EVERY BOOK I READ IN 2019

I have a recent New Years tradition: listing every book I read in the past year, and selecting the best. Last New Years my two favorites were Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain and Jordan Peterson’s Maps of Meaning. The year before that was an overwhelming feast — with Confessions, Console Wars, Dragons of Tiananmen, Ezekiel, Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran, Three Body Problem, Unseen Realm, and Weight of Glory, to name a few.

This year is dominated by my reading of the Qur’an, a book written by an Arian Christian during the end of that communion, and now considered sacred by Muslims. Understanding it has required me to better learn and internalize early Christian writings. But for sheer enjoyment, I can’t beat two histories — The History of the Future (about the founding of Oculus) and Area 51 (about the CIA, Air Force, and Department of Energy programs in that part of Nevada… and other places).

The Qur’an

1: The Opening
2: The Heifer
3: The Family of Amram
4: The Women
5: The Table
6: The Cattle
7: The Elevations
8: The Spoils
9: Repentance
10: Jonah
11: Hud
12: Joseph
13: Thunder
14: Abraham
15: The Rock
16: The Bees
17: The Night Journey

18: The Cave

The Apocrypha


The Book of Jubilees

Christian Writings

Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved?: With A Short Discourse on Hell, by Hans Urs Von Balthasar
Hans Urs von Balthasar: Rediscovering Holistic Christianity, by Kevin Mongrain
Introduction to Patristics: Learning from the Church Fathers, by David Meconi
Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, by Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)
Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper, by Brant Pitre
Paul: A Biography, by N.T. Wright
When the Church was Young: Voices of the Early Fathers, by Marcellino D’Ambrosio

Business Strategy


The History of the Future: Oculus, Facebook, and the Revolution that Swept Virtual Reality, by Blake Harris

Transforming Nokia: The Power of Paranoid Optimism to Lead Through Colossal Change, by Risto Siilasmaa with Catherine Fredman
Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, by Peter Thiel with Blake Masters

Politics and Political and Government History


Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base, by Annie Jacobsen

Unleashing Demons: The Inside Story of Brexit, by Craig Oliver

Speculative and Science Fiction

Alpha and Omega, by Harry Turtledove
The Adventures of Tom Stranger, Interdimensional Insurance Agent, by Larry Correia and performed by Adam Baldwin

Tom Stranger in… A Murder of Manatees, by Larry Correia and performed by Adam Baldwin

Qur’an 18: The Cave

The eighteenth chapter of the Qur’an emphasizes God’s greatness, and His use of all of His creation to reach your soul. Not only the Torah, or the Psalms, or the Gospels, but popular stories (including this Lectionary!) proclaim his goodness. The Lord has given you the Rock, the Fish, the Life of the World — just stay focused on him, use these signs for what they are, and proclaim this good news to others.

Readings

Entrance Antiphon:

And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah, before Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan.
Genesis 23:19

A Reading, from the Book of Genesis:

And the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

So the LORD God said to the serpent:

“Because you have done this,
You are cursed more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you shall go,
And you shall eat dust
All the days of your life.
Genesis 3:13-14

A Song, from the Psalms:

The mountains skipped like rams,
The little hills like lambs.
What ails you, O sea, that you fled?
O Jordan, that you turned back?
O mountains, that you skipped like rams?
O little hills, like lambs?

Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the LORD,
At the presence of the God of Jacob,
Who turned the rock into a pool of water,
The flint into a fountain of waters.
Psalms 114:4-8

A reading from the Letter of St. James

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the LORD wills, we shall live and do this or that.” But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
James 4:13-16

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”
John 6:51

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

A Reading, from the Holy Gospel According to Luke

Then one from the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

But He said to him, “Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?” And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”

Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”‘ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’

“So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
Luke 12:13-21

Communion Antiphon

Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.
John 11:38

A Qur’anic Homily

God controls time. This is vital for understanding the spiritual sense of scripture. The cave that Abraham acquired for Sarah is the one that Christ freed Lazarus from. The gulf of time means nothing to the Lord, nor do man’s plans for the future

Do not say about anything, ‘I will indeed do it tomorrow!’ without, ‘God willing.’ And when you forget, remember your Lord and say, ‘Maybe my Lord will guide me to more akin to rectitude than this’
Qur’an 18:23-24

Consider Christ’s parable of the foolish man, prompted by someone asking for more inheritance from his brother. The interlocutor demanded more land, more of a Garden of Eden, without even realizing the Living Water was right besides him, Water sent from God through the Wind:, the Word from the Lord through the Spirit:

Draw for them the parable of the Life of this World: like the Water We send down from the sky. Then the earth’s vegetation mingles with it. Then it becomes chaff, scattered by the Wind. And God has power over all things.
Qur’an 18:45

Draw for them the parable of two men for each of whom We had made two gardens of vines and We had surrounded them with date palms and placed crops between them. Both gardens yielded their produce without stinting anything of it. And We had a stream gush through them.
Qur’an 18:32-33

A wise ‘poor’ man realizes his blessings, and the ‘rich’ man harms himself most through his greed. The worship of Mammon besides God had left the foolish rich man condemned and helpless:

Why did you not say when you entered your garden, ‘As God has willed! There is no power except by God!’ If you see that I have lesser wealth than you and children, maybe my Lord will give me better than your gardens and He will unleash it upon bolts from the sky, so that it becomes a bare plain. Or its water will sink down, so that you will never be able to obtain it.’

And ruin closed in on his produce and as it lay fallen on its trellises he begin to wring his hands for what he had spent on it. He was saying ‘I wish I had not ascribed any partner to my Lord.’ He had no party to help him besides God, nor could he help himself. Qur’an 18:39-41

In the proper perspective — God’s perspective — the mountains themselves move. They are built up and torn down. Every false god — Money, Fame, Pride — will fall leaving only the soul, and God:

The day We shall set the mountains moving and you will see the earth in full view, We will muster them and We will not leave out anyone of them. They will be presented before your Lord in ranks: “Certainly you have come to Us just as We created you the first time. But you maintained that We will not appoint a tryst for you.’
Qur’an 18:47-48

This is not to say that Money, Fame, and Pride weren’t created by God. Surely, they were as much as Satan, Iblis, the Devil. But these things are not helpers, and the evil they cause is from the wrong orders. If Iblis had been at Eve’s feet from the beginning we would not experience the wrong ordering of our sinful world. As it is, that serpent will be at the feet of another pair of man and woman — Jesus and Mary — who will crush its head:

When We said to the angels, ‘Prostrate before Adam,’ they prostrated, but not Iblis. He was one of the jinn, so he transgressed against his Lord’s command. Will you take him and his offspring for masters in My stead, through they are your enemies? How evil a substitute for the wrongdoers!
Qur’an 18:50

Other Stories

The stories from the bible, in their spiritual meaning, are parables. Whether or not they physically happened, or whatever their full historical context, we are supposed to understand a deeper meaning through them

We have certainly interspersed this Lectionary with every kind of parable for the people. But man is the most disputation of creatures. Nothing has kept these people from believing and pleading to their Lord for forgiveness when guidance came to them, except that the precedence of the ancients come to pass for them, or that punishment come to them, face to face.
Qur’an 18:54-55

To this end, in the eighteenth chapter the Qur’anic author includes several popular stories, such as

In the same way, last Sunday my priest worked Home Alone into the homily. The spiritual sense of scripture can be made easier to understand using these works. Because all good things point to God. For instance, take the story of the search for the Fountain of Youth, with its Fish…

So when they reached the confluence between them, they forgot their fish, which found its way into the sea, sneaking away. SO when they had passed on, he said to his lad, ‘Bring us our meal. We have certainly encountered much fatigue on this journey.’

He said, ‘Did you see?! When we took shelter at the Rock, indeed I forgot about the fish — and none but Satan made me forget to mention it! — and it made its way into the sea in an amazing manner!

He said, ‘This is what we were after!’ So they returned, retracing their footsteps.’
Qur’an 18:61-64

The world was made God, and the world points to God.

The Rock provides shelter. The Fish provides a meal. And the things that point to them — the Shelter of the Rock — are good, and right. But the Shelter is not a Master. Indeed, Satan will trick you into forgetting about the object of your love — God – the Real – and distract you into false gods, into idols, things less real than the Real.

Or consider the Sleepers of Ephesus, a story of how God protected persecuted Christians by allowing them to sleep (with a pet dog!) in the safety of a Cave:

When the youths took refuge in the Cave, they said ‘Our Lord! Grant us mercy from Yourself and help us on the rectitude in our affair.’

So We put them to sleep in the Cave for several years…

You will suppose them to be awake, though they are asleep. We turn them to the right and to the left, and at the threshold their dog stretching its forelegs. If you come upon them, you will surely them to flee from them and will be filled with a terror of them…
Qur’an 18:10-11,18

The Cave can be a place of safety, protected by the Rock. Or it can be a grave. The difference is if you worship the Rock, or the Cave – if you worship God, or a creature.

Keep God first, kneel when you should kneel, be in the proper order

There, all authority belongs to God, the Real. He is best in rewarding and best in requiting.
Qur’an 18:44

Conclusion

God is patient. Be patient with God. And one day, you will see Him face to face, like a friend. Pray, do what you should in remembrance of Him, praise Him with other believes. Just love Him, and not the glittering that surrounds Him

Content yourself with the company of those who supplicate their Lord morning and evening, desiring His Face, and do not loose sight of them, desiring the glitter of the life of this world. And do not obey him whose heart We have made oblivious to Our remembrance and who follows his own desires, and whose conduct is profligacy.
Qur’an 18:28

Every good book, every good story, every good thing sings of the Lord. There is no end to the instruction that you have available to you. The Torah, the Psalms, the Gospels, popular stories, and this Lectionary all point to Him:

Say, “If the sea were ink for the words of my Lord, the sea would be spent before the words of my Lord are finished, though We replenish it with another like it.”
Qur’an 18:109

Now go, and evangelize in your own words, be that good thing that points to God:

Say, “I am just a human being like you. It has been revealed to me that your God is the One God. So whoever expects to encounter his Lord, let him act righteously and not associate anyone with the worship of his Lord.”
Qur’an 18:110

Impressions of “Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved?: With A Short Discourse on Hell,” by Hans Urs Von Balthasar

Impressions of “Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved?: With A Short Discourse on Hell,” by Hans Urs Von Balthasar

Is it acceptable for a Catholic to hope that all men will one day enter heaven?

Bishop Robert Barron not only wrote the forward for Dare We Hope, he also wrote an excellent blog post summarizing the book’s answer: yes.

