This article is about Saint Stephen #298Z, the greatest of all saints, and written by artist and United States Navy Veteran, Stephen F. Condren, BFA-SAIC, of Condren Galleries, a Fine Arts Gallery. Congratulations Saint Stephen!
The Reading Audience
For all those that love Jesus Christ. If your walk be that in the Historical Critical path of Rudolph Bultmann, Albert Schweitzer, or Norman Perrin, there is much to analyze, and reflect upon here. To those in the light of faith in the Roman Catholic Church, all honor, and praise to you. For those of Orthodox faith, may you see new things in this treatise. To those holding to the Protestant claim, may you see what is ever so clear to us here. For the Philosopher, that gropes to reconcile faith with reason, the Existential manifestation of that task is brought to you here. To the skeptic, my prayers are for you, in hope that you will see the light of His face.
Acts Of The Apostles
What is the Acts of the Apostles about? Brace yourself, this is too easy. The Acts of the Apostles is a document about the following. 1. The Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit being made manifest to the Church on Pentecost. 2. Saint Stephen. The metamorphosis of the Church from a Jewish sect to a universal Church. 3. Saint Paul. The celebration of the Church to all mankind. Thus, the Acts of the Apostles is not about the acts of the apostles, in reality (Paul Tillich would love this) it is more like Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky. The main theme that you hear from the brass (Maurice Ravel orchestration) is the vehicle that takes you through the gallery to view Viktor Hartmann’s paintings. The “acts”, if you will, is the theme, vehicle, or storyline of the various deeds of the apostles that support the real story, which is noted above. The “acts” are delightful and good reading but ancillary to what is really going on. One reads “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” by Edward Gibbon for beauty, breath, and scope of thought, which all works together for making the best of narratives. Even though the book is an antique, my point is clear, for reading Edward Gibbon is like reading James Henry Breasted, all good but all wrong. Remember that you can always read the words of Jesus, or Caesar, and Aristotle, however, what is difficult to grasp is not their words, but their times, and further, how their words fit into the context of their times, and then compound their times into the context of our times. That is the most difficult!
In A Nutshell
Item #1. The Holy Spirit being made manifest to the Church. There is a lot of room for error here, but like every work of art that I create it is riddled with errors, but this does not stop me from the creative process, so too here. I will not be so bold as to even attempt to spell out the task of the Holy Spirit for that is sheer folly. All of humanity can write Theology books about that all day long every day for eternity and not scratch the surface of that topic. However, I would like to address some points that are germane to both the Holy Spirit and humanity, so as to enrich our lives and build up the Church. From my perspective I see that the Holy Spirit is present throughout the entire universe, and this is Scriptural, “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, Watching the evil and the good” Proverbs 15:3, NASV. “Can a man hide himself in hiding places, So I do not see him?” declares the Lord. “Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?” declares the Lord” NASV. Thus we are dealing with the heavens, the cosmos, and the cosmos is expanding (at the rate of the speed of light), so too is The Holy Spirit. Like that of the Luminiferous Aether but more subtle, for the Holy Spirit is expanding with the universe, and my beliefs have the backing of modern Science. Further, I firmly believe that the Holy Spirit is the key element in all spirituality on the earth, and this has to be so, as a fact of Science, because the same heavens of the Lord, are the same heavens over India, China, and Japan! Thus, those people in Japan that practicing Shinto/Buddhism are in commune with the same Holy Spirit as we Christian are. Spirit is Spirit as Aether is Aether. However, these Japanese are in a different “radio frequency” that we Christians are, and not part of the Church. I have lived in Japan, and speak Japanese, and have traveled all over the country extensively, visiting all of the major shrines and temples, including the most holy and sacred shrine of Ise Jingu. I know all of the subways in Tokyo, and move with ease anywhere in Japan. The Japanese are a great and wonderful people and above all things they are honorable! Below are pen & ink drawings that I did while sitting in front of Daibutsu Kamakura, and Mishine-nomikura at Ise Jingu, Japan, back in 1976, while serving on board the USS Midway-CV41, with all honor!
Pen & ink drawing of Daibutsu Kamakura, Japan.
Pen & ink drawing done on site in 1976 of Mishine-no-mikura-no Kami, Ise Jingu, Itsukujima, Japan.
2. The metamorphosis of the Church. This is difficult, but bare with me. Since we are dealing with the Divine, we are dealing with the abstract and the unknown. There is nothing “Ironclad” about anything in this territory. In many ways you can say, and with truth, that the Church is eternal, That the Church was born with the first primates, that the Church was born with the formation of Israel, that the Church was born on Pentecost, or that the church was born with the advent of Saint Stephen. Please pick any that you like. Personally, for me the Church was formed with the calling of the Apostles by Christ, then enriched and strengthened at Pentecost”, and then transformed with the advent of Saint Stephen.
I know that there is overlap here, but that is the nature of the beast. Light travels either as a particle or a wave, and Science is still trying to understand this conundrum, so too with the nature of the Holy Trinity, and the Church, but with far greater complexity. When you are talking the Holy Spirit and the cosmos then you are talking about light, and you have to step back, for you are dealing with the very abstract. It is my view that the formation and transmission of light is far more complex than the particle-wave theory offers. In fact, I am strongly convinced that light too, is actually evolving and expanding, for I hold that light is a living organism. The problem with the wave-particle theory is that it does not explain direction, acceleration, and mass. However, with Newtonian Physics you do have gravity of the earth that is an elemental force to work into the equation, but a small one. Light has to be a living organic element in and of itself, for it could not support life otherwise.
By living organism, I do not mean an “eating, breathing, excreting” organism, but rather living organism in terms of a sort of life-source-energy form. For I cannot hold to a concept of a non-living energy source providing and passing on life sustenance, power, and energy to living biological organisms. When dealing with the vastness of the cosmos you have less gravity as a support. In any event, this is all way beyond anything in Newton’s camp as we are dealing with Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. A special side note on the Theory of Relativity by A. N. Whitehead, which I lean towards and should be brought to the discussion. Below is a pen & ink schematic drawing of an organic vision of particle-wave elements being teleported through the cosmos, and my German edition of the Theory of Relativity by Albert Einstein. Most obviously the Trinity has to be Deity to work this. Another big problem just solved!
Pen & ink drawing of light as an organic living element traveling through space as a particle & wave.
My copy of the Theory of Relativity in German by Albert Einstein.
3. The celebration of the Church to all mankind. Yes! The core (Kernennergie) of the nuclear explosion is made manifest with none other than our good old friend Saint Stephen. After this seismic earthquake the pieces were quickly picked up and taken to the four corners of the earth via Hellenism! Now just guess who was at the scene of Saint Stephen’s stoning? The plot thickens.
Pay Check On Friday
Obviously, everyone wants their check on Friday, but life is not that easy. Further, in reality, there is no check on Friday, for that is another myth. Of course people will argue that with me tooth and nail, and let them, but I am correct. For in reality, all markets are based on supply and demand, and it is the management of excesses that warrant the sacred “Check on Friday”. However, this is all smoke in mirrors, for if there is no business, there is not check on Friday or any day. All of this of course leads up to the most important and burning question in the history of humanity, that all people from all countries, and all the ages have groveled and payed homage to, and that question is: What holds for tomorrow?
We All Strive For Beauty!
Like the rubbish of females being more beautiful than males, which is of course total nonsense. Put simply, males desire females, and thus foist images of females everywhere, from advertising to Fine Art. The display of male beauty is shunned by males because it brings out subconscious fears in males that are symptomatic of a deep rooted homophobia which I will address in a separate treatise. In any event, in all things of nature, the male is glorious whereas the female is plane. For as I have stated before: From the fish in the sea to the birds in the air it is nature’s decree that the male is most fair.
The architectural structure of the human male is the most glorious thing in all creation. The male is bigger, stronger, with expansion on all of his details like the eye brows, eye lashes, elegant hands, finger nails, hair on the chest, and so on. Males, as sperms, think in terms of a projectile, whereas females, as an egg, think in terms a host. Hence men are aggressors, whereas women are passive, and all of their thoughts, desires, and actions stem from this, which is of course, purely organic. Since sperms travel in schools, this forms the core of male bonding, explaining why sports are so important to males.
Speaking of sports, which I will address in a separate treatise on Sports, Armies, and Police, it should be noted that there is organic error here, since teams should not rival teams, but rather teams should seek goals or hosts, the true prize, which is life! See Sigmund Freud’s famous psychoanalysis of football. Nowhere in nature do you ever see one herd attacking another herd, on land or in the air. Predatory action is always singular, and usually the predator strikes the weakest element of the heard. For example: A lion chasing an antelope, usually the younger, weaker, or certainly the most vulnerable member. The entire concept of armies and police are quite modern, and not organic to our species. Policing has become a dominate element throughout our societies world wide due to psychological impurities within us, or more aptly put, sin.
Males Think As Projectiles, Whereas Females Think As Receptacles
Males are dominant by natural design as they have to mount the female for procreation, as is the case in all of nature. The missionary style of mating is banal and absolutely wrong, just imagine two lobsters trying to attempt this folly. Females are smaller and a bit awkward in design so that the male can easily mount her for procreation. Genitalia are absolutely not to be addressed as an element of focus, but rather as a mere reference, for they possess no structure. Note the diminutive images of genitalia on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the frescos of Michelangelo. The most important areas of artistic focus are the face and torso, and inclusion of hands if at all possible. Just look at the majesty of God’s work with the hand of God honoring man as his most noble act of creation! Hands are beautiful. As an artist I am an authority on this topic. Further as a man of science I hold to that which is clearly demonstrated and made manifest in all creation. Christians need to abolish the crude, and archaic notion that sex is a sin and a shameful act, which stems from St. Augustine, who I deeply love, and not from the Bible. Few books have ever been written that are greater than the Confessions, and the City of God. His concept of time, which is explicated in the Confessions is even honored by the brilliant Philosopher and atheist, Bertrand Russell, another man whose works that I cannot live without. A. N. Whitehead considered Russell the greatest Logician since Aristotle.
In this image below of Michelangelo’s famous depiction of God creating man, the scene is teaming with nude figures and yet it is not pornography. After all, this is in the Vatican! Further, it should be noted that the etymology of pornography means “harlot writing”, thus it is all about the writing of dirty stories by prostitutes and has nothing to do with any kind of artwork, drawings, or paintings.
Photo of God creating Adam in the Sistine Chapel by artist Michelangelo.
I bring this all up to make my point about structure, for beauty requires structure. Just look at the structure of the male peacock below. Further, in flowers, there is no comparison between an orchid and a pansy, for the orchid is well structured and almost sculpted, strong, and glorious, whereas the pansy is a wash, a nothing. Pray tell, is Thomas Jefferson going to now come along and tell us that “All flowers are created equal?” I can go on and on and win this argument hands down, because I have a vast amount of facts to support my case. My point? My point is that we all strive for beauty and there is nothing more beautiful than the glory of God made manifest in His glorious creation. Thus the driving force to in all of us is beauty, and that is attained through honoring God. Honestly, what is more beautiful than the Roman Catholic Mass? The mass has structure, and a glorious structure to be sure. And like the expanding universe going though it’s process, so too is the mass expanding and growing, becoming more glorious.
