In a Word

apprecation
n. a prayer or devout wish

An 1898 item in the New York Times notes that William Gladstone once attended a Presbyterian service in Scotland where the minister said, “We pray Thee, Lord, of Thy goodness, to bless the Prime Minister of this great nation, who is now worshipping under this roof in the third pew from the pulpit.” And a Presbyterian minister opening an outdoor event reportedly prayed, “In consequence of the rain, O Lord, and by reason of the regretted absence of the Princess of Lochnagar, caused, doubtless, by the stormy weather, I do not purpose to address Thee at any length.”

Before a battle in the Irish rebellion of 1641, John Leslie, bishop of Clogher, prayed, “O God, for our unworthiness we are not fit to claim Thy help: but if we are bad our enemies are worse, and if Thou seest not meet to help us, we pray Thee help them not, but stand Thou neuter this day, and leave it to the arm of flesh.”

(During the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln said, “We, on our side, are praying to Him to give us victory, because we believe we are right; but those on the other side pray to Him, look for victory, believing they are right. What must He think of us?”)

In his 1863 history of France, Victor Duruy tells of a soldier named La Hire who sought absolution from a priest during the siege of Montargis in 1427. The priest asked him to confess first, and he said, “I have not time, for I must fall upon the English. But I have done all that a man of war is wont to do.” The chaplain gave him absolution such as it was, and La Hire fell on his knees by the roadside and said, “God, I pray thee that to-day thou wilt do for La Hire that which thou wouldst have La Hire do for thee, if he were God and thou were La Hire.”

Others think the notion of a timeless God, with its perceptual metaphor of God passively perceiving each and every moment of time in a single, unchanging, comprehensive vision, fails to give God the freedom to act in creation, in particular, in the future. Suppose a student receives acceptances from three different universities and is trying to decide which to attend. She prays to God: ‘Lord, at which of the three universities will I have the best overall collegiate experience?’ On the timelessness view, God sees only the choice our petitioner actually makes, not the alternative futures that would have transpired had she chosen to go elsewhere. So how can God answer this prayer?

— W. Jay Wood, God, 2011

“Whatever a man prays for, he prays for a miracle. Every prayer reduces to this: ‘Great God, grant that twice two be not four.'” — Turgenev

See Asking Back.

Do-Gooder

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Given his necessary perfections, if there is a best world for God to create then it appears he would have no choice other than to create it. For, as Leibniz tells us, ‘to do less good than one could is to be lacking in wisdom or in goodness.’ Since it is strictly impossible for God to be lacking in wisdom or goodness, his inability to do otherwise than create the best possible world is no limitation on his power. But if God could not do otherwise than create the best world, he created the world out of necessity, and not freely. And, if that is so, it may be argued that we have no reason to be thankful to God for creating us, since, being parts of the best possible world, God was simply unable to do anything other than create us. … [Leibniz’s reasoning] cannot avoid the conclusion that God is not sufficiently free in creating, and is therefore not a fit subject of gratitude or moral praise for creating the best.

— William L. Rowe, Can God be Free?, 2006

Good Boy

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

An epitaph in the Pine Forest cemetery in Wilmington, N.C., reads:

“JIP” JONES
BORN SEPT. 24, 1894
DIED MAY 18, 1904

THIS WAS THE ONLY DOG WE EVER KNEW
THAT ATTENDED CHURCH EVERY SUNDAY

Actually, dogs commonly attended services in former times. Indeed, until the 19th century, they could be so numerous that churches employed “dog whippers” to remove unruly dogs during services. The Great Church of St. Bavo in Haarlem, the Netherlands, contains a carving of the hondenslager at work (above).

The 18th-century zoologist Carl Linnaeus used to attend mass with his dog Pompe. Linnaeus always left after an hour, regardless of whether the sermon was finished. It’s said that when he was sick Pompe would arrive at the service alone, stay for the customary hour, and depart.

“Heaven goes by favor,” wrote Mark Twain. “If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.”

Transcendence

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

In Western religion we seek to attain immortality; in Eastern religion we seek to escape it.

“The secret of religious enlightenment, revealed to the Buddha as he sat beneath the Bo tree, is the suppression of desire, a systematic elimination of all our attachments to the world,” writes Gordon Graham in his Eight Theories of Ethics. “In such turning away comes moksha or release and eventually, for it may take more than one life to achieve it, entry to Nirvana — a term which captures both the idea of nothingness and of heaven. The Buddhist ideal, then, finds supreme value in personal extinction. (Whether this amounts to total extinction is a further matter.) In so doing it wholly discounts subjective values because it is these, after all, that keep us chained to the unending cycle of birth, death and rebirth.

“It is of great interest to note that, while Western minds are accustomed to think of religious faith as entailing the belief and hope that we will be saved from eternal death and live for ever, the belief of Eastern religions is that, other things being equal, we do live for ever and it is from this dreadful fate that we must look to spirituality to save us.”

Memoria Technica

By reducing each chapter of the Bible to a single line and presenting these lines in rhyming quatrains, the Juvenile Bible of 1804 condenses the Old and New Testaments into 69 memorizable pages. By learning a simple system, one can then cite any chapter of the Bible from memory. Here are the first three stanzas of Genesis:

1 All things created, Moses writes,
2 And Paradise displays;
3 Tells Adam’s fall, which ruin’d all:
4 Cain righteous Abel slays.

5 Before the flood man’s life was long:
6 Noah the ark doth frame:
7 The world is drown’d, eight favour found,
8 Out of the ark they came.

9 Cov’nant of rain-bow; Noah drunk,
10 His offspring is increast;
11 They Babel rear, confounded are.
12 Abram is call’d and blest.