Catholic doctrine is that Hell exists, but yet the Church has never claimed to know if any human being is actually in Hell. When the Church says that Hell exists, it means that the definitive rejection of God’s love is a real possibility. “Hell” or “Gehenna” are spatial metaphors for the lonely and sad condition of having definitively refused the offer of the divine life. But is there anyone in this state of being? We don’t know for sure. We are in fact permitted to hope and to pray that all people will finally surrender to the alluring beauty of God’s grace.

Think of God’s life as a party to which everyone is invited, and think of Hell as the sullen corner into which someone who resolutely refuses to join the fun has sadly slunk. What this image helps us to understand is that language which suggests that God “sends” people to Hell is misleading. As C.S. Lewis put it so memorably: the door that closes one into Hell (if there is anyone there) is locked from the inside not from the outside. The existence of Hell as a real possibility is a corollary of two more fundamental convictions, namely, that God is love and that human beings are free. The divine love, freely rejected, results in suffering. And yet, we may, indeed we should, hope that God’s grace will, in the end, wear down the even the most recalcitrant sinner.

But the counter-argument seem pretty clear, and was put forward by Christ Himself:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.
Matthew 5:21-30

The counter-counter-argues is that Christ speaks of punishment, which includes purgatory, and the danger of Hell, which could still exist even if no one actually goes there.

But is that a hope, and not just wishful thinking?

On social media Bishop Barron has posted a video in favor of the hope that all men may be saved:

While Taylor Marshall, author of The Crucified Rabbi, has an opposing view

So – dare we hope that all men be saved?

The Definition of Hope

While Balthasar takes a number of digs at St Thomas Aquinas, he uses both Thomas’s definition of hope

For, as we have already stated (I-II:40:1), when we were treating of the passion of hope, the object of hope is a future good, difficult but possible to obtain.
Summa Theologica, II.ii.17

And Thomas’s view that hope is a virtue:

Wherefore, in so far as we hope for anything as being possible to us by means of the Divine assistance, our hope attains God Himself, on Whose help it leans. It is therefore evident that hope is a virtue, since it causes a human act to be good and to attain its due rule.

The Scriptures

Balthasar does not claim that all men will go to heaven. Indeed, he urges the spiritually safest position is to consider oneself even more in danger of judgment than Judas, of whom Jesus said. You do not know what weaknesses were in his heart, but you should know your own betrayals of Christ very well:

The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.”

Then Judas, who was betraying Him, answered and said, “Rabbi, is it I?”

He said to him, “You have said it.”
Matthew 26:24-25

Yet Paul writes of the Father’s desire for “all,” and wonders how easily the Father would let His purpose be frustrated by our inclination, all other things being equal, to fail in the faith:

For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.

And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight— if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.
Colossians 1:19-23

Continuing this theme, it what may have been the darkest period of his ministry, Paul writes:

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.
Ephesians 1:7-12

On the “dispensation of the fullness of time,” Balthasar wonders — or hopes — if perhaps God does not let “all other things be equal.” For instance, might He order things such that even a soul inclined to sin would be saved from temptation and brought to repentance and purification.

Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:9-11

The hope that Balthasar seems in the Bible is not a “sure hope” — it is not knowledge — that we are all saved. But that God is willing to lead our free will, using tricks and punishments, to give Christ his due:

Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.
John 17:1-3

The Doctors of the Church

Many Saints have had visions of Hell, and great teachers have lectured about who is in there. Balthasar hopes that these visions, by showing us that saints in this world would be willing to atone for the sins of even the damned, show us that Christ would do also. There surely is a Hell, so from the reactions of saints do we see an image of God’s view?

How could I ever reconcile myself, Lord, to the prospect that a single one of those whom, like me, you have created in your image and likeness should become lost and slip from your hands? No, in absolutely no case do I want to see a single one of my brethren meet with ruin, not a single one of those, through their like birth, are one with me by nature and by grace. I want them all to be wrested from the grasp of the ancient enemy, so that they all become yours to the honor and greater glorification of your name.
St Catherine of Sienna, Dialogues

And while the Lord teaches that wide is the gate that leads to destruction, perhaps actually entering destruction is harder than that:

“A long time after the Lord had already granted me many of the favors I’ve mentioned and other very lofty ones, while I was in prayer one day, I suddenly found that, without knowing how, I had seemingly been put in hell. I understood that the Lord wanted me to see the place the devils had prepared there for me and which I merited because of my sins. This experience took place within the shortest space of time, but even were I to live for many years I think it would be impossible for me to forget it. The entrance it seems to me was similar to a very long and narrow alleyway, like an oven, low and dark and confined; the floor seemed to me to consist of dirty, muddy water emitting foul stench and swarming with putrid vermin. At the end of the alleyway a hole that looked like a small cupboard was hollowed out in the wall; there I found I was placed in a cramped condition. All of this was delightful to see in comparison with what I felt there. What I have described can hardly be exaggerated.

“What I felt, it seems to me, cannot even begin to be exaggerated; nor can it be understood. I experienced a fire in the soul that I don’t know how I could describe. The bodily pains were so unbearable that though I had suffered excruciating ones in this life and according to what doctors say, the worst that can be suffered on earth for all my nerves were shrunken when I was paralyzed, plus many other sufferings of many kinds that I endured and even some as I said, caused by the devil, these were all nothing in comparison with the ones I experienced there. I saw furthermore that they would go on without end and without ever ceasing. This, however, was nothing next to the soul’s agonizing: a constriction, a suffocation, an affliction so keenly felt and with such a despairing and tormenting unhappiness that I don’t know how to word it strongly enough. To say the experience is as though the soul were continually being wrested from the body would be insufficient, for it would make you think somebody else is taking away the life, whereas here it is the soul itself that tears itself in pieces. The fact is that I don’t know how to give a sufficiently powerful description of that interior fire and that despair, coming in addition to such extreme torments and pains. I didn’t see who inflicted them on me, but, as it seemed to me, I felt myself burning and crumbling; and I repeat the worst was that interior fire and despair.
St Theresa of Avila, Collected Works

There’s something going on with all these opposite statements, these theological dialectics. We’re in a confusing space. Balthasar’s reaction to this confusion is hope that all men be saved:

Spare in Thy mercy, and take not vengeance in Thy justice. For although it be hard to understand how Thy mercy is not parted from Thy justice; yet is it necessary to believe that it is not at enmity with Thy justice, that it floweth from Thy goodness, that it is not without justice, nay in truth accordeth with Thy justice. For if Thou art merciful only because Thou art supremely good, and art supremely good only because Thou art supremely just: therefore art Thou in truth merciful because Thou art supremely just. Help me, O just and merciful God, for I seek Thy light. Help me, that I may understand what I say!
Anselm of Canterbury. Prologion, IX

On the Pope and Hannibal Lecter

My greatest doubts to Balthasar’s “hope” comes from free will. What if an individual, consciously, rationally, and in full possession of his spirits, chooses damnation?

Balthasar cites future Pope Benedict XVI to this point:

“Christ inflicts pure perdition on no one. In himself he is sheer salvation… Perdition is not imposed by him but comes to be wherever a person distances himself from Christ. It comes about whenever someone remains enclosed within himself. Christ’s word, the bearer of the offer of salvation, then lays bare the fact that the person who is lost has himself drawn the dividing line and separated himself from salvation.
Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life, pp 205-206

In the back of my mind is the most Satanic characters I’ve encountered in fiction — Hannibal Lector. I don’t mean the movie version, the guy who eats people, which is bad enough! But in the novel, we hear his eternal narration, and his calm, rational statement preferring damnation in Hell, rather than share Heaven with a God who allowed his little sister’s death. Even if we accept that God is very patient in purgatory, and finds some way to call everyone back who falls into it, what of the Lecters of this world?

Balthasar wonders if every “no” is predicated on a “yes” to God. To go back to my example of Hannibal Lecter, his “no” to salvation” comes from his “yes” to his sister. Might we hope that God uses this right, if out of order, love for his image?

Maybe. Maybe that’s enough for “hope.”

The Catechism

Balthasar’s ambiguous views are reflected in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published a few years after Dare We Hope. The relevant portion of the Catechism reads both in ways that imply that most are in Hell:

We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: “He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren. To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell.”
CCC 1033

And that it’s a free choice, from now until the end, to get in, with God having a clearly desired outcome:

God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want “any to perish, but all to come to repentance”
CCC 1037

Thus we should all be very aware of our own sinfulness, and view Hell as a personal possibility. As Balthasar writes:

Even if someone could know himself as being in the “certainty” inherent in Christian hope, he still does not know whether he will not transgress against love and thereby also forfeit the certainty of hope. It is therefore indispensable that every individual Christian be confronted, in the greatest seriousness, with the possibility of his becoming lost.

And the Catechism confirms:

The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.” The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion: “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we should follow the advice of the Lord and watch constantly so that, when the single course of our earthly life is completed, we may merit to enter with him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed, and not, like the wicked and slothful servants, be ordered to depart into the eternal fire, into the outer darkness where “men will weep and gnash their teeth.” CCC 1035-1036

We do not know the how this all ends. We only know how we should pray:

The Church prays that no one should be lost: “Lord, let me never be parted from you.” If it is true that no one can save himself, it is also true that God “desires all men to be saved” (1 Tim 2:4), and that for him “all things are possible” (Mt 19:26).
CCC 1058

Conclusion

Hans Urs Von Balthasar is an important figure of the resourcement — going back to the sources — within Catholicism. I’m glad I read an introduction to his work before beginning Dare We Hope. Instead of focusing on the Summa Theologica as the definitive summary of theology, Balthasar uses church Doctors and Fathers, along with a dramatic sense of the text. Balthasar views some contradictory statements as “mysteries” to fall into, rather than problems already solved, and in some ways is more typical of the Orthodox Church than the Catholic Encyclopedia (1917). But Balthasar’s theologically is fundamentally Catholic, with a focus on the importance of purgatory and clear alignment with recent Popes.

So, dare we “hope” that all men be saved? Balthasar’s answer is yes: yes, we may hope, but to do this we must cooperate with God in the one soul we have the most control over: our own.

Impressions of “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper,” by Brant Pitre

How can Christ order his followers to eat his flesh? Would that make them cannibals?

Would it be possible outside a natural human lifetime? No wonder the most disastrous moment in Jesus’ ministry — in the sense of being rejected by the people because of a teaching — is after Christ’s commandment to partake in the Lord’s Supper:

“I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”

The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?”

Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.
John 6:51-53

Jewish Roots is a typological book that identifies four shadows of the Last Supper. Three of these are in the Old Testament: Manna, the Passover Lamb, and the Bread of the Presence. For the first three Pitre presents both biblical evidence, but also references from the Jewish Talmud. This was frustrating because the Talmud was written after the New Testament, and in many case references personalities and events of the New Testaments. But later the reason for this became clear. Using the Talmud, Pitre argues the Last Supper was also a Passover Seder.