Photograph of a male and female peacock.
Eating & Food
Like sex, eating is another topic that needs to be addressed intelligently, and is at the very core of Saint Stephen’s ministry. Eating and sex have much in common and thus can be addresses in a similar fashion, much as operas are similar to symphonies, but are not the same.
“Now at the time while the disciples were increasing in number a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food.” Acts, 6:1, NASV.
Eating should be quick and done in private just like sex. For like sex, eating is a crude activity. In the course of eating you are sitting around a table and watch people with their mouths opened putting food into it and then chew it! All during the meal you have the spectacle of watching people pick up food and objects related to food and put them up to their mouth. More yet, this activity is enhanced with people talking, further opening their mouths. Just the sight of watching people continuously bringing forks and spoons to their mouths is most unsavory, worse yet, the eating of meat off of bones is down right banal and crude.
To me the only socially acceptable eating events should be tea parties with light offerings, that minimize any mouth and chewing activity. When I entertain it is usually just tea and some candies. Wine is of course acceptable as well, complimented with some crackers. The point is not to offer things that you have to chew on, or worse, things that require utensils, other than a tooth pick.
Eating As Sin
Following the sin of sex, is the sin of eating. For if is sex is a sin, then eating is right in league with it. What is interesting is that they both deal with life sustenance. Of course, neither sex or eating is a sin, however, what you do with them can amount to just that. But people just do not want to hear this, because they want to eat! However they are most pleased to banish sex to the underworld for the most part as it is a “natural” place for that kind of activity. But not, oh so precious food, and the eating of it. In fact eating is elevated, we have TV shows dedicated to cooking, and chef’s are now celebrities. As for consumption we are in no shortage of restaurants, and fast food chains. Even at local hardware stores they are selling hot dogs and hamburgers. No wonder everyone, including children, are fat!
Just as STI’s are the price that you pay for sex, obesity, and bad health is the price that you pay for stuffing your face. Not only that, but the obsession of food goes far beyond the consumption of it, worse yet, it is the hours of time for gathering and preparing of meals that is so very costly. People are getting fat and unhealthy, and this is because people are not putting food and the eating of it on the “sin” index, like they are with sex. Over eating will bring you down just like drugs, and alcohol, and in the end they will all kill you. When thinking of Saint Stephen, he served the Church as a deacon and was in charge of feeding the poor and the widows. This was service in the Lord’s name not feasting. We need Saint Stephen as a model of food service.
Easy To Write About Saint Stephen
It is so easy to write about Saint Stephen because almost everything in the New Testament is related to him. All of the Pauline corpus are based on Saint Stephen. All four Gospels are summed up in Saint Stephen. The foundation of the Church is made manifest by Saint Stephen. No matter where you go in the New Testament the mark of Saint Stephen is there. Saint Stephen is the manifestation of Jesus Christ and the symbol of Christ’s victory over death. Thus the image of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ should be tender, loving, and a refuge for all, as seen below.
Pen & ink drawing of Jesus Christ call his apostles.
Filled With The Holy Spirit
If you will notice the greatest characteristic that is assigned to Saint Stephen is that he was filled with the Holy Spirit. When you read the account of him there is really very little said, but what is said is pithy. Why? I think that it is the way to express the Holy Trinity in the character of Saint Stephen and then using his name as the crowning event of Christ’s victory over death.
Most importantly, the greatest achievement in the history of the world is mark by Saint Stephen’s very name: All honor, glory, and victory lies in the stephanos on the head of Christ crucified. That is the point of Stephen, now the message of the Universal Church was put into the hands of St. Paul. “And when they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him, and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul.” Acts, 7:58, NASV.
It is my conviction that not only are we missing texts from Saint Stephen’s speech, but we are also missing text about Saint Stephen and things that he said. One of my reasons for this view is that the speech is so very long, and one would think that there would be some kind of homily afterwards, but there is none. There is the minor statement about being stiff-necked and uncircumcised, but certainly not a full commentary or revelatory message on his very long speech. Also, the manner in which the Saint Stephen’s situation is cut so very short. He just says a few words, and the next thing he is dead, it does not make sense, there must be missing material. Further, what Saint Stephen said was not worthy of death. Calling someone stiff-necked and uncircumcised is not offering warm fuzzies, but it does not warrant death! Saint Stephen must have said something really damning and at length for them to stone him to death. “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him.” Acts, 7:54, NASV. When they heard what? I find it very hard to stomach that they were gnashing their teeth over verses 51, 52, and 53. How could anyone gnash their teeth over this? At best they would have just written Saint Stephen off as a kook and let him go. But no, this is not the case, because there was a lot more to the text, and their reaction is based upon what is in that text, not verses 51, 52, and 53!
Another important point that needs to be address is the difference in the type of verses with regard to Saint Stephen. Verses 51, 52, and 53 contain nothing that is miraculous, other than the reference to angels in verse 53, which I discount here. Thus, in terms of form criticism, they are more likely to be authentic or at least closer to the original sources. Now verses 55 and 56, are imbedded with the miraculous. I think that these last two verses are the closing to the great speech of Saint Stephen. Further, I think that verses 51, 52, and 53, were the introductory elements to a very long and sophisticated rebuking of the current Jewish state.
It must be understood that Saint Stephen’s speech is a form of History and very sound. Therefore it is far more likely, in Bultmannian terms, that these three verses were closer to what was actually written. Saint Stephen’s speech was of course written, as all the narratives in the Bible are. Only very few fragments are directs quotes from anyone in the Bible. But to the point, where you have text that is void of the miraculous it is far more likely to be reliable. Whereas text that is imbedded with the miraculous is more difficult to understand. This is because you have to keep the miraculous in the text to have a cohesive document, and to strip out the miraculous ruins that context. Also, the miraculous may have happened, but overall not likely. The good side of the miraculous is that it is a flag for us to stop and take special interest. For in antiquity, miracles were added to give credibility to a document, the opposite of our modern Scientific mindset today.
This is why my approach to the study of the Bible is the most sound and Scientific, for I do not at all strip out any elements of the miraculous, in fact it would be very un-scientific to do so, for then you are tampering with the originals, which is strictly taboo! Further, you cannot really know, you can only assume. To quote Norman Perrin, “The question of the historical Jesus has to be faced and discussed, in accordance with one’s basic presuppositions, in light of the challenge issuing from the other groups and the developments and changes going on in one’s own.” Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus”, Harper & Row, Page 240. The same holds true of course with all of the Bible.
All of this frees me up from any worry, for I have a strong loving faith in Jesus Christ, and I pray to Him every day and even at every meal. I just take the text as it is and work with it. I of course treat it with great respect because it is unique in the massage that it gives, however, it is a book, and it is written by mortal men, and it is filled with errors. Let us now take this great book that has been given to us by the Catholic Church and together with Church authority, and the Holy Spirit, strive to attain a better understanding of Christ and our Church that we so love. For without Church authority the Bible is awash and we are left standing, holding this soggy tome, not knowing where to go next.
I do not like the term liberal Theology, because I am liberal and not that. To me a liberal Theologian is one that embraces the Ultimate Concern over faith in Jesus Christ. He is one that is doing all that he can to breathe life into a corpse of Existential gibberish and conjuring up a nice comfortable Academic Theology, separating the Jesus of History from the Existential, and Eschatological Christ event. Swindling themselves and others with the mirage of a historical Jesus that was just a man to look at and study, and putting all their stock into an Eschatological Christ that is as phony as a three dollar bill. For to separate Jesus from the Christ defeats the entire purpose of our great religion. Certainly Saint Stephen would have none of this as he clearly states, “But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God;” Acts 7:55, NASV. Please note, that the verse states “Jesus standing” not the Existential Christ. Also, this is an excellent case in point where the miraculous makes sense of the concept and puts Jesus, right in the center of it all. By stripping out the miraculous you have no verse, and thus you lose ground to liberal Theologians by not having Jesus in the scene, because the verse is rubbed out with Clorox! Thus proving that you have to keep the miraculous in the text or you lose your bearings. If you stick with Saint Stephen, a man full of the Holy Spirit you will be in good stead.
I do not want to paint a bad picture and leave the impression that I am a narrow minded person with a dim understanding of world class Biblical research. On the contrary, I highly regard the works of these academicians and Theologians. However, I have to make this clear, that it is my understanding that current international scholarship on the Bible is all rooted in secular, scientific, social, and politically correct terms, and rendered as neutered in regard to any of the miraculous. Further, I contend that current international Biblical scholarship holds to the separation of Jesus from the Christ, with a focus on the Existential manifestation of the Christ event, to the disparagement of the historic resurrection of the man Jesus, so as to make Christianity palpable to the secular world of today. I do not know that Jesus rose from the dead. Further, I do not know that there were miraculous events in the Bible. And I do not know if there is a God. However, I do know that I am an Irish Catholic, that I am a Knight of Columbus, and that I do not hold to the secularized Biblical scholarship that is articulated above.
To me the whole game here is to legitimate the rationale in their own eyes, their reason for doing any of this study at all. A sort of “justification” if you will, for their worth. Further, to keep the ball rolling, they have to conjure up sophisticated theories, and “Schools of thought”, that accommodate their agenda. For me, I would rather be an atheist, or secular humanist, and be honest with myself, than to fabricate this complex imagery of an Existential Christ, which offers nothing to anyone, for it is not even a dream, for in reality it is all a mirage, a myth greater than any miraculous account in the Bible, cast on a stage with smoke and mirrors. And on this stage rests a golden pedestal, and upon this glorious pedestal is a marble statue, bedecked with jewels and precious stones, of the Ultimate Concern. Upon the head of the Ultimate Concern rests a garland stephanos. Inscribed on the base of the pedestal, in Latin, are the words “Verum Fraudator”
Since after all, we now all “know” that Jesus was just a man, and did not really rise from the dead, because this has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, by modern Scientific Theology. So we can now finally rest, and with a sigh of relief, pick up all the pieces from the “myths” of our fathers that gave us this religion, and embrace the newer, better myths. So taking our lead from the early Church by changing the names of local deities to that of local saints, we will do the same with Jesus. We will now fix things up and make them “right”. It is a safe and easy ride in our boat on the Sea of Gibber over to the Island of Swindle to pay homage to the new, better, and more rational divine, the one and the only “Ultimate Concern”. Now we are no longer burdened with creeds, doctrines, and differences in religion, because we have it all here. Marie Antoinette was right, you can have your cake and eat it! Better yet, you can take it with you! What more can I say than everyone is equal and happy about it? I rest my case.
If Jesus lived and died and that was it, then all that we know of Christianity would be awash. I would not go so far as to say that is was fraudulent, because that would imply willingly telling lies or being out right deceptive, which I think in light of the topic would make no sense. However, the point still remains, that if Jesus did live and die we would not have the Christian faith, and of course, no Church. None of this is shocking to me, for if this is the case, then so be it. I have been an atheist for years in my youth, and it was fine. I believe that I am better of here with the Church. But if new findings are discovered that prove without a doubt that Jesus was a mortal man that lived and died, then I could not argue the point. However, that has not happened, and I will cross that bridge when time comes, if it ever comes.