To aid in memorization, the stanzas begin with successive letters of the alphabet, so a stanza that starts with A always marks the first chapter of a book, B the 5th, C the 9th, and so on. Once we’ve memorized the stanzas above, we can always name the chapter in Genesis in which the Tower of Babel is described: It’s the third line of the stanza beginning with C, so it’s chapter 11. Conversely, if we’re asked to name the subject of any given chapter, we can produce the answer using the same system.

“This novel and curious arrangement will, it is presumed, gratify the taste of young readers, and not only give them a relish for the Sacred Volume, but even assist their memories when duly acquainted with it,” writes the anonymous author. To his credit, he adds, “No portion of it should ever be allotted as a Task; the Author of this Work being well convinced, it is owing to the modern and impious mode of Education, compelling Children to learn Collects, chapters in the Bible, Hymns, &c. as occasional Exercises, and frequently by way of Punishment that the Word of God is not heard and read with that satisfaction it always should be.”

Heaven’s Domain

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In April 2005, when the Vatican began to seek a successor to John Paul II, technology author Rogers Cadenhead registered the domain names ClementXV.com, InnocentXIV.com, LeoXIV.com, BenedictXVI.com, PaulVII.com, and PiusXIII.com, hoping that the new pope would take one of these names.

“Someone else already has JohnPaulIII.com and JohnXXIV.com,” he wrote on his blog, “but otherwise I put a chip down on every name of the past three centuries.”

When Joseph Ratzinger chose the name Benedict XVI, “I felt like my horse had come in first at the Kentucky races,” he told CNN. As owner of the new pope’s domain, he made a few requests, including:

  1. Three days, two nights at the Vatican hotel.
  2. “One of those hats.”
  3. Complete absolution, no questions asked, for the third week of March 1987.

“Whatever decision I make will be guided by the desire not to make 1.5 billion people mad at me … including my grandmother,” he told the Washington Post. As I write this, the domain appears to be unused — perhaps they’re still negotiating.

Turnabout

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A Swedish minister having assembled the chiefs of the Susquehanna Indians, made a sermon to them, acquainting them with the principal historical facts on which our religion is founded — such as the fall of our first parents by eating an apple, the coming of Christ to repair the mischief, his miracles and suffering, etc. When he had finished an Indian orator stood up to thank him.

‘What you have told us,’ says he, ‘is all very good. It is indeed bad to eat apples. It is better to make them all into cider. We are much obliged by your kindness in coming so far to tell us those things which you have heard from your mothers. In return, I will tell you some of those we have heard from ours.

‘In the beginning, our fathers had only the flesh of animals to subsist on, and if their hunting was unsuccessful they were starving. Two of our young hunters, having killed a deer, made a fire in the woods to boil some parts of it. When they were about to satisfy their hunger, they beheld a beautiful young woman descend from the clouds and seat herself on that hill which you see yonder among the Blue Mountains.

‘They said to each other, “It is a spirit that perhaps has smelt our broiling venison and wishes to eat of it; let us offer some to her.” They presented her with the tongue; she was pleased with the taste of it and said: “Your kindness shall be rewarded; come to this place after thirteen moons, and you will find something that will be of great benefit in nourishing you and your children to the latest generations.” They did so, and to their surprise found plants they had never seen before, but which from that ancient time have been constantly cultivated among us to our great advantage. Where her right hand had touched the ground they found maize; where her left had touched it they found kidney-beans; and where her backside had sat on it they found tobacco.’

The good missionary, disgusted with this idle tale, said: ‘What I delivered to you were sacred truths; but what you tell me is mere fable, fiction, and falsehood.’

The Indian, offended, replied: ‘My brother, it seems your friends have not done you justice in your education; they have not well instructed you in the rules of common civility. You saw that we, who understand and practise those rules, believed all your stories; why do you refuse to believe ours?’

— Benjamin Franklin, “Remarks Concerning the Savages of North America,” 1784

In a Word

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

scalariform
adj. resembling a ladder

Above the facade of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is a ladder that has remained in place since the 19th century. At that time an edict was passed holding that the church’s doors and window ledges are “common ground” for the various Christian orders; as a result, no church can move anything near the window — including the ladder. It’s visible in the engraving below, which was made in 1834.

(Thanks, Randy.)

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Cold Faith

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Apropos of Eskimo, I once heard a missionary describe the extraordinary difficulty he had found in translating the Bible into Eskimo. It was useless to talk of corn or wine to a people who did not know even what they meant, so he had to use equivalents within their powers of comprehension. Thus in the Eskimo version of the Scriptures the miracle of Cana of Galilee is described as turning the water into blubber; the 8th verse of the 5th chapter of the First Epistle of St. Peter ran: ‘Your adversary the devil, as a roaring Polar bear walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.’ In the same way ‘A land flowing with milk and honey’ became ‘A land flowing with whale’s blubber,’ and throughout the New Testament the words ‘Lamb of God’ had to be translated ‘little Seal of God,’ as the nearest possible equivalent. The missionary added that his converts had the lowest opinion of Jonah for not having utilised his exceptional opportunities by killing and eating the whale.

— Lord Frederic Hamiliton, The Days Before Yesterday, 1920

Who’s Counting?

In the 14th century, an unnamed Kabbalistic scholar declared that the universe contains 301,655,722 angels.

In 1939, English astrophysicist Sir Arthur Eddington calculated that it contains 15,747,724, 136,275,002,577,605,653,961,181,555,468,044,717,914,527,116,709,366,231,425,076,
185,631,031,296 electrons.

“Some like to understand what they believe in,” wrote Stanislaw Lec. “Others like to believe in what they understand.”