Monday, April 21, 2014
As previously mentioned, I recently received the library of Robert W. Bertram, who taught systematic theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and then “in exile” at Christ-Seminary—Seminex and the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. That latter venue was where our paths initially crossed, back in the fall of ‘88. In those days I was required to take a graduate course per term at LSTC in order to be able to live in one of the seminary-owned apartments, a cheaper option than living in the housing provided me as a Ph.D. student at the University of Chicago (Bob’s alma mater, too). So he was my teacher for a few of those LSTC courses, which took place outside of my studies at the U. of C. Divinity School.
Of late I’ve been reading through Bob’s handwritten notes in his copy of the first edition of the American Bible Society’s Greek-English New Testament. These were notes that Bob wrote in connection with a procedure he developed here at Valpo, namely, “Programming the Pericope,” a procedure that served as the basis for what would later become “the Crossings” method for working through an appointed biblical text. (Ed Schroeder has written about the development of "Crossings" in the context of teaching theology at Valpo. If interested in that Ur-Geschichte, go to Crossings.org and look up Ed's reminiscences about those years.)
While there are Easter-themed notes in many of the margins, Bob’s commentary on the first seven verses of the first chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans is particularly apropos for the current season. True, the original context for these notes was Advent, not Easter. And yet the respective focus of each of these seasons mutually conditions the other. In short, Paul mixes Advent, Christmas, Good Friday, Easter--and Pentecost in those seven verses. Bob pondered their intertwining here and concluded by raising some pertinent questions: What good is it—good for us, that is—for the Son to have come and to be declared Son of God in the resurrection from the dead? What good is it that there is a Son of God who has come, who has suffered and died, and who is declared to be the Son of God through the resurrection from the dead?
To get the full benefit of Bob’s five notes on this pericope, you should have your Bible open to Romans 1:1-7. Bob's notes here are in black ink, unlike the red-inked notes one finds predominantly in the notebook. I think it probable that these black notes are among the first Bob wrote, sometime shortly after he purchased the notebook in 1968. (The italicized words below were spelled out by Bob in the original Greek. I've added the English equivalents for readers unfamiliar with Greek.)
Note 1 (on Rom. 1:3b and 1:4a): The contrast between “kata sarka” [according to flesh] on the one hand, and kata pneuma hagiosunes [according to the Holy Spirit] on the other, contrasts something more, I believe, than merely his “humanity” with his “divine spirit,” as the above Engl. tr. puts it. Doesn’t sarka [flesh] connote here something of the corruptedness or fallenness or perishableness of “humanity” if not its downright sinfulness, esp. when it is juxtaposed (as it is here) to “the spirit of holiness” (not just to “his divine spirit”)? True, there may be also another aspect of divinity implied here as well, viz., the “power” of divinity (an aspect which Paul later, at 1:20, builds into his “natural revelation,” but which he also assigns a prominent place in his distinctive God of the “gospel,” which itself is “the power of God unto salvation,” 1:16). And that “power” is the means by which, or the dimension in which, (as contrasted with the “fleshly” dimension, which by contrast is weak) Jesus is “declared Son of God.” And the powerfulness of this designated “Son” appears from his being raised from the dead, which is the realm of the “flesh.” However, his being raised from the dead illumines both aspects of his deity, his being the “son of God”: i.e., both the power which that entails as well as the holiness. For “God would not suffer His Holy One to see corruption.” “Flesh” is, by definition for Paul, corrupted, subject to death, mortal. But mortality means contamination, the opposite of “holiness.”
Note 2 (on v. 3a): “Coming” or “having come” betrays right off the bat the half-truth in the christology of Arius, which Nicaea had to take into account. True, as the pre-existent “Son of God” “there was no time when He was not.” But in his “human nature” there was a time when he was not. Else there’s no taking the Incarnation seriously at all.
Note 3 (on v. 6a): “Among whom [i.e., among the “all nations”] are also you”—this does seem to indicate, as Feine-Behm-Kuemmel [classic German introduction to the NT--MB] argues, a Gentile Xian readership for this epistle.