My point here is that my whole world would not fall apart if the Church was wrong. I would be exceedingly disappointed, but I am not like those at Moody Bible Institute, or Wheaton College that simply ignore the facts. Unlike them and their league, I do not create nonsensical Theologies to tar up the leaks in the boat (that is sinking quickly) of their precious narrow minded points of view. Further, I do not conjure up gibber in either the conservative or liberal camp to set my agenda. I have no interest in trying to breathe life into the dead. It is an important task of liberal Theologians to make you think that they have an understanding God and the Bible, that you cannot fathom. That they see and understand things that are far too profound and “Metaphysical” for you to grasp. Thus you are relegated to the lower echelons to wallow in your ignorance. Like the Theory of Relativity, which they all would have you believe that they have a firm handle on, it is their domain, and that they have seen the light, but you are not called because you are of little faith.
Honestly, how can anyone live their life by faith in an Existential Jesus? To push it further, how can anyone live their life by faith in an Existential anything? What does this offer to anyone? What is it? Do I pray to it? Should I pray to it? It all sounds as phony as a three dollar bill to me. To have the nerve to ask me to embrace this enigma in favor a sound believe in the risen Christ is not only a slap in the face, it is downright banal. I will not swallow Adam & Eve, and I also, will not swallow an Existential Christ. I will take atheism any day over this folly, for at least as an atheist I know what I believe! Joan Rivers once said on the Tonight Show, “While I was studying Philosophy, I wrote a paper proving to my putcher that meat does not exist!”
I should just throw in the towel and follow Kierkegaard, considered by many as the founder of Existentialism. For my money I would place bets on Origen as the first Christian Existentialist. I can appreciate and surely listen to the voice of any mode of thought, however, it is one thing to listen, and even grasp what is being said, and a whole different matter in acting on it. For the bottom line with Existentialism is action. Acting out, if you will, your “Existential manifestation” of the Christ event. For the Existentialist it does not really matter if Jesus died on the cross and rose again, what matters is the concept of this, and then taking that concept and putting it to work in your life. I have great difficulty in accepting a view of Saint Stephen as seeing Jesus as Pablo Picasso would draw him! Another distorted, incongruent abstraction that you are supposed to understand and fully grasp, otherwise join the legions of losers far below that do not appreciate or fully comprehend what is so “clearly” being offered by Picasso. As I have always said about Picasso: The best place for a Picasso is in your vault. Why? 1. Because it is safe. 2. It is gaining in value. 3. You do not have to look at it.
Existentialism In Art
As an artist, I think that the best way that I can render Existentialism to the reader is through Art. There is a famous painting in the Art Institute of Chicago called American Gothic, by artist Grant Wood. It is very famous so most people will know what I am talking about. Further, as a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I have seen this painting many times, and I have the credentials to address commentary on this work of art with authority.
I can say that the painting is about a midwestern farmer and his wife standing out front of their home. That would be a good and solid assessment. However, are you aware that the man in the painting is Grant Wood’s dentist. The woman in the painting is Grant Wood’s sister. Does this change the meaning of the painting? The “wife” is looking to the side, not at the viewer. Why? Notice that the pitch fork is echoed in the pattern of the seam of the farmer’s overalls. Are the farmers happy? Why are the trees and landscape stylized? Is the painting realistic?
The more that you look at this painting, more of the details and overall image of this work of art become accessible to you. Further, with more understanding of the painting, you are able to ask better and more cogent questions about the work of art.
Now, think of the painting as Jesus. What is the message of the painting? Now with the same approach, look at the words of Jesus. What is Jesus trying to say? Like the painting, how are His words rendered?
What is the message of the painting? What is the context? Now like the dentist and the artist’s sister ask; in what context do they have being? What is their reality? As a dentist and the artist sister? As models? Do they represent the dying age of homestead farms? How can I appropriate this image into my life today? I can go on and on with this painting from the colors, composition, tones, juxtaposition of elements, localized colors, and create a case which cannot be argued with because it is my perspective, and it is not rational. Further, I am basing my opinion upon facts, which just like Rudolph Bultmann and Norman Perrin, leaves me a way out, for only a fool will argue with the facts.
A Priori & A Posteriori For American Gothic
Our perception of the images of the farmer and his wife are “a priori” without any learned external references. For we do not need to know anything about their images beforehand. Note that I say “images” and not “farmer”, for a farmer is “a posteriori” having had already been learned from experience of what a farmer is by being with one. We know that they are images, but we do not know what they are images of, and further, how to incorporate these images into our external references without experience, which is, of course, empirical. In our minds we have “a priori” knowledge of things both in space and time, which are the matrix of our experience or “operating system”. Anything “a priori” absolutely cannot be learned. The image of a figure in a painting can only be “translated” as “Existential” as an “a posteriori” synthetic experience, and not empirical. Further, no “Existential” experience can truly be “a posteriori” because you are “bypassing” the empirical stage of knowledge. Therefore, in reality we cannot really “know” the painting “American Gothic” Existentially, because it can only be perceived in our own mind, and is therefore not “outside of us”, which is the demand of Existentialism. We cannot be Existential unto ourselves. Thus, in Existential terms, is the image of the “farmer”, of a farmer or of a dentist? See “The Critique of Pure Reason” by Immanuel Kant.
Back To Jesus And Existentialism In Art
Is the painting real? Or is the copy of the painting in this treatise real? Does the image of the painting here have authenticity? Does the image of the painting here yield response? Is the image of the original painting made manifest here in the treatise? Can I gain the same experience from looking at the copy of the paint as I would from looking at the original? Does this copy give me an Existential manifestation of the original work of art in my space and my time? Is my Existential experience of this copy more valid and greater than the original as it is here right now and transcending my thoughts to a newer reality? If the original is lost or ruined, should we keep exhibiting copies of it? If the original is lost or destroyed, does that now make my copy of the painting here no longer valid to look upon? If the original is destroyed, should I destroy my copy? Now, foist these kinds of questions on the words of Jesus and the Bible. Who is putting the puzzle together correctly? More importantly who is handling the puzzle pieces correctly?
Did Jesus live? Did Jesus rise from the dead? Are the surviving Biblical manuscripts valid since the originals are lost? Scholars from around the world are working with the copies and fragment given to us from the Bible and are bringing to us their points of view. Are you comfortable with the death and resurrection of the man Jesus Christ, or with an ethereal “Existential” manifestation of a theoretical Christ event that is “palpable” and Scientifically approved, complete with a worked out rendition of the resurrection? For my money, I would rather have that which is right here before me, than any kind of copy, image, or Existential manifestation. My money is on the Roman Catholic Mass which offers the Eucharist, here and now, today and every day!
American Gothic by Grant Wood at the Art Institute of Chicago.
I have a difficult time placing Saint Stephen as an Existentialist, and therefore making Existentialism void in my book. For Saint Stephen clearly states his vision that he saw (Acts, 7:55), Jesus, and not some sort of transcendental, or Metaphysical realization of Jesus. Someone who is “gazing intently” is sober and in a clear state of mind. As an artist I fully grasp and appreciate this, for when I draw I am intently focused on my subject.
As a side note I really need to drive an important point home, and that is about figure drawing. As a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I majored in drawing and painting. The bulk of my courses were of course studio classes of figure drawing and painting. All of the classes used models, male and female, that posed in various positions for us to work with. I will never forget the drawing class where we had a professional dancer, dancing on the large table in the center of the room, and we were required to capture her image and movements for the duration of the class! It was a rigorous and challenging day, but I learned so much! All of the models, of course, were in the nude. However, the nudity was nothing to me, for it was my task to draw and paint the figures. Never for one second in all of my time in any class did I ever have any kind of “lude or licentious thoughts” float in my mind. Quite the opposite, for it was very much like my anatomy classes, in that I was intently focused on the bones set before me, I had to focus on the objects and delineate them, and this is called work. I am sure that any doctor or nurse will understand and appreciate this.
My point being, that when you are intently focused, like Saint Stephen was, you have your mind on the task before you, which was in my case to draw and paint the naked figures before me. Further, when I was drawing I did not ever at anytime try and “see” something else, or put it in an “Existential” context, I drew what was there! As an artist, a professional trained one, I am an authority on the form, design, and movements of the human figure.
With regard to Saint Stephen, Theologians Rudolph Bultmann, better yet Rosemary Radford Ruether, would have been right at home with this “cleaned-up”, “redacted”, Scientific, politically correct, and “faithful” rendering of Acts, 7: 55, “But being full of the Holy Spirit, he was in a sort of “haze” and not really sure of where he was at, or of his bearings, (note that he was a deacon and most probably had too much wine after clearing the tables), after this he sort of “looked around” and noticed a “cloudy place” and in it he saw a glorious “Impressionist manifestation of the Ultimate Concern, (immediately he was going to contact his therapist, Sigmund Freud, for fear that he was going mad, but then realized that his great, great, great…nephew had not been born yet, after all you have to “keep it in the family”), after this he saw an Existential image of a figure that could have been either male or female, (remember, we have to be “open minded” and “inclusive”, so as to accommodate sexual orientation, and “transgender” issues), and this figure was standing at the right hand of the First Mover.”
Norman Perrin, an outstanding Theologian, and a true and honest person that is most earnest in his quest for knowing and understanding Jesus, is a prime example of current liberal Theology. He addresses faith in his very excellent analysis of the New Testament, “Rediscovery of the Teachings of Jesus”, “True, this Jesus of the kerygma, this Jesus of faith-knowledge, encounters us in our historic situation, but he is not the historic Jesus, he is the Christ, the eschatological Jesus our encounter with him is not like an encounter with the historic Socrates, or with any other historic figure, but it is an eschatological encounter: it changes everything for us and brings our old history to a close, opening up for us a new history and a new future as no other encounter with a figure from the past could to.” Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus, Harper & Row, Page 238
One cannot argue with this position, for as he clearly states, “The question of the historical Jesus has to be faced and discussed, in accordance with one’s basic presuppositions,” Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus, Harper & Row, Page 240. This statement is brilliant! With it he has given himself a way out. Since he cannot prove is case, but only argue in favor of it, he has to leave room for future recourse, with is wise and prudent. Albert Schweitzer does not employ this kind of strategy in his writings and it has cost him, whereas Perrin’s work will always be strong and a source for research. Today all of Albert Schweitzer’s works have fallen out of favor, with the exception of the Quest, which is only used by Seminary students as mere reference.
However for me, all of this is lacking, for in my case I would rather be honest with myself and throw in the towel, for the undercurrent of this mode of thought is rational and secular. A perfect example of trying to breathe life into a mythological Existentialism that is “sugar coated” with Eschatology. Please take note that Perrin, or any of these modern liberal Theologians are not “proving” anything, they are just making their case. In current university seminary settings it is clearly understood that we live in a Scientific age, and therefore we “know” that miracles and wonders are based on something out of the dark and “backwards”. Therefore it is safe to be Scientific in your writings and be sure to strip out anything that even smacks of the miraculous, for it will only make you look behind the times, and even worse, look like a fool, and we just can’t have that!
Pen & ink drawing of University of Chicago Divinity School Theologian Norman Perrin.
