Gilbert Narcisse on the Reader of Scripture

One of my current projects is the translation of Gilbert Narcisse’s introduction to fundamental theology, Premiers pas en théologie (Paris: Parole et Silence, 2005), from French into English. Even in an introductory text, one finds a number of fascinating and creative thoughts. Here is Narcisse at the beginning of his section on Scripture:

The exegetical experience of the disciples of Emmaus implies that God becomes the reader of Scripture in Christ [Luke 24:27]. To explain Scripture, Jesus does not draw first of all on his divine knowledge but actually on his apprenticeship in the reading of the Torah, first as a child, then before the teachers at twelve years old, and finally in his adulthood. If Christ is fullness, then for the first time in the economy of salvation, Scripture is understood in this same fullness of the incarnate Word. In Christ there resides a fullness of the author and reader of Scripture. Christ is therefore the definitive measure of every understanding of Scripture. Jesus explains Scripture and bears it in this way into his fullness. Of course, Jesus did not read the New Testament. But it is in his act of reading the Old Testament that he realized the fullness expressed in the New Testament. This is why Jesus himself did not write: Scripture always has reference to a fullness which both passes through the letter and surpasses it. This power of the letter can be understood only as one enters into the trinitarian mystery.

Calvin’s 1 Corinthians Commentary – His French “Translator’s Letter”

When John Calvin translated his own commentary on 1 Corinthians from Latin (published 1546) into French (published 1547), he attached a short letter, “Le translatevr, au Lecteur fidele,” “The translator, to the faithful reader.” It does not appear in the two English translations of the commentary (Pringle, 1848; Fraser, 1960), nor even in the collected Pauline commentaries published in Calvin’s own lifetime. It appears untranslated in the 19th-century collected works (Ioannis Calvini opera quae supersunt omnia, vol. 49, p. vi). Besides its historical interest, it is also worth noting for Calvin’s comments on the need for people gifted by God for the interpretation of Scripture. I’ve transcribed it here with my own translation:


Comme l’exposition des Escritures, est vn don special en l’Eglise de Dieu: aussi, tous ne se peuuent pas vanter de l’auoir. Mais nostre Seigneur, l’a mise en aucuns, pour s’en seruir à l’edification de tous. Ce qui est bien mal recogneu de ceux qui reiettent toute ayde d’expositeurs: comme estans suffisans d’eux mesmes, d’entrer iusqu’au sens parfait de l’Escriture. Parquoy il est advenu, que, pour tel mespris, beaucoup sont tombez en lourdes, & enormes resueries. Ce n’est pas, à present, mon intention de traitter cest argument: lequel meriteroit deduction plus ample. Mais seulement d’aduertir en brief les fideles (pour lesquelz nous auons traduit ce liure) quel bien c’est, quand Dieu nous enuoye saine interpretation des Escritures: & comme ils le doyuent embrasser, tant pour en estre muniz & armez, que pour sauoir discerner, & iuger de ceux, qui la renuersent, & luy font vn nez de cire, comme sont les blasphemateurs, & apres s’en vantent, pour l’arguer d’incertitude. A fin donc, qu’ilz s’en puissent donner garde: il est bon, qu’ilz lisent ceux, ausquelz nostre Seigneur a faict grace, d’en auoir meilleure intelligence, que les autres. Comme aussi les sauans & lettrez, le recognoissent tresbien: confessans franchement, que leur litterature ne seroit suffisante, de les pouuoir faire atteindre au vray sens, & que c’est vne grace speciale. I’entens des modestes, & non presomptueux: lesquelz se cognoissent eux mesmes. A plus fort raison, les simples & non lettrez, ne doyuent refuser ceste ayde, pour estre conduitz & entretenuz en vraye & saine intelligence. Or c’est pour eux, que ceste translation est faicte: à ce qu’ilz ayent tousiours dequoy se consoler, & se confermer en la saincte doctrine de Dieu: & qu’ilz iouyssent aussi bien de ceste exposition, comme ceux, ausquelz nostre Seigneur a donné cognoissance des Langues. Le Seigneur leur vueille donner grace, d’en faire telement leur profit, que ce leur soit pour accroissement de vertu, & que louänge & gloire luy en soit de tous rendue. Ainsi soit il.


Since the exposition of Scripture is a special gift in the church of God, no one may boast of possessing it. But our Lord has given it to people of no importance in order that it may serve for the edification of all. This is very poorly recognized by those who refuse any help from expositors, as if they were sufficient in themselves to come upon the perfect meaning of Scripture. For this reason it happens that, because of such a mistake, many people have fallen under burdens and into extravagant dreams. It is not my intention, at present, to deal with this case, which would deserve very lengthy refutation; instead, it is only to briefly advise the faithful (for whom we have translated this book) as to what a good it is when God provides us with sound interpretation of Scripture. They ought to embrace it, as much to be armed and fortified as to be able to know how to discern and make judgment of those who controvert it and make of it a wax nose, as do blasphemers, who afterward puff themselves up in order to argue its uncertainty. In order, then, that they may be on their guard, it is good that they read those to whom our Lord has given the grace of having better understanding than others. This also the wise and lettered recognize very well, freely confessing that their books would not be sufficient to allow them to attain the true sense, and that it is a special grace. I mean here the modest and not the presumptuous, those who are well acquainted with themselves. With even greater reason, the simple and unlettered ought not to refuse this help, in order to be guided into and sustained in a true and sound understanding. Now it is for them that this translation has been made, that they may always have something by which to be consoled and be confirmed in the holy teaching of God, and that they may also take joy in this exposition, like those to whom our Lord has given the knowledge of languages [i.e., those who can read the original Latin edition]. May the Lord wish to give them grace to so gain from their reading of it that it will lead them to growth in virtue, and that praise and glory will be rendered to him by all. Amen.