The first three — the manna, the Passover lamb, and the show bread — all are referenced in the Books of Moses, the Prophets, the Gospels, and the Epistles.

The Books of Moses

Manna, the supernatural bread from heaven, came down to teach men that normal bread was not enough for them:

“Every commandment which I command you today you must be careful to observe, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land of which the Lord swore to your fathers. And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. Your garments did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you.
Deuteronomy 8:1-3

Show bread is introduced as the climax of the description of the Table within the sanctuary. The Hebrew is often translated as “Bread of the Presence,” though literally means Bread of the Face:

“You shall also make a table of acacia wood; two cubits shall be its length, a cubit its width, and a cubit and a half its height. And you shall overlay it with pure gold, and make a molding of gold all around. You shall make for it a frame of a handbreadth all around, and you shall make a gold molding for the frame all around. And you shall make for it four rings of gold, and put the rings on the four corners that are at its four legs. The rings shall be close to the frame, as holders for the poles to bear the table. And you shall make the poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold, that the table may be carried with them. You shall make its dishes, its pans, its pitchers, and its bowls for pouring. You shall make them of pure gold. And you shall set the show bread on the table before Me always.
Exodus 25:23-30

While the Passover lamb is introduced is introduced as a sacrifice to be consumed as it is slaughtered:

Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats. Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight. And they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it. Then they shall eat the flesh on that night; roasted in fire, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs they shall eat it.
Exodus 12:5-8

Pitre emphasizes that Christ is a Passover lamb. This is important because Christ is not a sin offering. Christianity has been struggling with Christ’s incompatibility with the basic gender requirements of sin offers:

And if we brings a lamb for a sin offering, he shall bring it a female without blemish.”
Leviticus 4:32

Yet the focus on a male lamb does fit the requirements for a peace offering.

‘If his offering as a sacrifice of a peace offering to the Lord is of the flock, whether male or female, he shall offer it without blemish. If he offers a lamb as his offering, then he shall offer it before the Lord. And he shall lay his hand on the head of his offering, and kill it before the tabernacle of meeting; and Aaron’s sons shall sprinkle its blood all around on the altar.
Leviticus 3:6-8

Which are evocative of Christ and the ongoing celebration of mass in other ways:

‘The flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offering for thanksgiving shall be eaten the same day it is offered. He shall not leave any of it until morning. But if the sacrifice of his offering is a vow or a voluntary offering, it shall be eaten the same day that he offers his sacrifice; but on the next day the remainder of it also may be eaten; the remainder of the flesh of the sacrifice on the third day must be burned with fire.
Leviticus 7:15:17

Pitre argues Christ’s use of these Mosaic themes in his ministry were a purposeful attempt to teach that he was the New Moses.

The Prophets

Following the Torah, much of the rest of the Old Testament is composed of the prophets, beginning with Joshua and ending with the Minor prophets. These signs, already introduced by Moses, are referenced during the waiting for the Gospel:

You also gave Your good Spirit to instruct them,
And did not withhold Your manna from their mouth,
And gave them water for their thirst.

Forty years You sustained them in the wilderness;
They lacked nothing;
Their clothes did not wear out
And their feet did not swell.
Nehemiah 9:20

And into the conflict between Saul and the son of Jessee is the show bread:

And the priest answered David and said, “There is no common bread on hand; but there is holy bread, if the young men have at least kept themselves from women.”

Then David answered the priest, and said to him, “Truly, women have been kept from us about three days since I came out. And the vessels of the young men are holy, and the bread is in effect common, even though it was consecrated in the vessel this day.”

So the priest gave him holy bread; for there was no bread there but the show bread which had been taken from before the LORD, in order to put hot bread in its place on the day when it was taken away.
1 Samuel 21:4-6

And the role of the peace offering, to be given by the prince:

“Now when the prince makes a voluntary burnt offering or voluntary peace offering to the Lord, the gate that faces toward the east shall then be opened for him; and he shall prepare his burnt offering and his peace offerings as he did on the Sabbath day. Then he shall go out, and after he goes out the gate shall be shut.

“You shall daily make a burnt offering to the Lord of a lamb of the first year without blemish; you shall prepare it every morning.
Ezekiel 46:12-13

Pitre argues the Lord’s Supper — and Christ’s taking on of the roles of Passover Lamb, Show Bread, and Manna, propagate backwards into time. Thus, when Davis eats the show bread, or the prince sacrifices Lamb, in some mysterious way Christ is present in those actions.

Gospels

The signs are also explicitly used by Christ himself, identifying the Manna with “my Flesh”:

Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.” These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.
John 6:53-59

Christ also references the show bread, and how David ate it when he was hungry. This discourse in Matthew ties together with John’s description of the Son’s flesh. If you are hungry for eternal life, be like David, and eat the bread:

But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the show bread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?
Matthew 12:3-4

For his part, Mark ambiguously uses the phrase “when they killed the Passover Lamb” to refer both to a foodstuff which is conspicuously missing from the written descriptions of dinner, as well as to Christ:

Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they killed the Passover lamb, His disciples said to Him, “Where do You want us to go and prepare, that You may eat the Passover?”

And He sent out two of His disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him. Wherever he goes in, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?”‘ Then he will show you a large upper room, furnished and prepared; there make ready for us.”
Mark 14:12-15

Christ incorporates the Books of Moses and the Prophets into his life by reference. Just as the Qur’an assumes the reader has read the Bible, Christ is assuming knowledge of the Jewish Scriptures to identify himself as Lamb, as Show Bread, and as Manna.

The Letters

The letter writers who explained the Gospel after Christ’s life also picked up the same themes. Manna is given to believers who overcome:

Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.”‘
Revelation 2:17

While the anonymous author of Hebrews emphasizes the show bread as the final part of the sanctuary:

Then indeed, even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary. For a tabernacle was prepared: the first part, in which was the lamp stand, the table, and the show bread, which is called the sanctuary; and behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All, which had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant; and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.
Hebrews 9:1-5

The same author explicitly compares Christ to the offerings:

We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come. Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.
Hebrew 13:10-16

Christ is presented not just as the end of the Hebrew Scriptures, but as the beginning of what happens next. Christ-as-manna is present, after Christ-as-show-bread. Some kind of dimensional folding is happening here. Pitre argues another method of folding is responsible for a fourth sign: the Last Supper as a Passover Seder, when He was sacrificed.

The Passover Seder

Like the Dominican Monk Paul Christiani, Pitre seeks to support Christian belief with the Jewish Talmud. Documented, after Christ, in the sometimes anti-Christian Talmud, the liturgy of the Seder is a method of the celebration of the Jewish religion in the absence of a validly operating Temple. Christ had stated that He was greater than the Temple. In a passage that immediately follows Christ reminding of David’s eating the Bread of the Presence:

Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? Yet ‘I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
Matthew 12:5-8

The liturgy of the Passover Sedar includes numerous steps, and Pitre argues that several of these are explicitly described in the Gospels. Within the Seder itself are four ritual cups:

  1. The Cup of Sanctification
  2. The Cup of Deliverance
  3. The Cup of Redemption
  4. The Cup of Restoration

At table, Christ drinks from two cups, identified by Pitre as the second and third cups of the liturgy, the Cup of Deliverance and the Cup of Redemption:

Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”

Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you. But behold, the hand of My betrayer is with Me on the table. And truly the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!”
Luke 22:17-22

The Seder should not end until a fourth cup is drunk. And it is here that the Last Supper, when the Lord instituted Holy Communion, merges into the Passion — as Christ intentionally does not drink wine during the Passion itself

And when they had come to a place called Golgotha, that is to say, Place of a Skull, they gave Him sour wine mingled with gall to drink. But when He had tasted it, He would not drink.
Matthew 27:33-34

but only upon its completion

After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, “I thirst!” Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth. So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.
John 19:28-30

Conclusion

Pitre presents four types for the Last Supper, three of which precede it in the Bible: the Bread of the Face, the Manna, and the Passover Lamb. A fourth type, the Passover Seder, is only attested after the Last Supper had happened. Nonetheless, the Seder may have been contemporary with Christ, and presents a sort of grammar for otherwise arbitrary statements made during that holy weekend.

While discussing the first three types, Pitre presents not only Biblical evidence but evidence from the Talmud. By itself this is weak, because the Talmud was written after the Bible. But because the Seder argument depends entirely on the Talmud, its earlier introduction makes that section (and the identity of the “fourth cup” with the wine that Christ drank on the cross) less jarring.

Also at the end Pitre introduces the catechism of the Catholic church, and passages which further supports his arguments. For instance:

In the Old Covenant bread and wine were offered in sacrifice among the first fruits of the earth as a sign of grateful acknowledgment to the Creator. But they also received a new significance in the context of the Exodus: the unleavened bread that Israel eats every year at Passover commemorates the haste of the departure that liberated them from Egypt; the remembrance of the manna in the desert will always recall to Israel that it lives by the bread of the Word of God; their daily bread is the fruit of the promised land, the pledge of God’s faithfulness to his promises.

The “cup of blessing” at the end of the Jewish Passover meal adds to the festive joy of wine an eschatological dimension: the messianic expectation of the rebuilding of Jerusalem. When Jesus instituted the Eucharist, he gave a new and definitive meaning to the blessing of the bread and the cup.
Catechism of the Catholic Church 1334

these are sensible, and support his arguments, at least for the first three types.

I enjoyed reading Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist. In particular, Pitre’s introduction of the Seder view of the Last Supper, and the way it extends the Last Supper thru the passion and the crucifixion, help me understand how Christ could have instituted Holy Communion at the Last Supper.

I read Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist in the Audible edition.

Qur’an 17: The Night Journey

The seventeenth chapter of the Qur’an, the “Night Journey,” emphasizes the role of the Holy Spirit as a guide, even for Christ. One of the most “Arian” chapters of the Qur’an, “Night Journey” presents a remarkably different explanation for the Trinity than common in Catholicism, Orthodoxy, or Protestantism. The different persons of the Trinity exist to show that none by God — the first person of the Trinity serves as guide.

As the Qur’an appears to be a set of homilies, this chapter begins with a series of readings it appears to be based on. I am not sure what of the specific rules for creating Syriac liturgies in the 6th or 7th centuries, so I am using a contemporary Catholic pattern: three readings (one from the Old Testament, Epistles, and Gospels), a Psalm, and then short one-sentence ‘antiphons.’ To me, “Night Journey” makes the sense sense if read while keeping these readings in mind.