I am very thankful to modern Science and liberal Theologians, for having cleaned up so much Theological rubbish with regard to conservative right wing teachings. For example, demonstrating that Adam & Eve, Noah, and the like are mythological and not real. Further I am thankful for liberal Theology for trying with all their heart to make sense of Jesus Christ in terms of modern, rational, Historical-Critical Science. My hat is off to them.
If there is one thing that you can never do, that is to demand or require prove of your beliefs and convictions about Jesus Christ and the Bible. In the end it all boils down to faith, and you can never look for, or even trust the “truth” for it is an illusion that is not really there. Therefore, look inward and search there for the answers to your quest, for out here it is cold and in the end you will end up at home.
Beliefs, Theories, And Facts
A very important thing that most people completely over look when it comes to faith, of any kind, and that is that faith is dynamic, whereas facts are static. No one can operate, or live a life on facts, that is impossible. Rather, all people operate on beliefs, rather they know it or not, and beliefs are based on theories, and theories are based on facts, and this is Science. You may believe that all men are created equal, or that Allah is God, or that the world is coming to an end, and so on. All of these beliefs are based on theories. The better the facts, the stronger your case or theory. However, never confuse facts with belief, and many people do. I do not believe that the world is round, I know it! You cannot believe in a fact, rather, you may believe, or not believe that the fact is true or false.
Most importantly, beliefs cannot be proved, ever! It is impossible to prove that the Mona Lisa is the most beautiful painting in the world. It is impossible to prove that all men are created equal, and so on. Beliefs are convictions and nothing more. Facts are not vehicles for mental processes, whereas beliefs are, and beliefs rest upon the foundation of theories. Also, and very importantly, beliefs are binding, whereas facts are not. Thus, the laws of the United States of American adhere to the belief that all men are created equal, and operate accordingly. All or most Muslims adhere to the believe that Allah is God and operate accordingly. Neither of these beliefs are true, but rather they are policies that are strongly adhered to. Remember, theories are fact base, thus they are Science, whereas belief is opinion and cannot be proved.
Facts are elements that are used to build cases or theories. All theories are foundations for beliefs, and beliefs are the vehicle that our mental apparatuses let us work through our daily life with. Therefore, if you believe that all men are created equal, you center your mind and activity on those beliefs. A side note on the phrase “All men are created equal.”, this is really a dangling clause and a feeble one at that. The first question that comes to mind is “All men are created equal to what?” To make sense of the equation, it should be rendered “All men are created equal to women”, or “All men are created equal to the substance of their form.”, and so on. But this is the weakness in all creeds. Further, Thomas Jefferson was not an authority on Genetics, Biology, and DNA. In addition, he was not the head of any research institute on Genetic Science, thus shooting big holes into his statement. All in all, his statement is meaningless, and has become cannon fodder for government policies. Remember, the stronger your facts, the better your case, or theory, and the better your theory the more relevant is your faith. Faith, is the highest, loftiest, and most cerebral state of being for the human species.
This morning at mass, father Chrzan, shared with us during his homily, that there is a flow of prayer moving across the world leading to Pentecost Sunday. Most importantly, it is my hope that this prayer takes hold, and makes manifest the glory of Christ crucified to all mankind. Further, it is physiologically, and Psychologically heathy to pray, even if your are an atheist. For like playing chess, drawing, or playing the piano, these activities stimulate and “massage” areas of our brain, and are very much like exercising at the gym, making our whole body “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James, 1:4. NASV.
Pencil drawing of Father John Chrzan, Pastor of St. Gilbert Parish, Grayslake, Illinois.
Prayer is like the game of chess, but the best thing about it is that you win every time! For like drawing, or playing the piano, prayer physically affects certain parts of the brain. Much in the same manner as there are different kinds of exercise for the human body, so too for the human brain. So the more that you pray, not only do you get closer to God, but you are getting physically and mental fit at the same time! Even atheists should pray because of its health benefits. If need be they can pray to the sun, or the moon, I am sure that God will not mind, just as long as they pray! I do not know if Saint Stephen played chess, but I am sure if he did, that he was a winner!
A side note about Atheists. Atheists, contrary to common belief, are not “haters” of God, or hostile to Him in any way. Rather, they simple do not want any dealings with the Divine, which is of course a choice anyone of can make, and without being considered evil, or wicked. In the same manner as the amoeba splits to reproduce, it is not a “hater” of sex, it just does not deal with it. There are many fine, moral, and just Atheists in the world, and the air needs to be clean up about this. Lucretius speaks about this topic, with biting wit.
The death of Stephen had nothing to do with martyrdom, that was circumstantial. Rather the death of Stephen has to do with the death that he shared with Christ, that we will all inevitably will share in. Stephen is the earthly, and human manifestation of the Christ event. The stoning of Saint Stephen was crucial, as was the crucifixion of Christ, for it was a death that brings out blood, the sacrifice that is inextricably woven to salvation.
Case For St. Stephen #298Z
- Honor, Glory, and Victory
The most important person in all of the Bible, and in Church History outside of the Holy Trinity is Saint Stephen. To press my point I will even go as for as to say that you can dispense with most of the Bible, and heed only Chapter 7 of the Acts of the Apostles for salvation. Because most people wrongly look to St. Paul, and the Pauline corpus of New Testament literature, with is very limited. Paul is a spokesman for Jesus Christ via the event of Saint Stephen.
Above all things, St. Paul was not an abstract thinker, rather a very good used car salesman! If there was a St. Paul, and I am most confident that there was not, he must have been Bipolar. There are so many fragments that make up just the Corinthian Epistles that it difficult to attain any kind coherency from them. I Corinthians 13 is a document all its own.
Saint Stephen was an abstract thinker. He very ably went though a vast amount of Old Testament literature, much like Albert Schweitzer did when compiling the stacks of books for his monumental Geschichte der Leben-Jesu-Forschung, or The history of the life of Jesus researched, popularly translated “The Quest for the Historical Jesus.” Saint Stephen was able to ferret through a mass of material and bring out the key points that are germane to the birth of the Church, and our salvation.
It took a cool mind to create this piece, like Richard Strauss said of Richard Wagner, with regards to the composition of the prelude to the first act of Tristan und Isolde. The sermon of Saint Stephen is a work of genius that we today take for granted because it is familiar to us. However, to those at that time, this was an incredible revelation unearthing a profound insight to inner Spirituality.
Pen & ink drawing of Dr. Albert Schweitzer.
Any discussion of the New Testament, in any capacity, cannot overlook the contributions, of the famous Lutheran Theologian, Philosopher, Musician, and Medical Missionary to Africa, Dr. Albert Schweitzer.
The World Is Now Free For A Higher Religion
Albert Schweitzer say: “The world is now free, and ripe for a higher religion in which the ego will overcome nature, not by self-alienation, but by penetrating it and ennobling it. To the theologian we may fling as a gift the shreds of his former science, when we have torn it to pieces; that will be something to occupy himself with, that time may not hang heavy upon his hands in the new world whose advent is steadily drawing nearer.” Page 156. This is all quite “a priori”.
At the close of his famous book “Geschichte der Leben-Jesu-Forschung”, he states the following. “The question which has so much exercised the minds of men- whether Jesus was the historic Christ (=Messiah) – is answered in the sense that everything that the historical Christ is, everything that is said of Him, everything that is known of Him, belong to the world of imagination, that is, of the imagination of the Christian community, and therefore has nothing to do with any man who belongs to the real world.” Page 156.
Professor Scott McKnight
Pen & ink drawing of Professor Scott McKnight.
I will never forget Scott McKnight reading directly from this text the famous section on the “Wheel of History”, in his course at Trinity Seminary, “New Testament Criticism and Theology”. Below is the text from Albert Schweitzer that he quoted to the class.
The Wheel Of The World
As Albert Schweitzer stated in his famous remarks: “There is silence all around. The Baptist appears, and cries: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Soon after that comes Jesus, and in the knowledge that He is the coming Son of Man lays hold of the wheel of the world to set it moving on that last revolution which is to bring all ordinary history to a close. It refuses to turn, and He throws Himself upon it. Then it does turn; and crushes Him. Instead of bringing in the eschatological conditions, He has destroyed them. The wheel rolls onward, and the mangled body of the one immeasurably great Man, who was strong enough to think of Himself as the spiritual ruler of mankind and to bend history to His purpose, is hanging upon it still. That is His victory and His reign.” Quest of the Historical Jesus, Collier Books, Pages 370, 371.
Yes, absolutely, the wheel has crushed Jesus, and it had to. For the flesh is weak and will die, as Jesus had to die. Without the crushing and sacrificial death of Jesus we would have no Christ. When Jesus walked his ministry, the wheel of the world does not turn, and does not hear his voice. Finally the, the wheel of the world, via Pontius Pilate, was made manifest to Jesus and starts to turn, and it did crush him. However, Schweitzer is wrong with regard to the destruction of eschatological condition. For Schweitzer does not grasp that each and every word that bespeaks of Jesus or the Christ is an active element, a wave, in the universe, and as the laws of Physics and wave theory state, that waves cannot be destroyed. What has been articulated continues to be articulated. Just in the same manner that all the water of the world that has been drunk, is still with us, for the same amount of water that is with us now, is the same volume of water that was made at the formation of the earth. None of the water is used, missing, or even transformed, but it is here right now. Now nicely tie this together with a kind of luminiferous aether and the concept becomes even more inexplicable. So too with the words and deeds of the risen Christ. Even from a secular perspective, the eschatology of Christ was enhanced and is now ever expanding (Process Theology), but in a new paradigm. For the wheel of the world is made of wood, wood from a tree!
Schweitzer is dead wrong on his point “immeasurably great man”, for if he is correct in his statement, then Jesus was not great an any measure. For Schweitzer to say that show again, his lack of vision and understanding of the issues at hand. Jesus is only great in perspective of history, which is of course all past, thus making him nothing at all, certainly not great. And the “immeasurably great man”, is not great on His account, but rather on the account of countless others since his time that have contributed to the Church, it’s liturgies, Theology, and history. The whole vast stormy world of the drama comes to an end leaving nothing behind. Greatness is an intrinsic quality, not extrinsic, thus Jesus can only be great on the successful achievements that he set out to do, on His account. If Jesus was the person that he claims that He is, then Jesus would just be a moral man, and a fraud, baring no qualities of greatness whatsoever.
When you are dealing with Albert Schweitzer you have to understand that he always thinks in terms of the concrete and rarely the abstract, for all of his propensities are tactile: Medical practice, Organist, New Testament researcher (working with books and manuscripts that are objects), and even in his Philosophical works which are based on factoids, or “tangible entities”, as Reverence for Life, is base on the bacteria, which are tangible. My point being that all of what Albert Schweitzer does and says are base solely on concrete things. He is very much like Leonardo Da Vinci, another diversely talented and brilliant man, that also works with the tangible. There is very little about either of them that is abstract, and when you are dealing with God, thoughts, waves, and aether, you are in the world of the abstract.
