness. Instead, aesthetic value is linked to what gives the individual pleasure or satisfaction and therefore is highly subjective. It becomes freedom from moral constraints and duty, as Friedrich Schiller claimed. Or in the thinking of Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) the value lays in art as an instrument for improvement of the self or society.

Sunday, February 5, 2023

A First Look at Aesthetics


Dr. Alice C. Linsley

This is the first in a series on Aesthetics, the branch of philosophy that deals with the principles of beauty and artistic taste. It necessarily touches on Truth also. "Beauty is an effect of Truth that manifests when the object closer to the Truth is perceived by the subject." This is why Aesthetics cannot be set apart from ethics.

Beauty is recognized where one is closer to Truth. Thus, Truth is fundamental and beyond subject-object duality. This approaches Plato's understanding of beauty as transcendent eternal Forms. In Plato's philosophy beauty is not about art or nature. Were we to ask Plato: what is beauty? he would answer: “Forms are beautiful, the perfect being is beautiful, and among these forms, the form of Good is the most beautiful.” 

For the Ancient Greeks, beauty was not a matter of personal taste. According to Aristotle, beauty could be measured. Literally. “The chief forms of beauty are order and symmetry and definiteness, which the mathematical sciences demonstrate in a special degree,” he says in Metaphysics.

An expert on Greek and Roman art, Dr. Dietrich von Bothmer (1918-2009) explained, "Beauty was considered an excellence, like honesty or bravery. Physical beauty was important, but it had to be coupled with goodness of spirit as well."

The Neo-Platonist, Plotinus, insisted that beauty inspires an enquiry into its own source (ontology), and that this world is beautiful because it reflects the beauty of a supreme, undivided, transcendent "One". This One "is prior to all existents" and identified with the concept of Good and the principle of Beauty.

Plotinus has influenced those whose discontent with things as they are has led them to seek the realities behind the appearances of the senses. One of those persons is the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860).

Schopenhauer believed that art and aesthetic experience provide escape from an otherwise miserable existence, and that these allow one to attain greater objectivity than science or empirical knowledge. The more a person's mind is concerned with the world as representation, the less it feels the suffering of the world as will. Schopenhauer analyzed art from its effects, both on the personality of the artist, and the personality of the viewer.

When it comes beauty, either as Truth or as an antidote to misery, it is difficult to escape the impression that discernment of beauty is highly subjective. The Irish poet, Oscar Wilde, wrote, "Beauty has as many meanings as man has moods. Beauty is the symbol of symbols. Beauty reveals everything, because it expresses nothing. When it shows us itself, it shows us the whole fiery-coloured world."

In this series on Aesthetics, we will consider three topics:

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Turkiye Attacks Christians, Yazidis, and Kurds


Zeynab Serekaniye’s grave is seen in Tal Tamr, Syria on Sept. 4 after she was killed by a Turkish drone strike. Her mother placed a bride’s veil on the grave, saying: “I did not imagine that I would bury my daughter with her unfulfilled dreams. I wanted my daughter to wear this veil at her wedding, not to bury her underground.” SOLIN MUHAMMED AMIN FOR FOREIGN POLICY

Many in the West heard of the severe atrocities the jihadists of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) committed against the religious minorities of the Fertile Crescent, especially Christians and Yazidis. Several Western governments later classified these atrocities—which included massacres, crucifixion, torture, and sex slavery—as genocides.

Today, however, few are unaware that these same genocidal atrocities have resumed against the very same religious minorities who most suffered at the hands of ISIS in northern Syria—this time by another Muslim force with caliphal aspirations: Turkey, under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Between November 20-25, 2022, Turkey launched 2,500 attacks—air, mortar, drone, artillery, etc.—several miles deep into Syria's northern border. Governed by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), this also happens to be where most of the formerly persecuted religious minorities, Christians, Yazidis, and Kurds, live.