Readings

Entrance Antiphon:

And it shall come to pass, as soon as I am gone from you, that the Spirit of the Lord will carry you to a place I do not know; so when I go and tell Ahab, and he cannot find you, he will kill me. But I your servant have feared the Lord from my youth.
1 Kings 18:12

A reading, from the Book of Deuteronomy:

When you besiege a city for a long time, while making war against it to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them; if you can eat of them, do not cut them down to use in the siege, for the tree of the field is man’s food. Only the trees which you know are not trees for food you may destroy and cut down, to build siegeworks against the city that makes war with you, until it is subdued.
Deuteronomy 20:19-20

A Song, from the Book of Psalms:

Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;
Let the sea roar, and all its fullness;

Let the field be joyful, and all that is in it.
Then all the trees of the woods will rejoice

before the Lord.
For He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth.
He shall judge the world with righteousness,
And the peoples with His truth.
Psalms 96:11-13

A reading, from the St Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians:

Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech— unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away. But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
2 Corinthians 3:12-18

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
John 14:6

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

A reading, from the Holy Gospel According to Matthew:

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.” And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.”

He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”

Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Matthew 26:36-41

Communion Antiphon:

Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.
Luke 4:1

A Qur’anic Homily

The Arians, who denied that Jesus was the same substance as God, nonetheless believed Jesus was God. According to the Ulfian Creed:

I believe in only one God the Father,
the unbegotten and invisible,

and in his only-begotten Son,
our Lord and God,
the designer and maker of all creation,
having none other like him

Therefore, there is one God of all,
who is also God of our God;
and in one Holy Spirit, the illuminating and sanctifying power

Arians believed in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the oneness of God, and also that all three persons in the Trinity were God.

They question you concerning the Spirit. Say, ‘The Spirit is the Word of my Lord, and you have not been given of the knowledge except a few.’
Qur’an 17:85

It is in this context that the Qur’an’s blessings upon the Holy Spirit, for carrying Christ make the most sense:

Immaculate is He who carried His servant on a journey by night from the Sacred House of Prayer to the Farther House of Prayer whose environs We have blessed, so that We might show him some of Our signs. Indeed, He is the All-hearing, the all-Seeing. Qur’an 17:1

Outside the Qur’an, there is unanimous agreement that the “Farther House of Prayer” is the top of Mount Zion, God’s Holy Mountain. To me it makes the most sense the “Holy House of Prayer” is the Garden of Gethsemane, where Christ shed blood in prayer and gave the most heart-rending of all prayers to his Father and God. But just as the Holy Spirit led the Son into the wilderness, so it led Him to Caiaphas, to Pilate, and the proclamation that He is the Truth.

This was necessary, according to the Qur’anic author, because no one can guide themselves. Even Christ was guided by the Spirit, and Christ himself was offered as a guide to the people of Israel. But Israel rejected him, and became due to the Word:

Whoever is guided is guided only for his own soul, and whoever goes astray, goes astray only to its detriment. No bearer shall bear another’s burden.

We do not punish until We have sent an apostle. And when We desire to destroy a town We command its affluent ones. But they commit transgression in it, and so the Word becomes due against it, and We destroy it utterly.
Qur’an 17:15-16

This difference between being guided by God and being guided by oneself can be thought of as Books — the Word of the Lord and the word of the self. Lord, protect me from being guided by my own book separate from yours:

We have strapped every person’s register to his neck, and We shall bring it out for him on the Day of Resurrection as a book that he will find wide open. ‘Read your book! Today your soul suffices as your own reckoner!’
Qur’an 17:13-14

Instead, guide me with your Word, the Gospel, which you sent down with the Truth:

With the Truth did We sent it down, and with the Truth did it descend, and We did not send you except as a bearer of Good News and a warner. We have sent the Lectionary in parts so that you may recite it for the people a little at a time, and We have sent it down piecemeal.
Qur’an 17:105-106

The disciples could not stay away with Christ. He invited them to prayer in that holy house of prayer — the garden — and it was too hard for them. But He still asks us to pray with him, and through the liturgy of the hours we are still able to.

Maintain the prayer from the sun’s decline till the darkness of the night, and the dawn recital. The dawn recital is indeed attended.

And keep vigil for a part of the night, as a supererogatory for you. It may be that your Lord will raise you to a praiseworthy station.
And say, ‘My Lord! Admit me with a worthy entrance, and bring me out with a worthy departure, and render me a favorable authority from Yourself!’
Qur’an 17:78-80

Christ exhibited perfect humility, asking the Lord to forgive those who persecuted him, and teaching his disciples to do likewise:

Lower the wing of humility to them mercifully, and say, ‘My Lord! Have Mercy on them, just as they reared me when I was small!’ Your Lord knows best what is in your hearts. Should you be righteous, He is indeed most forgiving toward penitents.
Qur’an 17:24

This is not to say — in the Qur’anic author’s view — that intercession is possible. But prayers for others show the humble and contrite heart desired by the Lord. It is for the reason that the Qur’an stresses the blessings Christ received during the Passion — “so that We might show Him some of Our Signs” — as opposed to the Catholic view of Christ’s merit’s directly saving others:

The friends of the King of the Universe were not won in the Qur’anic author’s view by the Passion, though the Christ showed compassion on them in the passion:

And Say, ‘All praise belongs to God, who has neither any offspring, nor has He any partner in sovereignty, nor has He made any friend out of weakness,’ and magnify Him with a magnification.
Qur’an 17:111

Given God’s greatness, the appropriate response of man is humility. God is without limits:

Indeed, your Lord expands and tightens the provision for whomever He wishes. He is indeed a well-informed observer of His servants.
Qur’an 17:30

And Christ’s mission was not only to the humans, but even the trees. One was cursed, another became the Cross:

When We said to you, ‘Your Lord indeed encompasses those people,’ We did not appoint the vision that We showed you except as a tribulation for the people and the tree cursed in the Lectionary. We warn them, but it only increases them in their outrageous rebellion.’
Qur’an 17:60

Every thing responds to God according to its capacity and God’s will. From the smallest microbe to the greatest angel, God is the origin and purpose of creation:

The seven heavens glorify Him and the earth, and whoever is in them. There is not a thing but celebrates His praise, but you do not understand their glorification. He is indeed all-forbearing, all-forgiving.
Qur’an 17:44

Yet there’s a dialectic at work too: all glorify God, but God created all in different degrees of greatness. Not all prophets are as great as David, not all books as great as the Psalms:

Your Lord knows best whoever is in the heavens and the earth. Certainly We gave some prophets an advantage over the others, and We gave David the Psalms.
Qur’an 17:55

It is hard for men to keep this in mind: the overwhelming greatness of God, the total diversity of creation. But God can. God understands the way that Christ can minister to both the trees and the creatures, but not but an angel: for (according to the Qur’anic author) it would be one like an angel who would minister to angles, and one like a man (or a tree) who would minister to men and trees:

They say, ‘We will not believe you until you make a spring gush forth for us from the ground. Or until you have a garden of date palms and vines and you make streams gush through it. Or until you cause the sky to fall in fragments upon us, just as you have averred. Or until you bring God and the angels in front of us. Or until you have a house of gold, or you ascend into the sky. And we will not believe your ascension until you bring down for us a book that we may read.’

Say, ‘Immaculate is my Lord! Am I anything but a human apostle?! ‘Nothing has kept these people from believing when guidance came to them, but their saying, ‘Has God sent down a human as an apostle!’ Say, ‘Had there been angels in the earth, walking around and residing, We would have sent down to them an angel from the heaven as an apostle.’
Qur’an 17:90-95

The use of dialectics (only one God but a Trinity, only one Book for many scriptures, only one creation but multiple levels of creation) can be rejected or accepted by men. But in this it is no different than the world itself. There’s a Truth that created it and that came into it. Man’s irritation at the subtlety of God’s creation is not the fault of God, but may be the doom of man. For the Lord casts a veil over the heart of those who reject His wisdom:

When you recite the Lectionary, We draw a hidden curtain between you and those who do not believe in the Hereafter, and We cast veils on their hearts, lest they should understand it, and a deafness into their ears. When you mention your Lord alone in the Lectionary, they turn their backs in aversion.
Qur’an 17:45-46

God is the beginning and the end, the maker and destroyer of all. Literalist atheists mock basic promises like the next world by asking how physics would work, how souls would enter dead bodies, now a world without death can also have feasts (and digestion). The promise of God is more wonderful than the scoffers can imagine.

They say, ‘What, when we have become bones and dust, shall we really be raised in a new creation?’ Say, ‘You should become stones or iron — or a creature more fantastic to your minds!’ They will say, ‘Who will bring us back?Say, ‘He who originated you the first time.’ They will nod their heads at you and say, ‘When will that be?’ Say, ‘Maybe it is near! The day He calls you, you will respond to Him, praising Him, and you will think you remained only for a little while.’

Did your Lord prefer you for sons, and adopt females from among the angels? You indeed make a monstrous statement!
Qur’an 17:40

I think the natural Catholic reaction to the Qur’an’s rejection of intercessors is one of sadness — is there really no opportunity to help each other? But the Qur’an emphasizes the hopefulness of this. Like Calvinists who despair of the wickedness of man’s heart, the Qur’an emphasizes that it is through God that we can have a hope. Men, according to the Qur’anic author, would turn their back to each other:

Say, ‘Even if you possessed the treasuries of my Lord’s mercy, you would withhold them for the fear of being spent, and man is very niggardly.’
Qur’an 17:100

And fall for each other’s tricks:

They were about to beguile you from what God has revealed to you so that you may fabricate against Us something other than that, whereat they would have befriended you. Had We not fortified you, certainly you might have included toward them a bit.
Qur’an 17:73-74

But it is from God that we have more compassion than we can imagine, and more hope than we deserve

Conclusion

The seventh chapter of the Qur’an is thematically concerned with the Holy Spirit leading Jesus from the Garden to Mt Zion.  In the Qur’anic theology, Jesus is a member of the Trinity, along with the Holy Spirit and God (the Father).  The Qur’anic author was writing near the extinction of the Arian creed, and his separation from other believers seems to pain him.

Tell My servants to speak in a manner which is the best. Indeed, Satan incites ill feeling between them, and Satan is indeed man’s open enemy.
Qur’an 17:49-53

But the Qur’an denies that Christ’s role was intercessory.  The Qur’an casts the Passion as exemplary and doxological, rather than sacrificial.   The Word and the Holy Spirit, who along with God are called “the all-Hearing and all-Seeing,” are either creations or God or emanations of God, not persons of God.  Ultimately Unitarian and Modernist, the Qur’an preaches a faith which is not the Catholic faith.

Qur’an 16: The Bees

God creates things, in time. God is the God of promise, while Satan is the devil of the eternal meaningless now. Wait, it will not be long, but as quick as the twinkling of a star, or an eye. The present is made real in the past and the future, as the Spirit brings the Word of the Lord.