Give The Kid A Break
Please, let’s give the kid a break, for Albert Schweitzer was only 31 when he published the book. It is of course infested with errors, and personal sentiments. It became famous because people did not know how to grasp it, and at the time it was daunting and seemed impenetrable. Now, of course we know better. To quote Norman Perrin, “The first thing to be mentioned in this connection is always Albert Schweitzer’s brilliant and excitingly written Von Reimarus zu Wrede (ET The Quest of the Historical Jesus). Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus, Harper & Row, Page 215. This is a wonderfull and most theatrical segment of his quest. For starters: What is the “wheel of the world”? In what context does He throw himself upon it? How is this “wheel” moving? In what direction is it moving? How does it turn? How does it crush Him? What are the eschatological conditions? How has He destroyed them? Where is the “wheel” rolling onward to? How is His body mangled? Immeasurably great Man or man? Bend History? Hanging upon it still? Victory of His reign? Albert Schweitzer has left himself wide open for trouble with all of this. Further, he has shot himself in the foot, for unlike the brilliant Norman Perrin, his has left himself with no way out, and now he is easy game.
Albert Schweitzer goes on to conclude is great work with the follow: “The Jesus of Nazareth who came forward publicly as the Messiah, who preached the ethic of the Kingdom of God, who founded the Kingdom of Heaven upon earth, and died to give His work its final consecration, never had any existence. He is a figure designed by rationalism, endowed with life by liberalism, and clothed by modern theology in an historical garb. “Quest of the Historical Jesus”, Collier Books, Page 398. Never had any existence? Designed by rationalism? Endowed with Life, how so? Clothed in historical garb?
When you start asking questions, thing start to fall apart. Albert Schweitzer is merely trying to grapple with the demands of modernity as a Rationalist, and the only way that he can work this out is through modern, rational, historical approaches to his research. To do otherwise would defeat his purpose of analysis and render his work void. Dr. Schweitzer who is so very spiritual, and a profound man, has lost his way in the forest through the trees. For unlike Norman Perrin or Rudolph Bultmann, Dr. Schweitzer does not put forth his statements in such a manner so as not to be able to argue with them. Whereas both Bultmann and Perrin were masters at this, and their cases are ironclad. You can disagree with them all that you like, and I do, but you cannot argue with them. In other words, you cannot say that they are wrong, because they use solid facts to build their cases, and they always leave for themselves a way out. However, Albert Schweitzer is not able to do this because he is too busy compiling facts, and loses the connection points between his cases, and thus ends up writing more like a lawyer than a Theologian, and puts himself on the line. Like his interpretations of Johann Sebastian Bach, they are all too exaggerated, just listen to his recordings. Underneath it all, Albert Schweitzer is a man of the stage.
Not A Genius
Take note, Albert Schweitzer was not a genius, but rather a multi-talented and gifted man in many disciplines. However, the price that he pays is that he is not superior in skill at any one of his disciplines. Schweitzer does not possess the intellect of Rudolph Bultmann or Paul Tillich. I was quite amazed at is naïve and simplistic assessment of Richard Wagner in his Quest, especially as a musician, for dismissing a colossal figure like Wagner exposes his lack of understanding, and grasp of the intrinsic elements of music. Again, an important topic to be addressed in a different treatise. “Plastik ist nicht hart; alles is durch kie kunst der ubergange, die Wagner in einem Briefe als die hochste preist, in Luft und Atmosphare gehullt. Aber auch wieviel Trug und Verhullung in dieser Kunst!” Geschichte der Leen-Jesu-Forschung, UTB Fur Wissen Schaft, Page 209.
With regard to music you have to realize that is like everything else in life, a matter of approach. In symphonic music for example, you have different “school” of approach on how to interpret the symphonies of Beethoven. You have the Italian School headed up by Arturo Toscanini, then The Germanic School headed up by Otto Klemperer, and then the Percussionist School headed up by Sir Georg Solti, The School of Grace headed up by Herbert von Karajan.
With Toscanini you can be sure of a strong strings, with Klemperer you will get clarity, with Solti you will get a strong response from the brass at the expense of the strings, and from von Karajan you will have a finely polished performance at the sacrifice of details. Each one of these famous conductors approached Beethoven in his own way, and brought out things that made sense to him. The same is true of Albert Schweitzer, not only in how he interprets Johann Sebastian Bach, but on how he approaches the Bible. The major focus of his study of the Bible and Christ is Eschatology. This is the study of later or end times, and the key work for Schweitzer is “Son of Man”. It is this element that made Albert Schweitzer famous. Unlike any previous “Lives of Jesus” scholar he came to the fore with a new and interesting perspective. However, I do agree with Rudolph Bultmann, in that the “Son of Man” is a later Church addition, and not integral to the messages of Jesus, thus a damning blow to Albert Schweitzer.
It is with your point of view or perspective that means everything. Now with Albert Schweitzer you have his approach to the Bible which is that from a Rationalist perspective. It is fine to be a Rationalist but then you have to ask “In light of what topic”. Like the great conductors that I mention above, these men have a personal approach to conducting Beethover, but there is no rational approach to do so. Further to try and approach Beetheven “rationally” would be folly. In the same manner, Schweitzer’s rationalist approach, in my view, is folly.
Geschichte der Leben-Jesu-Forschung. My German edition that I prefer to study with.
I will always remember my time at Trinity Seminary, and all of the classes that I took there. However, by far, Professor McKnight was the best man on campus, and I still to this day dwell on all that I have learned from him.
However, I am sure that large sections of the sermon are lost, for vital points in the History are missing. Nevertheless the sermon gave meaning, and understanding to the Old Testament, it shed new light on how it was applicable to the new Christian Community. In other words, Saint Stephen is making sense of everything. He is able to juxtapose the vast literature of the Old Testament, and bring out those points that can be understood in the life and death of Jesus Christ. Much like Marie Curie, working through mounds of pitchblende to finally abstract radium!
As Saint Stephen passes on to be with the Lord. It is very important to take note of one very special word, “Lord”. Saint Stephen says “Lord”, whereas as Christ, as Diety, says “Father”. “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” What greater role model for the Christian life than that of Saint Stephen? Further, this emphasizes his humanity, and keep the Divine at bay. Not Saint Stephen, nor anyone else but Christ, can say “Father forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke, 23:34 NASV. Saint Stephen is one of us, and no one could see this more clearly than Saul, future Paul of Tarsus.
In his sermon, Saint Stephen brings out:
- Abraham & Mesopotamia
- Departure from the lands of the Chaldeans to the present lands
- Offspring as aliens
- Covenant of Circumcision
- Abraham and Isaac
- The Patriarchs
- Pharaoh & Egypt
- Moses’s killing of the Egyptian
- Mt. Sinai
- King David (a vital element)
- King Solomon and the Temple
- Heaven is my Throne
These are some of the more salient points of his very long, articulate, and exceedingly persuasive sermon. So persuasive that the Jews from the Synagogue of Freedmen, gnashed their teeth, covered their ears, and hurled screams at him as they proceeded to stone him!
Parallels Of Christ & Saint Stephen
- They were both servants.
- Both were Jews.
- They were men of honor.
- Both used Jewish history as credence for their discourse.
- They both rebuke the Pharisees.
- Both condemned hypocrisy.
- Jesus, and Saint Stephen preached unfathomable wisdom.
- They both have ethereal visions.
- Both performed great “Wonders and signs among the people.” Acts, 6:8, NASV.
- Christ has the Transfiguration, Saint Stephen “And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like a face of an angel.” Acts, 6:15, NASV.
- Brought before a Council.
- They both were condemned.
- Both killed.
- Christ, “Father forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke, 23:34, NASV. Saint Stephen, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Acts, 7:60, NASV.
- Christ, “And all the multitudes who came together for this spectacle, when they observed what had happened, began to return, beating their breasts.” Luke, 23:48, NASV. Saint Stephen, “And some devoted men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him.” Acts, 8:2, NASV.
- Christ wore the crown of victory, and Saint Stephen’s name, and very being is that crown!
Please name for me any other person in the New Testament that parallels Christ more than Saint Stephen! Now the next and most important question: what such a strong parallel? This is not a coincidental, there is a reason for this, and we need to tool this to find out why.
In the discourse of Saint Stephen, there are three parts to take into account. The first part introducing Saint Stephen, his faith, his signs and wonders, his wisdom, his face as of an angel, his duties, his and his character, Acts, 6:5 through 6:15. The second part covering the history, Acts, 7:2 through 7:50. The third part covering Acts, 7:51 through 7:60. This last part is crucial, for it is like the Immolation Scene from Die Gotterdammerung, summing up the entire work of Der Ring des Nibelungen.
Here we are introduced to Saint Stephen, along with the other Deacons. It is interesting to note that Saint Stephen is the first person on the roster. Verse 6:8 tells of wonders; “And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people.” NASV. Clearly to me this is giving Stephen authoring, and just like Christ, in a limited capacity. There were times that Christ could not perform miracles because of disbelief, Matt: 13:58, and Mark: 6:5. The miracle of Christ were not meant to demonstrate power, on the contrary, they were meant to demonstrate authority. The same holds true here with Saint Stephen. Now, how would we be able to understand this passage if Rudolph Bultmann came along and bleached out the miraculous? Where is the Clorox?
Face Of An Angel
In Acts 6:15 it reads; “And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of an angel.” NASV. This is crucial and to me it is the exact match for the Transfiguration of Christ. That would mean that Saint Stephen is not fully endowed with the Holy Spirit to bring out the great sermon on the History of Israel and then, as in the Transfiguration, see the Glory of God and Christ standing at the right hand of the God.
As with the Transfiguration of Christ, this too was the full embodiment and preparation for the perfect sacrifice. However, in the case of Stephen, it could not be the perfect sacrifice, but rather, the fulfillment of that sacrifice in human terms, and as a servant of the Church. Why? Because his name is Stephen, and he is the very crown, the fulfillment of the victory of Christ crucified on the cross! With the death of Stephen you have the meaning and understanding of Christ’s victory on the cross, something that St. Paul, or the editors of his corpus never fully grasped. Even the shedding of blood of Christ is secondary to the crown of victory, the resurrection and eternal life. For blood is of the body which is of the flesh, and the flesh is weak. This is St. Paul, and that is all he could see for never speaks of the crown of Christ, only the blood. Like Leonardo DaVinci, who was on the very brink of discovering the circulatory system in the human body. So too, St. Paul and his league, were on the very brink of understanding the meaning of Christ’s crown of victory but missed the mark. Rather, they focused too much on the corporal. This is why Paul is so popular, because people are all about the flesh, and the flesh is weak, and St. Paul meets the needs of the flesh. Whereas Saint Stephen is of the Spirit.
Unlike St. Paul, Saint Stephen is all about strength. Our first encounter with Paul is weakness. “And Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death.” Acts, 8:1 NASV. How weak can you get? When we first encounter Saint Stephen it is in terms of strength. “…and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit,” Acts, 6: 5. And further: “And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people.” Acts, 8:1. Everything about Stephen is strong, whereas with Paul it is weak. Paul was even blinded and struck down on the road to Damascus, no glory or strength in any of that. Everything with Paul is a struggle, “Fight the good fight..” I Timothy, 6:12. Whereas with Saint Stephen, “Full of faith and the Holy Spirit.” Acts, 6:5, “But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God;” Acts, 7:55. Notice the word “intently”, this is very revealing as it discloses his state of mind. As an artist I know exactly what it is to look and study an image or scene intently. This means that: 1, You are sober. 2. You are focused. 3. You have keen perception to relay what you are looking or gazing at. 4. All of these qualities are the characteristics of a person that has control of his own life, and is not caught up in any kind of struggle. On the contrary, all is very clear and sound. It is all clean machine, so unlike anything in Paul. Saint Stephen did not suffer from low self esteem.
