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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

A Reminder from Augustine: Sin and the Law

In Arts & Letters, Books, Christianity, Humanities, Jurisprudence, Justice, Law, Philosophy, Western Philosophy on November 29, 2013 at 8:45 am

Allen 2

We do well to remember the consequences visited upon Augustine when, as a teenager, he succumbed to sin and shook a person’s pear tree in order to steal the fallen pears—not because he was hungry or in need, but because he delighted in the sin.  “To shake and rob,” he said, “some of us wanton young fellows went, late one night (having, according to our disgraceful habit, prolonged our games in the streets until then), and carried away great loads, not to eat ourselves, but to fling to the very swine, having only eaten some of them; and to do this pleased us all the more because it was not permitted.”[1]

The mature Augustine, looking back on this event, acknowledged that theft violates and is punished by law—not just human law, he adds, pursuant to the teachings of Jesus, but the law written on men’s hearts.  He relates that he suffered (and suffers) from shame and regret as a result of this sin, and his shame or regret is punishment that humans cannot implement ourselves; it is punishment that we must rely on God to summon forth in our hearts and minds.  “It is foul,” Augustine says of his sin, adding, “I hate to reflect on it.  I hate to look on it.”[2]  One wonders whether human punishment based on human law can ever have the same long-lasting effect as divine punishment for violating the law written on human hearts.

Augustine does suggest that there is a law of man and a law of God and that he violated both; the consequences for violating man’s law would have been different from the consequences of violating God’s law, especially insofar as his punishment may not be of this world, although the Christian believer in the triune God must acknowledge that God’s sovereignty and sovereign law precede and have jurisdiction over all men’s actions, for God does not let anything come to pass that he does not know about or have control over.

[1] St. Augustine, The Confessions of St. Augustine, edited by J. G. Pilkington (New York: Horace Liveright, 1927), p. 33.

[2] St. Augustine, The Confessions of St. Augustine, edited by J. G. Pilkington (New York: Horace Liveright, 1927), p. 40.


Service in St. Paul’s

In Arts & Letters, Creative Writing, Creativity, Humanities, Literature, Poetry, Writing on November 6, 2013 at 8:45 am

Allen 2


This poem originally appeared in The Echo.

Service in St. Paul’s


            —London, 2003


Acrophobia turned

upside down:

fear floating away,

gravity deciding

to suddenly

give up.


There’s a dome

overhead, a glowing

Jesus over the altar,

and too much space

to pray




among the scaffolding,

eye to eye with Joseph,

now falling facing up:

heaven does

not seem so high.

The 13 Virtues of Benjamin Franklin

In America, American History, Arts & Letters, Books, Ethics, History, Humanities, Literature, Western Civilization on June 26, 2013 at 8:49 am

Benjamin Franklin

In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin listed 13 virtues by which he sought to live.  Here they are:

1.  TEMPERANCE. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.

2.  SILENCE. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.

3.  ORDER. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.

4.  RESOLUTION. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.

5.  FRUGALITY. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.

6.  INDUSTRY. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.

7.  SINCERITY. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.

8.  JUSTICE. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.

9.  MODERATION. Avoid extreams; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

10.  CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.

11.  TRANQUILLITY. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.

12.  CHASTITY. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dulness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.

13.  HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

Franklin was a great man, even if he fell far short of his own high standards.  Lists like these can, I think, help one to improve oneself.  See my reading list for this year.

Law as a Seed

In Arts & Letters, Humanities, Law, Literary Theory & Criticism on May 1, 2013 at 8:45 am

Allen Mendenhall

Jesus of Nazareth delivered the parable of the growing seed,[1] which referred to the kingdom of God and its capacity for organic growth.  The principle from that parable carries over into the legal realm.  For the law evolves from the scattered seeds of human conduct; ripens as a result of human care; and then, on its own, apart from human care, imperceptivity and spontaneously sprouts grain, which, in turn, spreads into abundant crops for the nourishment of the human and animal bodies that, one by one, enable the flourishing of the seeds to begin with.  Growth is cyclical in the sense that it consists of these stages, but linear in the sense that the stages are not exactly alike; each stage is different depending upon the conditions present during its lifespan.  Yeats’s gyre is a helpful interpretive parallel in this regard.

Just as the polis cultivating the Word of God will bear cultural and spiritual fruit for itself and its progeny, so the polis prioritizing law will bear cultural and economic fruit for itself and its progeny. This analogy is not intended to endow human law with spiritual qualities or sacrilegiously to equate human law with divine purpose; it is intended to suggest that law should be treated with high seriousness rather than casual interest, although the law is not a savior and ought not to be celebrated or glorified as such.  The laws of human relations remain primarily secular.  That is not a normative statement about what the laws ought to be, merely a comment on what the laws as a human construct are at present.  If we are to be governed by divine law, we can be sure that it precedes human law and that no human law could mirror it.

[1] Mark 4:26-28.

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