Of all the chapters in the Qur’an so far this is the closest to poetry, the closest to Scripture.

The hint half guessed, the gift half
understood, is Incarnation.
Here is the impossible union.
Of spheres of existence is actual
here the past and future
Are conquered, reconciled
T.S. Elliot, The Dry Salvages

Readings

A reading, from the Book of Ecclesiastes:

The end of a thing is better than its beginning;
The patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.

Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry,
For anger rests in the bosom of fools.

Do not say,
“Why were the former days better than these?”
For you do not inquire wisely concerning this.
Ecclesiastes 7:8-10

A song, from The Psalms:

He sends the springs into the valleys;
They flow among the hills.
They give drink to every beast of the field;
The wild donkeys quench their thirst.
By them the birds of the heavens have their home;
They sing among the branches.
He waters the hills from His upper chambers;
The earth is satisfied with the fruit of Your works.

He causes the grass to grow for the cattle,
And vegetation for the service of man,
That he may bring forth food from the earth,
And wine that makes glad the heart of man,
Oil to make his face shine,
And bread which strengthens man’s heart.
Psalms 104:10-15

A reading, from the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians:

Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.

For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

“O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?”

The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
1 Corinthians 15:51-58

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

He who is slow to wrath has great understanding, But he who is impulsive exalts folly.
Proverbs 14:29

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

A reading, from the Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew

“You have heard that it was said,
‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’

But I tell you
not to resist an evil person.
But whoever slaps you on your right cheek,
turn the other to him also.
If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic,
let him have your cloak also.
And whoever compels you to go one mile,
go with him two.
Matthew 5:38-41

A Qur’anic Homily

Patience is from God.

Near the start of the fifteen chapter is an idyllic scene, a farmer with his cattle:

He created the cattle,
in which there is warmth for you and uses,
and some of them you eat.

There is in them a beauty for you
when you bring them home for rest
and when you drive them forth to pasture.

And they carry your burdens to towns
which you could not reach
except by straining yourselves.

Your Lord is indeed most kind and merciful.
Qur’an 16:5-7

This patience, this time is spent on God’s creation of the feminine: the water, the pasture, the fruits:

It is He who sends down water from the sky; from it you get your drink and with it are the plants wherein you pasture your herds. With it He makes the crops grow for you ad lives, date palms, vines, and fruits of all kinds. There is indeed a sign in that for people who reflect.
Qur’an 16:10-11

And the masculine: the mountains, the hills, and stars:

He cast firm mountains in the earth lest it should shake with you, and streams and ways so that you may be guided — and the landmarks — and by the stars they are guided.
Qur’an 16:15-16

The multitude of the blessings, given by God through time, leads to an irony. There are so many blessings that patience — infinite patience would be needed even to enumerate them:

If you enumerate Gods blessings, you will not be able to count them. God is indeed all-forgiving, all-merciful, and God knows whatever you hide and whatever you disclose.
Qur’an 16:18-19

Whereas the lack of patience leads to ghastly horrors. Men kill baby girls because they wanted baby boys, now, sooner. Thank God for the Mary’s family, that Mary’s namesake was not treated by her father like Moses was by the Pharaoh!

And they attribute daughters to God — immaculate is He — while they have what they desire! When one of them is brought the news of a female, his face becomes darkened and he chokes with suppressed agony. He hides from the people out of distress at the news he has been brought: shall he retain it in humiliation, or bury it in the ground! Behold, evil is the judgment that they make.
Qur’an 16:57-59

This is the underlying unity in Moses’s “eye for an eye” and Christ’s “turn the other cheek.” One can get the justice one is owed. But through patience is Godliness, exceeding mere justice with justice and mercy

If you retaliate, retaliate with the like of what you have been made to suffer, but if you are patient, that is surely for the steadfast.

So be patient and you cannot be patient except with God. And do not grieve for them, nor be upset by their guide. Indeed, God is with those who are Godwary and those who are virtuous.
Qur’an 16:126-128

And yet, this patience from human perspective does not mean that God tarries. The age of a nation’s dominance is but a day to God:

By God, We have certainly sent to nations before you. But Satan made their deeds seem decorous to them. So he is their master today and there is a painful punishment for them.

We did not send down the Book to you except that you may clarify for them what they differ about, and to guidance and mercy for those who have faith.
Qur’an 16:63-64

And the Hour — the hour of judgment — will occur as rapidly as the twinkling of an eye:

To God belongs the Unseen of the heavens and the earth. The matter of the Hour is just like the twinkling of an eye, or shorter. Indeed, God has power over all things.
Qur’an 16:77

Have faith in God, have patience in God. He formed you, slowly and fast, like any parents know:

God has brought you forth from the bellies of your mothers while you did not know anything. He invested you with hearing, sight, and the hearts, so that you may give thanks.
Qur’an 16:78

Impatience is the root of disbelief. We do not see with our own eyes the dead walk, and so we assume it cannot happen. But the Hour approaches, and God resurrects whom He will:

They swear by God with solemn oaths that God will not resurrect those who die. Yes indeed it is a promise binding upon Him, but most people do not know.
Qur’an 16:38

Polytheism can be thought of as a lack of patience. No one says that Mammon the God of Wealth can raise the dead, or has a garden at the end of time, but the benefits of worshiping money appear right now. (Note also, for what its worth, God referring to God, a Lord referring to a Lord):

God has said,

“Do not worship two gods. Indeed, He is the One God, so be in awe of Me.”

To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and the earth, and to Him belongs the enduring religion. Will you, then, be wary of other than God?
Qur’an 16:51-52

But people think the lack of immediate punishment means they can keep secrets from God, and the lack of obvious miracles mean the absence of God. Both are arrogant attitudes that separates the soul from God:

Undoubtedly, God knows whatever they hide and whatever they disclose. Indeed, He does not like the arrogant. When they are asked, “What is is that your Lord has sent down?,’ they say, ‘Myths of the ancients.”
Qur’an 16:23-24

The love of impatience, the root of polytheism, can be Satanic. Satan’s goal is to steal the past and the future from the soul, leaving it in a perpetual, endless Now. The false gods — money, pride, wealth, and so on — will fall away, even from the sinner. Their will will not be done. God will be worshiped. Or the self. None other.

When the polytheists sight their partners, they will say “Our Lord!” These are our partners whom we used to invoke besides You.: But they will retort to them: “You are indeed liars!” They will submit to God on that day, and what they used to fabricate will forsake them.”
Qur’an 16:86-87

This is what makes the promise and hope of Abraham so striking. Abraham lived a complete life, aware of the past in the Chalcedees, and the promise of the future. God is a God of Promise, the God of patience, and Abraham patiently lived in that promise:

Indeed, Abraham was a nation, obedient to God, a hanif, and he was not a polytheist. Grateful for his blessings, he chose him and guided him to a straight path. We gave him good in this world, and in the Hereafter he will indeed be among the righteous. Therefore, We reveled to you,

“Follow the creed of Abraham, a hanif, who was not a polytheist.”
Qur’an 16:120-123

As a chapter, The Bees is one of the most natural. The lessons are part of the natural religion that should be available to all, even without supernatural revelation, as long as one can see and think.

God sends down water from the sky with which He revives the earth after its death.

There is indeed
a sign in that for people who listen.
There is indeed
a lesson for you in the cattle:

We give you to drink pure milk,
pleasant to those who drink,
from what is in their bellies,
from between waste and blood.
And from fruits of date palms and vines
you draw wine and goodly provision.

There are indeed
signs in that for people who exercises their reason.
Qur’an 16:65-67

And not just cattle, God sends the bees and cares for them. Be patient with the Lord:

Have they not regarded the birds disposed in the air of the sky: no one sustains them except for God. There are indeed signs in that for people who have faith.
Qur’an 16:79

And not just birds. Consider all the good works — the architecture, the honey, the society — even God grants bees as they work in time. Consider how much more you can accomplish, surely God loves you as much as a bee:

And your Lord inspired the bee: “Make your home in the mountains and on trees and the trellises that they erect. Then eat from every fruit and follow meekly the way of your Lord.” There issues from its belly a juice of diverse hues, in which there is a cure for the people. There is indeed a sign in that for people who reflect.
Qur’an 16:68-69

The Author

The Bees is fascinating because maybe no chapter since The Heifer is as confusing as to authorship. The writer uses Trinitarian formulas to describe the Gospel:

He sends down the angels with the Spirit of His Word to whomever He wishes of His servants: “Warn that there is no god except Me; so be wary of Me.”
Qur’an 16:2

And yet the post-Christian influence is there — both because the author suggests questions be directed to the “people of the reminder”:

We did not send before you except as men to whom We revealed. Ask the People of the Reminder if you do not know with clear proofs and scriptures. We have sent down the Reminder to you so that you may clarify for these people that which has been sent down to them, so that they may reflect.
Qur’an 16:43-44

And more on the nose, the author rejects the view that a previous non-Arab speaker is the true source of his teaching:

We certainly now that they say, “It is only a human that instructs him.” The language of him to whom they refer is non-Arabic, while this is a clear Arabic language.”
Qur’an 16:103

And to whom the Lectionary (qur’an) is, at least in some form, already present:

When you recite the Lectionary, seek the protection of God against the outcast Satan. Indeed, he does not have any authority of those who have faith and put their trust in their Lord. His authority is only over those who befriend him ad those who make a partner.
Qur’an 16:98-100

Is this one author or two? A Trinitarian who looks at Christians as similar to Jews, and is associated with a non-Arabic teacher? I don’t know. And what to claim of the ongoing, Trinitarian revelation that is inspiring the author:

When We change a sign for another in its place — and God knows best what He sends down — they say, “You are only a fabricator.” Indeed, most of them do not know. Say, the Holy Spirit has brought it down duly from your Lord to fortify those who have faith and as a guidance and good news for those who submit.
Qur’an 16:101-102

I don’t know. In my mind there is a picture of a decaying post-Arian community struggling with the lost of the sacraments. An Arab deacon, a genius, giving homilies after training for a Syriac monk, but neither able to celebrate the sacraments.

Maybe that is all an illusion.

Conclusion

The sixteenth chapter of the Qur’an, The Bees, is a meditation on patience. As with other chapters it makes the most sense when taken as a homily that integrates multiple passages of the Old and New Testaments. The author refers to the Qur’an as an already existing book, and also refers to another teacher who may be his direct inspiration.

The river is within us, the sea is all about us;
The sea is the land’s edge also, the granite
Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses
It hints of earlier and other creation:
The starfish, the hermit crab, the whale’s backbone;
T.S. Elliot, The Dry Salvages

Qur’an 15: The Rock

Everything can rise or fall. Some things fall like a rock. Sometimes, the rock is thrown.