Everything about St. Paul is sorrowful, whereas with Saint Stephen it is glorious. Like the writing of a great book, or the making of a great film, the introduction tells you everything. In the first 5 minutes of Jurassic Park, the tone is set and you know all about the kind of film that it is going to be, and even the level of gore and fright, are set in those moments. So too here with Saint Stephen and St. Paul. Saint Stephen did not suffer from low self esteem. The character of the St. Paul is convoluted as his persona is made up from a myriad of sources, so that you really do not know who Paul is at all. Without any doubt in my mind, Saint Stephen is a real person, however, I am exceedingly confident that this person was not Stephen by name, but that name was attached to him to make manifest the glorious victory of the risen Christ Jesus.
With the death of Saint Stephen, the document we call the Acts of the Apostles is finished, and from this point on it takes on a new role, and that from a narrative of the foundation of the Church, to the history of the new Church in Christ Jesus. All of this commences with the advent of St. Paul. It is all so very clear, the introduction of characters at just the right time.
Size And Scale Of Saint Stephen’s Speech
What amazes me more than anything with regards to Saint Stephen, is that almost everyone acknowledges him merely as the first Martyr and then move on. Not realizing that his death has nothing to do with martyrdom, but rather with the fulfillment of the victory of the risen Christ Jesus.
More importantly, everyone just skips over his speech and knows very little of it, then so too, very little of him. More amazing yet, is that Saint Stephen gives the longest speech of the entire New Testament, and people are not aware of it. Does it not strike you as interesting that out of nowhere we are introduced to Saint Stephen, and immediately he shoots up like a meteor, almost larger than life. Saint Stephen does not just deliver the longest speech in the New Testament, and then have a glorious vision of God for no reason! All of this is done for a reason.
Historical Distance & Perspective
What Saint Stephen is doing here is putting the new Church of Jesus Christ in perspective to not only the historical perspective of Israel, but all humanity. Ever so carefully and with stealth, Saint Stephen weaves this very cogent discourse on the people of Israel and juxtaposes it dead center with glory of God, and Jesus Christ.
In David Tracy’s book, “Plurality and Ambiguity”, he states: “All of know that we have been formed by traditions whose power impinges upon us both consciously and preconsciously. We now begin to glimpse the profound plurality and ambiguity of our traditions. As Westerners we have also become conscious of those other traditions whose power we sense, but whos meaning for us we do not yet begin to know how to interpret. We find ourselves impelled by the same kind of hermeneutic urgency as Augustine in the classical antiquity or Schleiermacher and Hegel in early modernity. Like them, we need to find new ways of interpreting ourselves and our traditions. Like them, we may even find ourselves compelled to reflect on the very process of understanding as interpretation. Interpretation is a lifelong project for any individual in any culture.” Plurality and Ambiguity, University of Chicago Press, Page 8.
Clearly father Tracy hits the nail on the head for us here in relation to Judaism, The Christ event, and the Church. Here he brings out the very points that we have to grapple with. That is: looking at the formation of Israel from a very broad and divers terrain, establishing traditions, posing both a Spiritual and social identity on the Jewish community, expanding that tradition to the new Hellenism via the Church, and finally manifesting the Church beyond Hellenism to all world cultures, and schemes.
This transition could not have taken place without the advent of Saint Stephen. Pentecost Sunday, which is today, would be at a standstill without the new paradigm ushered in by Saint Stephen. For was Saint Stephen that successfully demonstrated with facts is the need for the old order to change and become part of the new order of things, via the victory of Christ. We now need to interpret ourselves in our tradition, which is in flux at this very moment and put cogent meaning into that interpretation by living the life that is called for us to live in Christ Jesus. Not a sterile and ethereal theology with our head in the clouds, but rather a dynamic and living theology that makes life richer for each of us here and now, and those who we touch in our daily life.
Pen & ink drawing of Roman Catholic Theologian & University of Chicago Professor, Father David Tracy.
Not A Pantheon
As much as I admire and respect the work of Father David Tracy, I cannot agree with the follow statements, “As I suspect is clear by now, I do believe in belief, I believe that faith in Ultimate Reality can make all the difference for a life of resistance, hope, and action. I believe in God. It is, I confess, that belief which gives me hope.” Page 110. “For believers to be unable to learn from secular feminists on the patriarchal nature of most religions or to be unwilling to be challenged by Feuerbach, Darwin, Marx, Freud, or Nietzsche is to refuse to take seriously the religion’s own suspicions on the existence of those fundamental distortions named sin, ignorance, or illusion. The interpretations of believers will, of course, be grounded in some fundamental trust, in loyalty to, the Ultimate Reality both disclosed and concealed in one’s own religious tradition. “Plurality and Ambiguity” University of Chicago Press.
Let us examine these words. “I do believe in belief.” Immediately what comes to mind here is smoke and mirrors, for if there is anything that I do not tolerate it is the state of deliberate nebulousness. Honestly, what is the purpose of even making such a statement? It offers nothing so why say it? I can really run with this one, for the author knows that he can work that phrase in anywhere and come off as though it has enhanced his point. As I sit and look at these word I see nothing. Then to make things worse, he goes on to associate it with the Ultimate Realty, which is a blur if there ever was one. Religions like Christianity and Islam do not accommodate the Ultimate Reality at all. For these religions, their is the Holy Trinity, and Allah, in that order. When I say something I do my very best to substantiate it with facts or sound reasoning, but I never offer a vaguery, or duplicitous comments. If you want to open up a Pantheon, then we can do a good job of finding a fit place for the Ultimate Reality. Please bare in mind, that even a Pantheon is not so accommodating to any deity, because it has to conform to those deities that are sanctioned. Just as in the Catholic Church, we sanction prayer to Mary, St. Joseph, and all the Saints, but never for a moment would we offer prayers at mass to Allah!
Pen & ink drawing of the Pantheon in Rome.
Making Sense Of A Pantheon
Back in ancient times the formation of a Pantheon made all the sense in the world. For it was the house of worship for all the various gods of that time and place, hence the Pantheon in Rome. Now the understanding of the divine back in antiquity was much different than our understanding of it now. For with the advent of mon-theism you have a stark contrast to the approach of God. So when you go to the Pantheon, you can pray to any of the “registered” deities that address your needs. For example, if you were a General in the Roman Army and needed to win an up and coming battle, you would go to the altar of Mars, the god of war, and offer sacrifice and prayers for victory. There was no one “god” that covered it all. The concept of the Ultimate Concern is basically a pantheistic concept that plays the role of housing all of the “Gods”, “First Movers”, or whatever, in hopes that we all “get along”. So the question then becomes; “What is the real agenda here?” Certainly this was not on the agenda of Saint Stephen, who clearly espoused the Lord Jesus Christ. I simply refer to the Ultimate Concern as the Federal Reserve, because all of the banks in the country have an account their. Thus, which “Church” to you bank with? In plain English, it just does not work, for Pantheism and Mono-Theism are like oil & water. If you really want to get heavy with the “Ultimate Concern” you have to read the Systematic Theology by Paul Tillich. Of course, if you or anyone should dare to challenge these Theologians in regard to their pantheism, they will come after you with their armies of gibber, tear you down by letting you that you to not understand and you are now deemed unworthy and just not fit, by this upper echelon of Theological think tanks. Much in the same manner as those at the Art Institute of Chicago or Metropolitan Museum, who will make ruin of you if you dare even thing that the paintings of Picasso look like trash, which of course they do. On a side note, it has always stuck me a strange that it is perfectly fine to hate the operas of Richard Wagner and never lose face, whereas if you dare even suggest that Andy Warhol’s posters look tawdry you would be banned and put to shame. But now we are dealing with another religion all together. Basta! So much for the “Ultimate Concern”.
“I believe in God. It is, I confess, that belief which gives me hope.” Clearly this man has never had any children, don’t even go there, for I have four children and know all about hope, and “it ain’t easy!” Hope? Hope is based on facts over time, not belief of any kind. Father Tracy does not have a good handle on his language. When you come to the table it is prudent to come offering something, something that is palpable. All of this is a waste and I wash my hands of it. It is nothing but feeble gibberish. When I read Saint Stephen’s account it offers me hope and comfort because he is offering substantive facts to support his claims. If he was deluded or not is another matter, and to be discussed elsewhere. But it does not matter, the point is that Saint Stephen was confident, positive, and stable. People run to the Admiral or General in time of need, for these men have proven over time by their rank that they are in a position to offer hope. “But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God;” NASV. I would be so deeply honored if at anytime in my life, it was said of me, that I was full of the Holy Spirt! I do not see any reference to being full of the “Holy Ultimate Reality”, none whatsoever, or to other paths to the “Truth”. Saint Stephen is really driving the point home by seeing the heavens open up. There is no doubt, hesitation, or “hope” coming from Saint Stephen, rather, he offers a solution and with confidence. Now that is good living! I will take these “fables & myths” any day over scholarly gibber.
When people come to you with needs they expect answers, and if you cannot offer adequate, sound response then say nothing. Every day at mass I see and talk with people that have needs, worries, fears, and they are at mass because it is their last hope for solution. For the clergy to offer abstractions so as to “comfort” them you might as well hand them a snake. “Or if he shall ask for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he?” Matthew 7:10, NASV.
Worthy Is The Lamb
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” Revelation 5:12. The image of He that wears the stephanos.
Pen & ink drawing of Christ being crucified and the Paschal Lamb in the foreground.
Now, I would like to focus attention on the verses 7:51 through 7:53. 51. “You men who are “stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. 52. Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whos betrayers and murderers you have now become; 53. you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.” NASV.
Verse 51 is almost right out of the mouth of Jesus. Like Jesus, Saint Stephen is focusing on the most important point of Christ’s message and that is hypocrisy. It is hypocrisy that is the sin that Christ hated most, and would have nothing to do with. For both Christ and Saint Stephen it is hypocrisy that is the greatest of all sins and the most evil of deeds. The sins of the flesh pail as compared to the sins of the spirit. Also, please be aware of the term uncircumcised in heart. The modern reader needs to have a firm grasp on how damning this statement is. To call any Jew uncircumcised is a slap in the face and a put down of the first rank. For the Jews hated with passion the gentiles because they were subjugated by them. Thus on the very first verse after the history comes this damning assessment, which is of course presenting the current state of affairs with regards to the crucifixion of Christ and the birth of the Church.
Verse 52 is a continuation other thorough damnation that Saint Stephen offers to the Sanhedrin or council. Remember, when we are talking about the Jews, both Christ and Stephen are not talking about all of the Jews, by no means, but rather to the leaders.