Note 4 (on v. 7): When we, in our “Diagnosis” phase of “Programming the Pericope,” ask “what is the problem,” we mean by “problem” not necessarily the problem to which the readers have utterly succumbed and from which they have not at all been extricated. What we do mean by “problem” is that negative, threatening alternative which always continues to dog them as a live (really, a deadly) option, a constant alternative. And even these few opening verses (vv. 1-7) already hint that there is such an ongoing, threatening alternative, and it suggests furthermore what this hazardous condition is. Since the opposite, the saving, alternative which Paul has been sent to bring about instead is “the obedience of faith,” then—by inverse inference—it is that which his readers are in danger of not having. Not only don’t they have the obedience “of faith” but also, since they don’t have that most basic kind of “obedience” (viz., “faith), they don’t really have any kind of obedience, I gather, which is worthy of the name. For, as Paul will say much later (14:23), “Anything not based on faith is sin.” However, in addition to their disobedience and unfaith, which by themselves sound like quite private and strictly personal, individual, problems, there is also the hint here of a transpersonal, a racial or ethnic or nationality problem. They are not from that ethnic tradition, that national community, which “comes from the seed of David,” which has had “the Holy Writings,” which has had “the prophets,” which has been “called out” for “holiness” and life-saving and for “belovedness.” And now because of all that, and on top of all that, they (the readers) run the immediate danger of not recognizing and heeding this apostolos [apostle] who could well bring them those very Solutions for want of which they otherwise perish.
Note 5 (on vv. 1-7): What can we say about the christology of just these first seven verses? Here are a few observations, arranged at random. a) One noteworthy distinction is between the “Son of God’s” having been “promised,” on the one hand (namely, by God’s “prophets in the Holy Writings") and his having been “declared” or “designated in power,” on the other hand (namely, “by the resurrection from the dead”). True, Paul does not say in just so many words that it was the Son which God promised; rather he says it was God’s Gospel which God promised. Still, that Gospel which God did promise was a Gospel “about” his Son. The point I’m getting at here, I guess, is this: what is the difference between God’s Son before the time of Jesus and God’s Son after the coming of Jesus? Or more specifically, what’s the difference in the ways this Son is presented to us before and after the coming of Jesus? Answer: before the coming of Jesus the “Son” is presented to us by means of prophetic “promise,” in the Scriptures. Since the coming of Jesus the Son is presented to us, no longer merely in promise but now “in power,” “declared.” On second thought, the contrast is not between “promised,” on the one hand, and then merely “declared… in power,” on the other hand. Really, the latter pole of the contrast has really two dimensions: both “becoming” (or “coming,” genomenou [becoming, coming]) and “declared” (horisthentos). So the whole contrast, therefore, is between:
In other words, to put the contrast perhaps too simply, the contrast is between a merely “promised” Son, on the one hand, and an incarnate Son, on the other hand. This might raise the question: If in a very real way the Son was already available to men back in the days when he was merely being promised, what new thing, if any, was made available to men now that he has actually come? One overly intellectualistic answer would be: We have to believe in him as having now come, because that in fact is what he now is, else we would be affirming something as still future (and mistakenly so) when in fact it is now an accomplished present. But surely that—viz., that concern merely to have believers keep their tenses straight—cannot be the sufficient explanation for God’s sending out a whole fleet of apostolic heralds announcing the arrival of his Son. There must be something awfully “good” about this Good News now which was not quite so good or was not good in the same full way when it was merely a future expectation. What is that plus which has now been added with the Son’s actual arrival and coronation? What we are asking really (and this underscores the wisdom of choosing this pericope for Advent) is this, What difference does it make that the Son comes? In fact, mustn’t we put the question even more strongly: Not only, What difference does it make, but What good is it—good, that is, for us—for the Son to “come”? For that matter, What good is it for us that there is a “Son of God” at all? Granted, such a question sounds awfully brash. But we dare to ask it only because we trust that there is an answer.
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
The first book that I received as a gift that is still in my library is a little deutsche Fibel (dated 1901), whose purpose was—and potentially still is—to teach young children how to write the old German alphabet in neat, cursive script. On the inside front cover are words that were beautifully handwritten by someone who had learned that Fibel well: “To Matthew and Michael, from your Grandfather Emil, December 1967.” I was five years old then; my brother, four. We had been sitting on our grandfather’s lap, messing with the items on his large desk in the upstairs room of his house that served as his study. I remember having earlier touched the books that lined the fifteen feet of bookshelves (floor to ceiling) behind his desk and pondered what they all meant. Many of them were in a language different from the one I was learning. So he probably said something like, “If you want to be able to read these, you’ll need to start with this. . .” At the time, I suspect my brother was just as little excited as I was to have received that little book. Our hearts and minds were oriented in a different direction. Christmas was just a few weeks away. Getting a book at that time was a bit like getting a pair of socks or school supplies or some underwear. There might have been practical value in a gift like that, but would it bring any lasting joy and happiness (like a model airplane or an air hockey game would)?