In the fifteenth book of the Qur’an, the author dwells on the imagery of falling or casting down. These words can be used for things expelled from heaven like demons or punishments. They can also be used for blessings given by heaven. Implicit in all of this are how the imagery of the Rock is used in the Bible: to describe God, Christ, Peter. Given the era of the extinction of the Arian sacraments that the Qur’an was written in, the Qur’anic author may be contemplating the blessing and curses given to the community of believers by Peter’s successors — the Popes. Or how the same God who could be the Rock of faith could be associated with a church that the Qur’an denies exists.

Readings

A reading, from the Book of Genesis

When the morning dawned, the angels urged Lot to hurry, saying, “Arise, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be consumed in the punishment of the city.” And while he lingered, the men took hold of his hand, his wife’s hand, and the hands of his two daughters, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city. So it came to pass, when they had brought them outside, that he said, “Escape for your life! Do not look behind you nor stay anywhere in the plain. Escape to the mountains, lest you be destroyed.”

Then Lot said to them, “Please, no, my lords! Indeed now, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have increased your mercy which you have shown me by saving my life; but I cannot escape to the mountains, lest some evil overtake me and I die. See now, this city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one; please let me escape there (is it not a little one?) and my soul shall live.”

And he said to him, “See, I have favored you concerning this thing also, in that I will not overthrow this city for which you have spoken. Hurry, escape there. For I cannot do anything until you arrive there.”

Therefore the name of the city was called Zoar.

The sun had risen upon the earth when Lot entered Zoar. Then the Lord rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the Lord out of the heavens. So He overthrew those cities, all the plain, all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.

But his wife looked back behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.
Genesis 19:15-26

A song, from the Psalms

The Lord lives!
Blessed be my Rock!
Let the God of my salvation be exalted.

It is God who avenges me,
And subdues the peoples under me;

He delivers me from my enemies.
You also lift me up above those who rise against me;
You have delivered me from the violent man.

Therefore I will give thanks to You, O Lord, among the Gentiles, And sing praises to Your name.
Psalms 18:46-49

A reading from the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians:

Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
1 Corinthians 10:1-11

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

The prayer of the humble pierces the clouds,
and he will not be consoled until it reaches the Lord;
he will not desist until the Most High visits him,
and does justice for the righteous, and executes judgment.
Sirach 35:17

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew:

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ
Matthew 16:15-20

A Qur’anic Homily

Gates are defensive structures. The Gates of Hell cannot over a rock, when a heavy enough Rock is sent down on a mission.

Angels are sent down to do God’s will, but messengers like Peter were sent down with warnings:

They said, ‘O you, to whom the Reminder has been sent down, you are indeed crazy! Why do you not bring us the angels if you are truthful?!’

We do not send down the angels except with due reason, and then they will not be granted any respite.

Indeed, We have sent down the Reminder, and, indeed, We will preserve it.
Qur’an 15:6-9

Heaven has Gates too. But while the prayers of the faithful can penetrate them, the wicked cannot — and would not even believe if they saw:

That is how We let it pass through the hearts of the guilty: they do not believe in it, and the precedence of the ancients has already passed.

Were We to open for them A gate of the heaven so that they could go on ascending through it, they would surely say, ‘Indeed, a spell has been cast on our eyes; indeed, we are a bewitched lot.
Qur’an 15:12-14

Heaven also has Towers, towards that produce Fire. Many prophets have seen this fire and been welcomed in, but the demons fear and tremble:

Certainly We have appointed towers in the heaven and adorned them for the onlookers, and We have guarded them from every outcast Satan, except someone who may eavesdrop, whereat there peruses him a manifest flame.
Qur’an 15:16-17

Messengers like Peter are sent down like rain for the people, to give them the living water:

There is not a thing but that its source are with Us, and We do not send it down except in a known measure.

And We send the fertilizing wends and send down water from the sky providing it for you to drink and you are not maintainers of its resources.
Qur’an 19:21-22

But as Peter is a rock with a mission, to break down the gates of hell, the heaviness of the wicked instead consigns them away from paradise. They are like Lot’s wife, who will be left as a rock salt:

[Abraham] said, ‘O messengers, what is now your errand?’

They said, ‘We have been sent toward a guilty people, except the family of Lot. We will indeed deliver all of them, except his wife, We have ordained, will indeed be among those who remain behind.

So when the messengers came to Lot’s family, he said, ‘You are strangers,’

They said, ‘Indeed, we bring you what they used to doubt. We bring you the truth, and indeed we speak truly. Take your family in a watch of the night and follow in their rears, and none of you should turn around, and proceed as you are bidden.’ We apprised him of the matter that these will be rooted out by dawn.
Qur’an 15:57-66

For the wicked their greatest ‘triumphs will become their undoing, their elevations are instead their lowest points. The Fire for them is not redemptive but destructive.

The Qur’anic author teaches that these signs and symbols are given as a lesson. Both Peter and Lot’s wife were rocks, it was their relationship with God which determined what kind of rock they would be.

The rocks to the wicked will be their doom and torment

By your life, they were bewildered in their drunkenness. So the Cry seized them at sunrise, and We made its topmost part its nethermost, and rained on them stones of shale.

There are indeed signs in that for the percipient. Indeed, it is on a standing road, and there is indeed a sign in that for the faithful.
Qur’an 15:72-74

But for the righteous, the Rock will crash the gates of hell, and enter them into Paradise:

Indeed, the Godwary will be amid gardens and springs.

“Enter it in peace and safety!”

We will remove whatever rancor there is in their breasts; brothers on couches — facing one another — therein neither weariness shall touch them, nor will they be expelled from it.
Qur’an 15:45-48

The Speaker

Throughout my reading of the Qur’an I’ve there’s a mystery that doesn’t quite go away. Who is the speaker? The closest in narrative composition to the Qur’an is the Book of Jubilees, where the speaker is obviously a group of angels

And thereupon we saw His works , and praised Him, and lauded before Him on account of all His works; for seven great works did He create on the first day.
Jubilees 2:3

But it seems unusually clear in this chapter (or I’ve just begun noticing it), that Creation is split between the royal “We”…

Indeed, it is We who give life and bring death and We are the inheritors.

Certainly We know the predecessors among you and certainly We know the successors, and indeed it is your Lord who will resurrect them. He is all-wise, all-knowing.

Certainly We created man out of a dry clay from an aging mud, and We created the jinn earlier out of a piercing fire.
Qur’an 15:23-27

And God, as in this doublet where creation is ascribed to both “We” and “your Lord”:

We did not create the heavens and the earth and whatever is in between them except with consummate wisdom, and indeed the Hour is bound to come. So forbear with a graceful forbearance. Indeed, your Lord is the all-Creator, the all-Knowing.
Qur’an 15:85-86

If “We” are another creator, it is a creator who is not God, at least according to the Qur’anic author:

So proclaim what you have been commanded, and turn away from the polytheists. We will indeed suffice you against the deriders — those who set up another Deity besides God. Soon they will know! Certainly We know that you become upset because of what they say. So celebrate the praise of your Lord and be among those who prostrate, and worship your Lord until certainty comes to you.
Qur’an 15:94-99

But if the Royal We is not God, nor can it be Christ as commonly understood:

Certainly We gave Moses the Book and followed him with the apostles, and We gave Jesus, the son of Mary, clear proofs and confirmed him with the Holy Spirit. Is it not that whenever an apostle brought you that which was not to your liking, you would act arrogantly; so you would impugn a group, and slave a group?
Qur’an 2:57-58

At this point my thought is that the Royal We are either a group of angels specifically tasked with Creation, or else Jesus Son-of-God, distinct from Jesus Son-of-Mary. Presumably that answer is to be found in whether the Royal We ever bow, but even that is not clear, as Christ himself came in the form of a servant…

When your Lord said to the angels, ‘Indeed, I am going to create a human out of a dry clay from an aging mud. So when I have proportioned him and breathed into him of My spirit, then fall down in prostration to him.

Thereat the angels prostrated, all of them, but not Iblis: he refused to be among those who prostrated.

He said, ‘O Iblis! What kept you from being among those who have prostrated?’

Said him, ‘I will not prostrate before a human whom You have created out of a dry clay form an aging mud,.

He said, ‘Begone hence, for you are indeed an outcast, and indeed the curse shall lie on you until the Day of Retribution.’
Qur’an 15:28-34

The last time I noted this question of the Royal We’s identity in the Qur’an is in the Qur’anic chapter that references a letter of St Peter, and this chapter is called “The Rock.” I don’t know what to make of this for now.

Conclusion

The Qur’anic author believed that some not-quite-Divine entity or entities co-created the universe with God, and in that universe they send down blessings and curses to man. These things sent down — from rain to apostles– are not ends in themselves, but signs that should point the heart toward God. Men are naturally impatient and want definite proof — but man’s ability to doubt means he can always talk himself out of every evidence, and by the time of the final judgment, too much will be revealed for the wayward man to take.

Qur’an 14: Abraham

The fourteenth chapter of the Qur’an, Abraham, contrasts two would-be intercessors: Abraham and Satan. They are contrasted twice in the Gospels, and have parallel, if opposite, roles in the Bible: Abraham’s faithful leadership of Sarah lead to the birth of Isaac: Satan’s faithless leadership of Eve lead to humanity being expelled from the Garden. Abraham’s obedience to God was tested during the sacrifice of Isaac, where it triumphed: Satan’s disobedience to God led him to being destroyed in the end. Abraham is our father in faith — Satan is the father of lies.

Readings

A Reading, from the Book of Genesis:

Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.'”

Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.
Genesis 3:1-6

A Song, from the Psalms:

Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;

But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.

He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.
Psalms 1:1-3

A Reading, from the First Letter of St. Peter:

Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear.

Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.

For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror.
1 Peter 3:1-6

A Reading, from the Holy Gospel according to John:

“I know that you are Abraham’s descendants, but you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. I speak what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have seen with your father.”

They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.”

Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham. But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did not do this. You do the deeds of your father.”

Then they said to Him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father—God.”