Acts of the Apostles
The editors of Luke/Acts were exceedingly keen on making the case for Christ clear to the Church, and left nothing to risk. They even went so far at to bring the Christ event down to understandable, human terms. This task was achieved with St. Stephen. Everything pivots on Stephen. It is not by chance, coincidence, or “luck”, that Saint Stephen’s name is Stephen. In fact, Stephen’s name is the key to everything.
In the tradition of A. N. Whitehead, and via Charles Hartshorne, Process Theology stems from process thought, articulated in Whitehead’s magnus opus, Process and Reality. The Process Theological development at this time for the Church is the change from Judaism to a religion for the Gentiles. The catalyst for this process is Saint Stephen, for it was with the incredible sermon that he preached in chapter seven of Acts of the Apostles.
Here we can see the process underway, right before us. The Church is ever changing and growing. As with the Roman Missal, it too is evolving, and in the process of becoming new. Now we have added “And blessed Joseph her spouse” in the very cannon of the daily mass! What can be more salient, and more beautiful than the words from the Eucharistic Prayer “Welcome them into the light of your face.” Eucharistic Prayer II, Roman Missal.
Tiers Or Levels
When speaking in terms that deal with A. N. Whitehead, you are at the threshold of the most advanced, and complex levels of critical thinking. Most importantly I would like to think in terms in tiers or levels of thought as we speak of the Divine or and advanced Philosophical thoughts.
The very concept of ideas and thoughts, and to approach this topic can lead us far and astray from the topic of the article. However, it must be born out that we cannot sweep Epistemology and Science under the rug. Further, we must know and understand as best we can the meaning and concept behind each and every thought and notion that comes to our minds.
Therefore, when we approach a document, such as the sermon or speech of Saint Stephen, we tread every so carefully. For example, “But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” Acts, 7:55, NASV.
What does he mean here? What is his point? Why do I bring this up in relation to Saint Stephen and the stephanos? The answer is very clear. The key word here is “imagination”, and it is at this point that I am coming to terms with it. As I have so clearly stated above, it all depends on how you approach a topic that the outcome turns out. Schweitzer clearly states that he is a Rationalist, and a ardent follower of the Enlightenment philosopher, Immanuel Kant. It is my point that you need the myths and miracles to make sense of the text. Once you “fix” the originals your are in trouble. Of course we do not possess any original documents, but what we have on hand now are, of all practical purposes, the “originals”. Paul Tillich would be cool with that!
Clearly the approach that Schweitzer takes is the Rationalist approach. None of us comes to the table free and clear, as a blank slate to put it in terms of Philosopher David Hume. We all come to the table with predispositions, a more Kantian “a priori” approach. Please see “Religion with the limits of Reason Alone” and “The Critique of Pure Reason”, by Immanuel Kant. Thus, as a good Rationalist, it is best to wipe out all myths, fables, miracles, and any other elements that smack of the supernatural, and that are “Unscientific”. This my dear reader is baggage. However, I do firmly hold to that which is in harmony with science, thus where there are clear cut errors in the Bible, such as the Flood, and the Creation Story, I interpret them “Scientifically” into the meaning of the text. As I clearly state below, I am not an advocate of mental suicide. Quite honestly, I have a difficult time seeing Noah running down to the jungles of the Amazon, and bringing back lizards, alligators, and the like to the ark.
It is cheap and easy to pick up the Bible, and treat it like a newspaper or common reference book. However, to do this is very foolish, for you cannot successfully “demythologize” the Bible, and thus “Clean it up” so that you can get down to what Jesus really did and said. The reason that I say this is that it goes far beyond any myths that are in the Bible, which there are indeed many. Rather, there are far too many elements that are inextricably woven into the fabric of the Bible that are contingent on these myths to give perspective and meaning to the text. A bottle of Clorox is just not the solution to the problem, that only makes things worse. I do not recall an image of the Dove hovering over the Jordan, clenching a bottle of bleach in His talons at the baptism of Jesus. Worse yet, pouring paint stripper and scissors over Sinaiticus!
Pen & ink drawing of Theologian Rudolph Bultmann.
Pen & ink drawing of Jesus being baptized with the Dove of the Holy Spirit hold a bottle of Clorox.
Pen & ink drawing of Codex Sinaiticus being “cleaned up, and fixed up” by Rudolph Bultmann, at Tischendorf Hardware Store.
Honestly, if I cannot believe in Jesus, and the resurrection of the dead, then why bother? It is much easier to just throw in the towel, become a secular humanist, move to Las Vegas, and let the wheel spin! No matter how much you hate it, you have to reconcile with the miraculous.
Most things that are miraculous are either truly miraculous, or based on something that augments the mythological. Adam and Eve, or Noah are excellent cases in point with regard to mythology. Gregor Mendel clearly put an end to the myth of Adam & Eve with his laws of genetics. Please know, that I went to Mendel Catholic High School in Chicago. Further, I am not an advocate of mental suicide, as Adam & Eve are simply not an option.
Adam and Eve are there to serve a point, to answer deep rooted questions to the people at that time and place, and it did a good job. Now with the vision of Saint Stephen we have a different thing all together. Saint Stephen was not answering a deep rooted question that was burning in the minds of the people, no, not at all. For there were no people at all that had any questions about the matter, and certainly not over a long protracted period of time. What Saint Stephen was offering was something completely new and revelatory. Thus the vision was there to make a point, to sell his cause. Was the vision true or real in Paul Tillich’s view? It is not my place to say that Saint Stephen’s vision of Christ sitting at the right hand of the Father, was real or not. To me the important element is the symbol of that vision, that gives meaning to what he is trying to say. As a Christian, I do adhere to the intervention of the Holy Spirit most absolutely. To remove the vision would only ruin the storyline, and make Saint Stephen’s point tawdry. If there was a Saint Stephen he saw something.
Apologetic Theology And The Kerygma
Paul Tillich is very clear and correct on this point. “Apologetic theology is “answering theology.” It answers the questions implied in the “situation” in the power of the eternal message and with the means provided by the situation whose questions it answers. The term “apologetics,” which had such a high standing in the early church, has fallen into disrepute because of the methods employed in the abortive attempts to defend Christianity against attacks from modern humanism, naturalism, and historism. An especially weak and disgusting form of apologetics used the argumentum ex ignorantia; that is, it tried to discover gaps in our scientific and historical knowledge in order to find a place for God and his actions within an otherwise completely calculable and “immanent” world. Whenever our knowledge advanced, another defense position had to be given up; but eager apologetics were not dissuaded by this continuous retreat from finding in the most recent developments of physics and historiography new occasions to establish God’s activity in new gaps of scientific knowledge. This undignified procedure has discredited everything which is called “apologetics.” Systematic Theology, University of Chicago Press, Page 6. I could not have said it any better!
Drawing & Painting
For me to watch someone draw or paint is like a miracle, for before your very eyes you see the formation of something, a process, and you have an idea of what it is by looking at the model. On the drawing pad or canvas you see something come out of nothing, and further to the point it is beautiful to behold, how wonderous can that be? It is all part of the creative process.
Community Of Faith
I can think of no other saint that knew and understood the community of faith better than Saint Stephen! He was a deacon, and a man filled with the Holy Spirit, and served the widows and the poor ~ our community of faith. It has always been a hallmark of life to live and worship as a community of faith, and not as an island of faith. We all need each other. At St. Gilbert Church, in Grayslake, IL, mass is celebrated everyday at 8:00 AM. At the mass is a dedicated group of us that go regularly, further we have a bi-monthly “Break Open The Word” study in the fellowship hall below the sanctuary. As time has passed with have all prayed and shared together, drawing us closer to Christ and each other. Last Friday we celebrated the 50th wedding anniversary of two outstanding church leaders, Raul & Gloria Venzon. Sister Donna approached me after drawing Father John’s portrait if I would do a portrait of both Raul & Gloria. Well, when sister Donna speaks I obey! It was truly both an honor and a delight to do this live sitting sketch for them.
Pencil drawing of Raul & Gloria Venzon, 50th Anniversary. Leaders in our community of faith at St. Gilbert Church, in Grayslake.
What did Jesus look like? What did the Father look like? If I so choose I can draw Jesus and the Father in any fashion that I deem fit. Further again, in my creative imagination I can draw Christ as a Black female and make her image very real in terms what I am trying to present. So too with the “Imagination of the Christian community”, it is all Existential, and none of us are free, and none of us can escape from it. “For now we see in the mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known.” I Corinthians 13:12, NASV.
Thus, Christ is the Messiah, and yes of the real world, because He is the Christ in us and our world and our time, to put it Existentially. More importantly, the crown, or stephanos is that very seal that binds us to Christ, so that we now participate in a newer and greater religion.
Paul Tillich, who always has something good to say, offers the following: “We may still be surprised; but such surprises are to be expected if a personality is the object of knowledge. The truth of something is that level of its being the knowledge of which prevents wrong expectations and consequent disappointments. Truth, therefore, is the essence of things as well as the cognitive act in which their essence is grasped. The term “truth” is, like the term “reason,” subjective-objective. A judgment is true because it grasps and expresses true being: and the really real becomes truth if it is grasped and expressed in a true judgment.” Systematic Theology, University of Chicago Press, Page 102.
As always, Paul Tillich hits the nail on the head. For us, Saint Stephen, his vision of Christ sitting at the right hand of the Father is “The essence of things as well as the cognitive act in which their essence is grasped.” Most importantly, Saint Stephen’s very name is the “subjective-objective” state of being that is made manifest to us here and now, that gives us a new reality though Christ and His Church. To press a point yet further, this new reality is made manifest through the Eucharist of the mass.
However, Paul Tillich is wrong on one point, and that is his assessment of judgment. Judgment is never true, rather, a judgment is a fact. In other words, the judgment is the judgment, no matter what. However, a statement about a judgment can be true, or false. For example; the house was judged too big for the family. There is nothing true, or false in this statement, for it is a fact. However, at a later point, the court found out that the family had 10 children and reassessed that the house was not too big for the family. This is the truth because it is based on the statement about the judgment “Too big”, and not on the judgment or “decision”. The world is round, this is a fact not the truth. To tell someone that the world is round is the truth. A judgment can be assessed as good, bad, or anything in between, but never as true or false.
Thus Paul Tillich’s statement above needs to be corrected. Therefore, the “really real” never becomes the truth, and cannot ever be grasped. The “Being” is dependent on the assessment of the statement by a third party, which is not the case here, thus void.
As an artist let me make sense of what Paul Tillich is trying to say here. At the top and bottom of this treatise is my drawing of Christ wearing a stephanos. When you look at the image you would say to anyone that this is an image of Christ. However, I can say that you are wrong and that it is all in your head. For in truth, I am correct, and the image that you see is really all in your head. I cannot be more Existential on this point. For in “reality”, as Albert Schweitzer has us bare in mind, you are not looking at an image of Jesus, but rather, you are looking at lead on paper. And to really drive the point home you are not even looking at that, but more “realistically” you are looking at the images made manifest by a countless array of “1” & “0”.
This is the subjective-objective that Tillich is referring to, and the “truth” of this image is very real, but at the same time not real at all, but rather an element in your mind. Now leaving the case of my drawing of Christ, expand this to the case of Saint Stephen! You now have a world of infinite possibilities before you, and they are very rich ones indeed.