Today, that little Fibel is among my most treasured possessions. It has brought lasting joy to me, for the simple fact that it connects me to my Grandfather, to the space and time of the day he signed the book, to the words I saw him actually write that day, to those other books on those bookshelves, books that I later (after his death) would receive as well. I don’t know how many hours, before that second gifting, that I had spent browsing my Grandfather’s library. At first, anything above the fourth shelf was beyond my reach. Eventually, access to the top was gained by means of a stool. Today, whenever I think of Thanksgivings or Easters or Christmases celebrated in my Grandparents’ house in Salem, Ore., my memories always turn to those quiet, solitary times with those old books in that upstairs study. (As much as I enjoyed being with my aunts, uncles, cousins, and other relatives, on those occasions, I also looked forward to some time alone for bookish pursuits.)
More valuable and meaningful to me are not so much those books themselves, but the handwritten notations that fill many of their pages. For example, there are the marginalia in Pieper’s christliche Dogmatik, entered into the book when my Grandfather sat in the author’s classes at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, between 1919 and 1924. Walther’s Pastorale also contains such notes and glosses from the time he studied pastoral theology there (probably with Prof. Fritz). That is also true for the many booklets of sermons that he worked through in preparation for his frequent preaching.
I have benefited from the marginalia and handwritten notations in other books given to me over the years. After the death of my Uncle Bob, who, like my Grandfather, had been an LCMS pastor, some of his library came my way, due to the generosity of my Aunt: “You’ll be able to use these more than any of my kids, so take what you want. . .” I was surprised by how well my Uncle wrote cursive, as well as his father. I concluded that something got lost between their genes and mine, given how poor my own handwriting was--and is (it's worse today, I hate to admit).
While still in college I went to hear a lecture by the Oregon author, Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; Sometimes a Great Notion, etc.). I was then working on a paper about Paul Tillich’s theology and so I checked out the school’s copy of The Courage to Be and took it with me to read during the minutes before the lecture’s start. Since I got to the site early, though, I happened to notice Mr. Kesey standing off alone to the side of the hall. My friend Dick Hill (who wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on Kesey, at Emery) and I were the only other ones there, so I got up and went over to see if I could talk with the famous author. We chatted for about 10 minutes. At one point he asked me what I was reading. So I showed him. Totally off-the-cuff and spur-of-the-moment, I asked him if he would sign it. “To whom should I make it out?,” he asked. “Well, it belongs to Concordia College’s library, so maybe you should make your inscription to it.” So he hand wrote: “To Concordia College Library, Struggle with the human situation. Mournfully yours, Ken Kesey.” I kept that book, having paid for a new copy to be purchased by Mrs. Dobberful, our librarian (who was also a shirt-tail relative of my grandfather). She chuckled when I showed her Kesey’s not-so-neatly-written inscription. It was clear to me that he had studied Tillich carefully and came up with the right thing to put down as an inscription to a library. (Dick told me later that Kesey attended a Christian church in Eugene with his wife, who also taught Sunday School there.) Unfortunately, somewhere in my moves across the country and to Europe, I lost that Kesey-inscribed Tillich volume. If anyone knows where it is or who has it, I would gladly like to receive it back.
My library is more than books. For me the inscriptions, notes, and handwritten marginalia are equally important, maybe more important, in the case of some books. I have been the beneficiary of books by and from my teacher and friend, Martin Marty (whose inscribed books are also very meaningful to me). There are the notes by another Lutheran theologian, Walter Bouman, whose library came to VU a few years ago and whose son, Luke, gave me permission “to take what the library doesn’t want or need.” Notes and marginalia by Art Simon, co-founder of Bread for the World and long-time family friend, fill many of the hundreds of volumes that he kindly gave me a few years ago. Books from my predecessor, David Truemper, especially his copies of Elert's writings, also contain valuable handwritten notations. The same is true for other Elert volumes that I received from Ed Schroeder's library (purchased, actually, from the now defunct "Ex Libris" bookstore in Hyde Park, near the U. of C.).