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word. You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.
John 8:37-44

A Qur’anic Homily

Satan’s promises will fail, and the Qur’anic author believes at the end Satan himself will preach God’s glory:

When this matter is all over, Satan will say, ‘Indeed, God made you a promise that was true and I made you a promise, but I failed you, I have no authority over you, except that I called you and you responded to me. So do not blame me but blame yourselves. I cannot respond to your distress calls, neither can you respond to my distress calls. I indeed disavow your taking me for partner aforetime. There is indeed a painful punishment for the wrongdoers.’
Qur’an 14:22

Satan’s declaration here should be read carefully. Satan’s promises and intercessions only appeared to be a result of his power: their only actual result (according to the Qur’anic author) was to encourage a change in intention in a sinner. Abraham likewise made intercessions, and (in the Qur’anic view) the effects of these should be seen to be pious and devotional:

All praise belongs to God, who gave me Ishmael and Isaac despite old age. My Lord indeed hears all supplications. My Lord! Make me a maintainer of prayer, and my descendants, Our Lord, accept my supplications. Our Lord! Forgive me, my parents, and all the faithful, on the day when the reckoning is held.
Qur’an 14:39-41

We can think of Abraham and Satan as the two trees in the garden of Eden, the two men crucified with Christ, or the hero and the shadow archetypes — Abraham is a good tree, Satan a wicked one:

Have you not regarded how God has drawn a parable? A good word is like a good tree, its roots are steady and its branches are on high. It gives its fruit every season by the leave of its Lord. God draws these parables for mankind so that they may take admonition.

And the parable of a bad word is that of a bad tree: uprooted from the ground, it has no stability.
Qur’an 14:24-25

Or in the Biblical verse the Qur’an is paraphrasing here:

Thus says the Lord:

“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
And makes flesh his strength,
Whose heart departs from the Lord.

For he shall be like a shrub in the desert,
And shall not see when good comes,
But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness,
In a salt land which is not inhabited.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
And whose hope is the Lord.

For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters,
Which spreads out its roots by the river, And will not fear when heat comes;
But its leaf will be green,
And will not be anxious in the year of drought,
Nor will cease from yielding fruit.
Jeremiah 17:5-8

Satan, the father of lies, is the wicked reflection of Abraham, our father in faith. Both sought to organize parts of the created order into a power hierarchy with themselves at the top. But see how this goes. Consider the long blessing of Hebron, which began with Abraham negotiating it from Lot:

So Abram said to Lot, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren. Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me. If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will go to the left.”

And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere (before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar. Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan, and Lot journeyed east. And they separated from each other. Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain and pitched his tent even as far as Sodom. But the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the Lord.

And the Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him: “Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are—northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever. And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered. Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you.”

Then Abram moved his tent, and went and dwelt by the terebinth trees of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and built an altar there to the Lord.
Genesis 13:8-18

continued with Abraham purchasing land from the Canaanites:

And Ephron answered Abraham, saying to him, “My lord, listen to me; the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver. What is that between you and me? So bury your dead.” And Abraham listened to Ephron; and Abraham weighed out the silver for Ephron which he had named in the hearing of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, currency of the merchants.

So the field of Ephron which was in Machpelah, which was before Mamre, the field and the cave which was in it, and all the trees that were in the field, which were within all the surrounding borders, were deeded to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the sons of Heth, before all who went in at the gate of his city.

And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah, before Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. So the field and the cave that is in it were deeded to Abraham by the sons of Heth as property for a burial place.
Genesis 23:14-20

The Qur’an incorporates this “city” — Hebron — and Abraham’s prayers for it. . Abraham prayed to God, both to bring his followers to God, and to ask that Hebron itself be transfigured:

When Abraham said, ‘My Lord! Make this city a sanctuary, and save me and my children from worshiping idols. My Lord! They have indeed misled many people. So whoever follows me indeed belongs with me, and as for those who disobey me, well, You are indeed all-forgiving, all merciful!
Qur’an 14:35-36

But Satan does not have the faith that can move mountains, and his schemes will come to not:

They certainly devised their plots, but their plots are known to God, and their plots are not such as to dislodge the mountains.
Qur’an 14:46

The point is obvious. While Satan grows his own power:

Therefore I desire that the younger widows marry, bear children, manage the house, give no opportunity to the adversary to speak reproachfully.

For some have already turned aside after Satan.

If any believing man or woman has widows, let them relieve them, and do not let the church be burdened, that it may relieve those who are really widows.
1 Timothy 5:14-16

We know that God is righteous, God is faithful to us, He will remember the promises the made to Abraham, while the promises of Satan are meaningless:

So do not supposed that God will break His promise to His apostles. Indeed, God is all-mighty, avenger. The way when the earth is turned into another earth and the heavens, and they are presented before God, the One, the All-paramount — on that day you will see the guilty bound together in chains, their garments made of pitch, and the Fire covering their faces, so that God may regard every soul for what is has earned. God is indeed swift at reckoning.
Qur’an 14:47-51

Consider this good news a warning. The LORD God, He is one God! Let he who has eyes see, and has ears, hear!

This is a proclamation for mankind, so that they may be warned thereby and know that He is indeed the One God, and those who possess intellect may take admonition.
Qur’an 14:52

Impressions of “Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives,” by Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)

Generally there’s a gap between people great at explaining what the words of the Bible mean (its cultural, linguistic, and genre contexts), and what the Bible means (the transcendent, spiritual worth of the text). Thus Michael Heiser, N.T. Wright have excellent works explaining the original plain meaning of the Old and New Testaments, while C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton are great at explaining what the Bible means and what Christianity is.

Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI, is a rare man who can do both.

This short volume primarily focuses on the Gospel’s Christmas accounts, as well as Luke’s retelling of Jesus being found in the temple. In this book Benedict uses the text to show not just how Old Testament prophecies are fulfilled, but the meaning of the magi, the reaction of Jerusalem, the apocalyptic nature of the event, and so on.

This book is short, easy to read, and great. Ratziner displays a mastery of textual analyses on par with Heiser and Wright. That he wrote this being the public face of the largest religion in the world is astonishing,

The Apocalypse

When I wrote my impressions of the Gospel According to Matthew, I noted it began with an ending — with a genealogy that normally serves to close a section of the Torah. I did not catch how Luke did the same thing. Near the beginning of Luke’s gospel is reference to the Book of Enoch — the gospel opens with a genealogy containing 77 generations (70 from Enoch on):

Now Jesus Himself began His ministry at about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, the son of Heli, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi, the son of Janna, the son of Joseph, the son of Mattathiah, the son of Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Esli, the son of Naggai, the son of Maath, the son of Mattathiah, the son of Semei, the son of Joseph, the son of Judah, the son of Joannas, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri, the son of Melchi, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmodam, the son of Er, the son of Jose, the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph, the son of Jonan, the son of Eliakim, the son of Melea, the son of Menan, the son of Mattathah, the son of Nathan, the son of David, the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz, the son of Salmon, the son of Nahshon, the son of Amminadab, the son of Ram, the son of Hezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah, the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, the son of Terah, the son of Nahor, the son of Serug, the son of Reu, the son of Peleg, the son of Eber, the son of Shelah, the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalalel, the son of Cainan, the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.
Luke 3:23-38

This mapping of 77 generations to forever is derived from Enoch:

To Michael likewise the Lord said, Go and announce his crime to Samyaza, and to the others

who are with him, who have been associated with women, that they might be polluted with all their impurity. And when all their sons shall be slain, when they shall see the perdition of their beloved, bind them for seventy generations underneath the earth, even to the day of judgment, and of consummation, until the judgment, the effect of which will last for ever, be completed.

Then shall they be taken away into the lowest depths of the fire in torments; and in confinement shall they be shut up for ever.
1 Enoch 10:15-16

The implication of is even greater than I had imagined. The message is not simply, the previous chapter is over. Rather, the previous world is over. All things are made new in Jesus, for He is the beginning and the end.

The Adoration of the Magi

Another reference I missed is how Luke comments on Matthew’s magi. Luke’s later magi, a wicked man, is named bar Jesus, as if to drive the point home. Compare Matthew’s account of Christmas:

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, Magoo from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”
Matthew 2:1-2

To Luke’s of the early church age:

Now when they had gone through the island to Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew whose name was Bar-Jesus, who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This man called for Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the Magus (for so his name is translated) withstood them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith.
Acts 13:6-8

Benedict explicitly notes that magi had a range of meanings in the time, from expert scientist to devious fraudster. But the double use, plus the name reported of the wicked magi, is interpretted by Benedict as making the point that religion can open or close one to God, depending on the nature of the religion and how one receives it.

Gentiles and the Bible

Benedict seems aware of the stories from ancient Canaan. He identifies the Star of Bethlehem with a conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter that occurred around 6 BC. Throughout the Mediterranean and near-east Saturn a longer was associated with the Creator God Cronos or El, and Jupiter with the presiding god of a younger generation, Zeus or Ba’al or Marduk. Thus a conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter could be read as the Ba’al-of-El or the Zeus-of-Cronos. At the time of the first Christmas many peoples recognized the existence of the Creator God, but the Jews were conspicuous in worshiping him.

Benedict argues the Magi went to Jerusalem as the recognized Temple of the Creator God, familiarized themselves with ‘local’ relevant prophecies (such as of the King of Israel to be born in Bethlehem), and proceeded accordingly. I find this treatment brilliant, as it both incorporates Christianity as the completion of astrology, while also deeply humanizing the motives of the magi themselves.

The Scholastics of the Time

A major development in the 20th century was a move away from Scholasticism (which viewed Christianity primarily as a set of truth-propositions to be accepted) to the current period of re-utilizing the Bible and the Church Fathers as sources, which sees Christianity primarily as a relationship between the believer and God. Benedict was a major champion of the re-utilization or resourcement, as an academic, as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Pope John Paul II, and as Pope. The current, Benedictine, era thus can see critical references to “experts of the law” as applicable to the now-defeated Scholastics.

Benedict discovers an additional dig, as the magi are leaving Jerusalem

When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:
Matthew 2:3-5

apparently none of the “Chief Priests and scribes” bothered to apply their intellectual knowledge of the signs and of Herod’s nature, to preventing the massacre in the Bethlehem. Perhaps they simply couldn’t. As my friend Michael Lotus noted, it was Christ’s acts which took a cynical statement of politics:

And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish.”
John 11:49-50

and turned it into a religion of salvation.

The Tradition and the Bible

I have Protestant friends who struggle with the Catholic and Orthodox doctrine of the Bible and Sacred Tradition. Instead of defensively arguing for Tradition from the Church’s authority, Benedict does so on a textual basis. It is clear, he states, that the story of Christmas derives from a family Tradition — of Mary’s recollections.

But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.
Luke 2:19

Benedict does not push this point, but I think it is meaningful. The Bible itself is derived from the knowledge of people who knew Jesus for years or decades. That the Bible was the total, complete, and only method of transmission of this memory is not a natural claim.

But this introduces an unresolved question. Benedict says Mary’s reply to the angel is not explicable in the text, and is a “riddle” (or “mystery”). The text itself states that Mary is betrothed to Joseph, and the regular mechanism of conceiving a child in the near term seems pretty obvious. What is going on?

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. …

And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”
Luke 1:26-27,31-34

According to Benedict, we don’t know.