Newer And Higher Religion
Thus we come full circle and understand in context Albert Schweitzer’s claim: “The world is now free, and ripe for a higher religion, however, not in Freudian terms, but in terms of Christ crucified and crowned with the glory of victory. Here lies our answer for “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever.” Hebrews 13:8, NASV.
Pen & ink drawing of Theologian and Philosopher Paul Tillich by artist Stephen F. Condren.
The very concept of ideas and thoughts, and the approach to this topic can lead us far and astray from the topic of the article. However, it must be born out that we cannot sweep Epistemology and Science under the rug. Further, we must know and understand as best we can the meaning and concept behind each and every thought and notion that comes to our minds.
You cannot think of Saint Stephen as part of the storyline of the Acts of the Apostles, to do so would be an error. Also, I am confident that there is material missing from his sermon. When you approach Saint Stephen, put everything aside and prepare yourself to enter a new reality, a new earth. For after you encounter him, and fully grasp what he is all about, everything falls together. Saint Stephan is an idiom.
Therefore, when we approach a document, such as the sermon or speech of Saint Stephen, we tread every so carefully. For example, “But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” Acts, 7:55, NASV. Ask yourself clearly, “How can we attain to this? What Epistemological and cognitive approaches can be used to even ponder the impact of such a vision, for Saint Stephen himself, and for us, that are receiving this message?
Like the drawing of Christ that I did, that is at the top and bottom of this treatise, as an artist, and a human being, I could have approached this drawing in infinite ways. The type of medium, pencil, pen & ink, watercolor, are all subject to my choice. Further, the angle of Christ’s head, the racial feature that I choose to highlight, and of course, he very gender, are all at my fingertips.
I could have expressed the thorn crowned Christ as a Black female, in color pencil, with pen & ink. What then would I have rendered? What would be my message? Who would be my audience? How would my message be received? Any drawing or work of art that I create is never wrong, for it is subject to interpretation. Further, interpretations are never wrong, but rather, according to consensus, are more or less well received.
In the verse above, there are undisputed references to the glory of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Now comes the crux of the matter. As a man of science, and art, I approach most things though observation, and credibility. A man of Science looks at things and takes them apart, whereas a man of Art takes various elements and puts them together.
The first tier to this verse is the literal reading of the text, and my approach is to accept the document as true and honest. My understanding of the text is based on my own life experiences and how I bring them to this passage and blend them together. That is the artist in me. The Scientific side of me demands to know exactly what the definition of each and every word of the text means, and how they are juxtaposed to carry though the a message of the author.
Should I take on the helm of Rudolph Bultmann, and Demythologize the text so as to get to the “real” meaning of the text? But does not then the “real” meaning become something else, hence causing a distortion in the message?
What is Saint Stephen, or the editors of the text, trying to say in the wording? Clearly to me, Saint Stephen is here telling us that Christ is ushering in a new and majestic way of life, one filled with hope, salvation, and forgiveness. The bottom line here is authority, for with out it, all the words are nothing. Even if the vision is a myth, the message is not, and that is what is germane to the topic at hand.
Making Sense Of Christ In Terms Of A Church Body To The Gentiles
It is from the appearance and death of Saint Stephen that the Church is crystalized. Saint Stephen was the first one that understood, and made sense of the old message made new, and it would now be the task of St. Paul to carry that message so keenly shown to him by Saint Stephen. It is my belief that the thorn in the flesh of St. Paul was in his hardy approval of the murder of Saint Stephen. For a thorn is sharp and its pain severe.
The Kerygma of the early Church starts with Saint Stephen.
The etymology of the word stephanos comes from ancient Greek, and it means to stretch around. A Stephanos, being a chaplet, or Grass Crown, is the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a military man, and a king would certainly be in this league. At the top of the article, is the first image ever drawn correctly of Jesus Christ being crowned with thorns. This crown is a garland wreath or stephanos of thorns. Crucifiction was a Roman penalty, and Christ was crucified by the Romans, not the Jews. Thus, a stephanos, as a mockery, is in order.
Open At Front
The stephanos is open at the front, and joined together from the back of the neck, like the garland wreaths of Julius Caesar, and Napoleon. Saint Stephen had to be named Stephen because his name means crown, more precisely, the crown of honor, glory, and victory, not the jeweled crown of the king. Because to understand the Church you need to look at and understand Saint Stephen. It is all so obvious, and right in front of you. The entire Christ event, from start to finish is about victory, and it is the stephanos, not the diadem, or crown of thorns, that is the ensign of His victory.
Simplicity & Location
Another very important element that is overlook is the actual construction of the crown of thorns. In Matthew, like Mark, Jesus is in the palace, robed and crowned, “And after weaving a crown of thorns, they put it in His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they kneeled down before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”, NASV. In Mark, Jesus is crowned and robed in the Palace (praetorium), “And they dressed Him up in purple (or rose), and after weaving a crown of thorns, they put it on him.” Mark 15:17, NASV. Luke makes no reference to the crown, but almost implies that it took place immediately at the Skull. John too, makes no reference to the crown as well, and also implies immediacy to the crucifixion at the Skull.
Weaving Of The Crown
In both Matthew and Mark, the crown is noted as being weaved, this is interesting to me. It seem most unlikely to me that any kind of weaving took place in the palace. Though, having a garden at hand with many shrubs with thorns give credence to the narrative, however, the logistics makes no sense whatsoever. I just cannot see any kind of weaving activity taking place at this time. The whole concept makes no sense to me, whatsoever. Why would anyone even think in terms of a crown of thorns, as it is all so fictitious in their eyes anyway, because they are calling him the “King of the Jews”? It makes far more sense that a few random, thorny branches were grabbed on the spot at Golgotha, and put in Christ’s hair.
All the stage action of the drama takes place at Golgotha, so it only makes sense to me that the crowning took place there, and not in the palace. Put in the light of the site of the execution suggests an editors error in both Matthew, and Mark. This theory needs to be tooled. Luke and John almost imply that it all took place at the Skull. Further, I just do not like the reference to the crown being weaved, there is something wrong with it. The scenario at the Praetorium is baffling, and requires further analysis. John, being the latest document, would be all about this point, but he has nothing to do with it.
The bottom line is that Christ had to be crowned, of this there is no doubt. Further, the crown had to be a stephanos and it had to very, very simple. Compilated activities such as weaving just could not take place at this time of crisis, as even Pontius Pilate did not know that Christ was going to be crucified, as he offered the Jews Barabbas. At this time I will not let the mere location of the crowning be of any consequence to the style and texture of the crown.
If the crowing took place in Golgotha, the soldiers out in the mud and rocks of Golgotha are not likely to be sitting next to a basket weaver, who is furnished with tools of the trade to put together one fine crown of thorns! If anything these soldiers, as unskilled weavers, grab a few strands of thorns from the dirt and stuck them into Christ’s hair, while He was still on the ground. At best, perhaps a soldier grabbed a few strands along the way, and put them in his pocket, next to his dice.
Things Were Dirty And Crude
It is not likely that any crown of thorns was brought along, but rather, was done on the spot. Because people in those times were not used to the sophisticated, stereotyped images of a crown of thorns as we have been subjected to by Hollywood and the artwork of the ages. Back in those times, things were dirty and crude. Most likely it was dark and cloudy out there and the soldiers had no flashlights or other modern accoutrements to assist them in this task. Further, they just did not really care. They just grabbed what was there, stuck then on each side of His head, and went with it. Who was supervising this event anyway?
All the drawings and paintings of Art History show us elaborate, and complicated meshes of thorns, fabricated into a sophisticated wreath. Highly unlikely. Honestly, how available is lush shrubbery with foliage that is needed to support a rich fabric of thorns on the rocky soils of a penal execution site, that is run over and over with soldiers rotating the next set of criminals to crucify? Any pictures that I have seen of probable sites for Golgotha are a rocky wasteland, and not a thorny rose garden by any measure.
Even if the crown was “weaved” in the Praetorium, I doubt that it was round, and most likely two or three branches of thorns. These branches were pressed into His head from behind His neck, just as Julius Caesar, so as to make a more secure setting. This position is thrust into the hairline and not on top of the head, therefore it will not fall off of His head. The crown of thorns that we are all so accustomed to from Hollywood and Art History, would always be slipping off of His head. However, in the pen & ink drawing below, the crown is securely mounted to Christ’s cranium and over His ears from the back of His head. Remember, we are talking about a crucifixion here, and not backstage at the opera, “weaving” a handsome crown of thorns to prepare for the final act, where you can be sure that everyone will leave before “The fat lady sings!”
Pen & ink drawing of Jesus Christ crowned with a stephanos of thorns.
Julius Caesar’s gold leaf stephanos.
Julius Caesar wearing a stephanos, or grass crown. Courtesy Wikipedia.
Napoleon wearing a gilded stephanos, or grass crown. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
The other Greek word for crown is diadem, and we get the mathematical term “diameter” from this, as there was a band that went around and across the head of the king to support the jewels that were laid upon it. However, the use of the term diadem is reserved for the devil and the rulers of this world. All of the references in the Revelation of St. John only use the term diadem for crown. “And he stood on the sand of the seashore. And I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns were ten diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names.” Revelation, 13: 1, NASV.
For Christ to wear a diadem would be a mockery, completely defeating his purpose. If anything that Christ was not, it was a worldly ruler, coming to establish his new world order. Because if that were the case the diadem would be appropriate. Further, the diadem is hereditary, and has no association with any kind of honor, or victory. Christ’s shedding of His blood and dying on the cross was the greatest victory of all time, brimming with honor.
Gold diadem with precious jewels.
Then next time that you are at mass in church, and you see the crucifix above the alter, do not look at his body, for it is mere flesh. Most importantly, gaze upon the crown of thorns that rests on this poor withered body, for it is the beacon of our salvation.
Who owns Buckingham Palace? The Queen of England? No, not at all, Buckingham Palace is owned by the Crown!
All Honor, Glory, And Victory
The stephanos is only conferred upon those that achieve the highest goals attainable, such as a military victory, Olympian race, or the noblest of deeds. The victory over death by Christ crucified is the greatest victory ever achieved in the history of the world. Thus Jesus Christ wears nothing more ethereal, or majestic, than the stephanos, the open garland wreath.
In this short and sinuous treatise I have made my contribution to the ever growing and expanding wealth of diversity and faculty to the interpretation of Saint Stephen as a man in his place and time, and also as a man that reaches out to us here in our own time with a message that gives hope and comfort. Most importantly, Saint Stephen reaches out to us via his very name: crown of victory, honor, and glory!
The first work of art in history showing Jesus Christ as he was most likely crowned, wearing a stephanos. Pencil drawing, 6B lead.
Condren Galleries Ltd. For Saint Stephen #298Z
- As a Fine Arts Gallery, Condren Galleries supports the Roman Catholic Church
Condren Galleries is pleased to have been to participate in the execution of Saint Stephen #298Z.
Stephen F. Condren For Saint Stephen #298Z
- Artist at Condren Galleries.
As an artist I have made Saint Stephen #298Z a staple of my portrait works at Condren Galleries.
Alt Image Tag
Case for Saint Stephen #298Z drawing by artist Stephen F. Condren at Condren Galleries.