While time is indeed running out, I haven't quite yet reached the point where I have given up the idea that I might actually read all these volumes. I've skimmed them all, read all of a great deal of them, have at least read out of the rest, but I haven't read any of them to the point of being able to put down written notes in the margins, as one finds in my Grandfather's hand and the hands of the others. For one thing, my handwriting is just too poor, my letters too large, my cursive too opaque, almost "medical."
And now, two weeks ago, Bob Bertram’s theological library has also come my way, a gift to me (initially) and to Valparaiso University (eventually) by his widow, Thelda, and those who have cared for the books in St. Louis over the past decade.
What is striking about Bob’s library is how many volumes also contain his handwritten comments. Some of the notes are so extensive that they really form a second book inside the original one. For example, to read Bob’s copy of Ronald Thiemann’s book, Revelation and Theology, is to read Bob reading Thiemann (the latter had been the former's student in seminary). Some of the pages have more words in Bob's neatly inked red than the typescript on the pages themselves! Looking at these volumes is similar to looking at a medieval text, full of scholia and glosses.
I just happened now to turn to pp. 14-15 (in T’s chapter on “The Modern Doctrine of Revelation”), where T. writes, “The shift in the logical status of background beliefs, and particularly the belief in God’s prevenience, has enormous consequences for modern doctrines of revelation.” Bob’s handwritten marginal note here: “RFT seems to assume that God would need to be ‘gracious’ in order to be ‘prevenient.’ No grace, no provenience. But for many a modern skeptic it is precisely the conviction that God is prevenient which makes it impossible to believe that God is ‘gracious.’”
Or p. 160, where T. writes, “Thus the term ‘hidden God’ can sometimes mean the God clothed in his promises and revealed to faith.” Bob’s handwritten note: “’clothed in his promises’? I doubt that. Just a few lines earlier, bottom of the preceding page, RFT had quoted ML as identifying the clothing or hiddenness with ‘the humility and shame of the cross.’ That’s more like it, more like ML. The ‘promises,’ as RFT calls them, are not the hiddenness; the cross is! What is revealed is that this God-hiding cross is the cross of God!
Or on the same page, a few lines below, where T. writes, “Luther is consistent, however, in his equation of revelation and gospel.” Bob’s note here: “Wrong! As just one contrary instance (I’m sure examples could be multiplied), consider: ‘. . . the Law of God, when first revealed to them also compelled them to seek grace’ (LW 27:277). What incriminates RFT’s Barthianizing citing of ML even more, right in this very quotation he takes from LW 26:64, 72, is that he omits to explain that ML’s precise point in these passages is to emphasize how different is the revelation of the ‘Son’ from the teaching of Law!”
On p. vii, Bob has written (in response to the title of T’s chapter seven, “Promise and Prevenience: Revelation as the Doctrine of God’s Identifiability”): “I would have thought that revelation is rather what enables us to see how God identifies us. That is the only way we know God, how he regards us—and that, how he regards us, he wishes us to know only through the Law and the Promise.”
Bob’s library contains hundreds of other notated books and "marginated" materials. One of the gems is his large, black notebook that contains the Greek NT (with large margins) and his handwritten notes on many of the church’s pericopes. There is probably a doctoral dissertation to be written on just that one piece in the collection. Perhaps in a few weeks or so, I’ll try to post some of these Bertramian exegetical comments.
The books in Bob’s library will eventually be identified as having come from him. Together they will form “the Robert W. Bertram Collection” at Valparaiso University. That collection is more than a library, given the multitude of the neatly scripted marginalia. Bob, too, must have studied a Fibel!
I wonder, given that contemporary “e-readers” do allow people to type their own notes into their electronic devices, will such notes, if they are written by a scholar of the caliber of a Bertram or a Bouman or a Kretzmann, be available to others a century from now? And how many readers today would ever type into their little machines the amount of notes that Bertram hand wrote in the books of his library? Given the poor state of penmanship among students (and many faculty) today, maybe it is a good thing that people can type their comments into their ebooks and not hand write them, but will any contemporary scholar type in his or her books as much as what Bob wrote in the books he owned? I have my doubts.