Conclusion

It’s interesting comparing The Infancy Narratives to Pope Francis’s Laudato Si or On Heaven and Earth . Francis is thought provoking and moves the reader to action. But Benedict can explain complex issues in more detail in a clear and thoughtful way.

I am very glad I read this book. I indirectly owe it to Fr. Harrison Ayre and Fr. Anthony Sciarappa whose Clerically Speaking podcast often discusses Ratzinger’s writings in very approachable terms. Even with that recommendation, though, I didn’t expect the clarity of writing or the masterful handling of the biblical text. This book is excellent reading for anyone wanting to learn more about what the Bible says about the first Christmas.

Qur’an 13: Thunder

The thirteenth chapter, “Thunder,” introduces the Qur’an’s gendered ecology. The focus on God’s creation of the natural world recalls Pope Francis’s Laudato Si or Steve Boint’s Did Jesus Die for Dogs. But the use of mythical or archetypal gender in describing the source of this natural world recalls Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life and Maps of Meaning of this lectionary. The Qur’anic author takes the listener through this gendered ecology by focusing on the opening, the fire and flow, and the destination of all creation.

As before, this chapter appears to be a homily, so I will first present biblical readings that the chapter reflects.

Readings

A Reading, from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel:

The word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Son of man, the house of Israel has become dross to Me; they are all bronze, tin, iron, and lead, in the midst of a furnace; they have become dross from silver. Therefore thus says the LORD God: ‘Because you have all become dross, therefore behold, I will gather you into the midst of Jerusalem As men gather silver, bronze, iron, lead, and tin into the midst of a furnace, to blow fire on it, to melt it; so I will gather you in My anger and in My fury, and I will leave you there and melt you. Yes, I will gather you and blow on you with the fire of My wrath, and you shall be melted in its midst. As silver is melted in the midst of a furnace, so shall you be melted in its midst; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have poured out My fury on you.’”
Ezekiel 22:17-22

A Song, from the Psalms:

Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;
Let the sea roar, and all its fullness;

Let the field be joyful, and all that is in it.
Then all the trees of the woods will rejoice before the LORD.

For He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth.
He shall judge the world with righteousness,
And the peoples with His truth.
Psalms 96:11-13

A Reading, from the Book of Proverbs:

Does not wisdom cry out, And understanding lift up her voice?

“The LORD possessed me at the beginning of His way,
Before His works of old.

I have been established from everlasting,
From the beginning, before there was ever an earth.
Proverbs 8:1,22-23paul thomas anderson

A Reading, from the Gospel according to Matthew:

Now in the morning, as He returned to the city, He was hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it but leaves, and said to it, “Let no fruit grow on you ever again.” Immediately the fig tree withered away.

And when the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither away so soon?”

So Jesus answered and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ it will be done. And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”
Matthew 21:18-22

A Qur’anic Homily

I have a suspicion that this chapter acts as a key for what I have read so far. “The Opening” is literally the title of the first Qur’anic chapter. The second chapter is named after a young female creature. And while we have had chapters with titles that tease a final destination — the Elevations, the Spoils, and so on — that so far is out of reach.

In any case, let’s begins at the beginning:

The Opening

Chaos is the feminine complement to order. Wisdom is chaos within the Logos — in Qur’anic terms, within the Book.

In the Name of God, the All-beneficent, the All-merciful.

Alif, Lam, Ra. These are the signs of the Wise Book.
Qur’an 13:1

The material aspect of the Book may be problematic considering the Qur’anic author’s attack on Christians for stating that women are mates with the Lord, but I feel this is unfair. The Qur’anic author is not stating that God is married to the Book like the Christians believe the Son is married to the Church, or the Holy Spirit is the spouse of Mary.

And now Our mind and heart turn back to those hopes with which We began, and for the accomplishment of which We earnestly pray, and will continue to pray, to the Holy Ghost. Unite, then, Venerable Brethren, your prayers with Ours, and at your exhortation let all Christian peoples add their prayers also, invoking the powerful and ever-acceptable intercession of the Blessed Virgin. You know well the intimate and wonderful relations existing between her and the Holy Ghost, so that she is justly called His Spouse. The intercession of the Blessed Virgin was of great avail both in the mystery of the Incarnation and in the coming of the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles. May she continue to strengthen our prayers with her suffrages, that, in the midst of all the stress and trouble of the nations,t hose divine prodigies may be happily revived by the Holy Ghost, which were foretold in the words of David: “Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created, and Thou shalt renew the face of the earth” (Ps. ciii., 30).
Pope Leo XIII, Divinum illud Munus, AD 1897

The Qur’anic author rejects feminine partners to God, but views the Book — chaos and wisdom within the Logos — as feminine:

Thus We have sent it down as a dispensation in Arabic; and should you follow their desires after the knowledge that has come to you, you shall have neither any friend nor defender against God.

Certainly We have sent apostles before you, and We appointed wives and descendants for them; and an apostle may not bring a sign except by God’s leave.

There is a written for every time:

God effaces and confirms whatever he wishes and with Him is the Mother Book.
Qur’an 13:37-39

Rather, the relationship is if anything closer to the Father and Wisdom, of the Creator and a feminine creature. Indeed, the Qur’an is neither able to intercede for the faithful (as Christians believe the Church and Mary are)…

If only it were a Qur’an whereby the mountains could be moved, or the earth could be toured, or the dead could be spoken to… Indeed, all dispensation belongs to God.
Qur’an 13:31

… nor is it as useful as a personal attribute, such as faith. Wisdom is the process of correct creativity. Within the home of our mothers, Wisdom allows the increase and the reduction of new life.

God knows what every female carries, and what the wombs reduce and what they increase, and everything is by measure with Him, the Knower of the sensible and the Unseen, the All-great, the All-sublime.
Qur’an 13:8

In the home of our world, this regulation of creation includes both secular features of creation, such as astral bodies:

It is God who raised the heavens without any pillars that you see, and then presided over the Throne. He disposed the sun and the moon, each moving for a specified term. he directs the command, and elaborates the signs that you may be certain of encountering your Lord.

It is He who has spread out the earth and set in it firm mountains and streams, and of every fruit He has made it in two kinds, He draws the night’s cover over the day. There are indeed signs in that for people who reflect.
Qur’an 13:2-3

As well the cyclical nature of lightning, fear, hope, and clouds:

It is He who shows you the lightning, inspiring fear and hope, and He produces the clouds heavy. The Thunder celebrates His praise, and the angels, in awe of Him, and He releases the thunderbolts and strikes with them whomever He wishes. Yet they dispute concerning God, though He is great in might.

To Him belongs the true invocation; and those whom they invoke besides Him do not answer them in any wise — like someone who stretches his hands toward water that is should reach his mouth, but it does not reach it — and the invocation of the faithless only go awry.
Qur’an 13:12-14

These openings of the world were created by God, both for every human life, and for all of creation.

The Fire and the Flow

The feminine, fluidic part of creation is the complement to order. Viewed from a masculine perspective, the Logos leads to the destruction by fire, an analogy in Both the Bible (“dross”) and Qur’an (“scum”):

He sends down water from the sky, whereat the valleys are flooded to their capacity, and the flood carries along a swelling scum. A similar scum arises from what they smelt in the fire for the purpose of ornaments or wares. That is how God compares truth and falsehood. As for the scum, it leaves as dross, and that which profits the people stays in the earth .That is how God draws comparisons.
Qur’an 13:17

These themes tie together as it is not only the unborn that the womb either produces or reduces, it is nations as well. They come and go

Thus have We sent you to a nation before which many nations have passed way, so that you may recite to them what We have revealed to you. Yet they defy the All-beneficent. Say, ‘he is my Lord, there is no God except Him; in Him alone I have put my trust, and to Him alone will be my return.’
Qur’an 13:30

as do apostles:

Apostles were certainly derided before you. But then I have respite to those who were faithless, then I seized them; so how was My retribution?
Qur’an 13:32

The Qur’anic author is giving chaos its positive meaning, and beyond just wisdom: Chaos includes the destruction of old orders that should be destroyed. To the Qur’anic author, God — who creates as He wishes and destroys as He wishes — uses chaos and order for His will.

The Destination

In the Bible God created man outside the Garden of Eden, and then placed him into it. Eden is not our true starting point…

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being… Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.
Genesis 2:7,15

… but a picture of our destination:

A description of the paradise promised to the Godwary: streams run in it, its fruits and shade are everlasting. Such is the requital of those who are godwary, and the requital of the faithless is the Fire.
Qur’an 13:35

Just as hell contains humans and non-humans, so does the Garden:

It someone who knows the truth what what has been sent down to you from your Lord is the truth, like someone who is blind? Only those who possess intellect take admonition — those who fulfill God’s covenant and do not break the pledge solemnly made, and those who join what God has commanded to be joined, fear their Lord, and are afraid of an adverse reckoning — those who are patient for the sake of their Lord’s leisure, maintain the prayer, and spend secretly and openly out of what We have provided them, and repel evil with good.

For such will be the reward of the abode: the Gardens of Eden, which they will enter along with whoever is righteous from among their forebears, spouses, and descendants, and the angels will call on them from every door.
Qur’an 13:19-23

Through faith and thru works man will be saved:

Those who have faith and do righteous deeds — happy are they and good is their destination.
Qur’an 13:29

God has knowledge of the mother Book, and witness to you:

The faithless say, ‘You have not been sent.’ Say, ‘God suffices as a witness between me and you, and he who possess the knowledge of the Book.’
Qur’an 13:43

In Christianity the eschaton is a wedding feast, an image taken Jeremiah’s romantic comedy view of salvation history and, before that, the stories of God’s drinking party.  The view of love as central to God’s creation extends to the present day in Hans urs von Balthasar‘s focus on both eros and agape as forms of Christian love.  To the Qur’anic author, God knows Wisdom, in keeping with this analogy.

Conclusion

“Thunder” emphasizes creation and its gendered origin. The Qur’an is revealed as female, and a component to the Proverbial “Wisdom” as a female creature through which creation was instituted. This is also the most explicit connection between the Book and the Logos, the ordering agency at the center of late classical Greek, Hebrew, and Christian thought.

And it is in this history of Christian thought, I believe, the Qur’anic author resolves Paul’s message.

For Jews request a sign,
and Greeks seek after wisdom;
but we preach Christ crucified,

to the Jews a stumbling block
and to the Greeks foolishness,
but to those who are called,

both Jews
and Greeks,
Christ
the power of God
and the wisdom of God.
1 Corinthians 1:22-24

The Qur’anic author does not see himself contradicting Paul, but in keeping with him. For to the Jews and Greeks, he seems to write, was given Christ, and the power of God, and the wisdom of God.

The tDAxp eXPerience