Pascal’s Vision

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), a brilliant soul who contributed both to the birth of modern science and Christian philosophy, is said to have undergone an intense, convicting vision. He describes it in these words in his Mémorial, apparently written to himself:

The year of grace 1654,
Monday, the 23rd November, the day of St. Clement, pope and martyr, and others of the martyrology,
wake of St. Chrysogonus martyr, and others,
Since around ten-thirty in the evening until around half-past midnight,
God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob.
Not of the philosophers and wise men.
Certainty. Certainty. Feeling. Joy. Peace.
God of Jesus Christ.
“My God and your God.”
“Your God will be my God.”
Forgetting the world and all, except God.
He is not found except on the paths taught in the Gospel.
Grandeur of the human soul.
“Just Father, the world has not known you, but I have known you.”
Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.
I was separated from it.
“They have forsaken me, the spring of living water.”
“My God, will you forsake me?”
May I not be separated eternally from you.
“This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and him who you have sent, Jesus Christ.”
Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ.
I was separated from him: I fled him, renounced him, crucified him.
May I never be separated from him.
He is not kept but by the paths taught in the Gospel.
Renunciation, total and soft
Total submission to Jesus Christ and to my director.
Eternally in joy for a day of work on the earth.
“I will not neglect your word.” Amen.

It is said that Pascal stitched this text into the lining of his coat. It was discovered by a servant after his death.

Lévinas on Work

With a friend, I’m reading through Lévinas’ Totalité et infini. Essai sur l’extériorité. In the section on “Interiority and Economy,” Lévinas writes this about work:

Work can overcome the poverty that not need, but the uncertainty of the future, brings to being.

The nothingness of the future, we will see, changes in a moment of time when possession and work are inserted. The passage from instantaneous joy to the fabrication of things refers to habitation, to the economy, which assumes the welcome of the other (l’accueil de l’autrui). The pessimism of dereliction is therefore not irremediable–a person holds between their hands the remedy of his evils and the remedies preexist the evils.

But work itself, thanks to which I live freely, assuring me against the uncertainty of life, does not bring to life its final meaning. It becomes in this way that from which I live. I live out of all the contents of my life–even out of the work which assures the future. I live out of my work as I live out of air, light and bread. This fact limits where need imposes itself beyond joy, the proletarian condition condemns one to cursed work, and where the poverty of bodily existence finds neither refuge nor leisure at home, there is the absurd world of thrownness (Geworfenheit).

Le travail peut surmonter l’indigence qu’apporte à l’être non pas le besoin, mais l’incertitude de l’avenir.

Le néant de l’avenir, nous le verrons, vire en intervalle du temps où s’insèrent la possession et le travail. Le passage de la jouissance instantanée à la fabrication des choses, se réfère à l’habitation, à l’économie, laquelle, suppose l’accueil d’autrui. Le pessimisme de la déréliction n’est donc pas irrémédiable – l’homme tient entre ses mains le remède de ses maux et les remèdes préexistent aux maux.

Mais le travail lui-même, grâce auquel je vis librement, m’assurant contre l’incertitude de la vie, n’apporte pas à la vie sa dernière signification. Il devient aussi ce dont je vis. Je vis de tout contenu de la vie – même du travail qui assure l’avenir. Je vis de mon travail comme je vis d’air, de lumière et de pain. Le cas limite où le besoin s’impose par-delà la jouissance, la condition prolétarienne condamnant au travail maudit et où l’indigence de l’existence corporelle ne trouve ni refuge, ni loisir chez soi, c’est là le monde absurde de la Geworfenheit. (156)

Lévinas, in the pages leading up to this passage, continually makes the interesting comment that we live from all the contents of our world: air, bread, shelter. Here he adds also work, as that which tames the uncertainty of the future and its seeming nothingness (néant). Work enables us to find “refuge” and “leisure at home,” ensuring that we are not really living in the “absurd world of thrownness.” But is perhaps Lévinas granting too much to the utility of work here? Is it too much to say that, “A person holds between their hands the remedy of his evils”? Is not for too many in our world work the very thing that makes the future so uncertain?

Aelred of Rievaulx on the Triune Economy

Aelred of Rievaulx, a medieval spiritual writer (1110-1167), authored a reflection on the gospel story of Jesus at twelve years old (Luke 2:41-52). During this time, he is lost by his parents at the Temple for three days. Aelred ponders just what Jesus could have done during these three days, besides of course speaking with the teachers at the Temple, as Luke tells us (2:46). He proposes that Jesus was conferring with the Father and Spirit on their common plan of salvation. This ‘common plan’ is what the Church Fathers often referred to as the “divine economy.” Often in Paul’s letters, he refers to the unfolding of God’s plan of salvation as God’s “economy,” often translated “administration” or simply “plan” (for example, Ephesians 1:10). For Aelred, this divine economy includes the whole of Jesus’ ministry, and has a Trinitarian form:

But we can conjecture about more profound mysteries. Perhaps, the first day he presented himself before the face of his Father, not to sit at his right hand, but to consult the Father’s will on the order of the redemptive plan he had accepted. Indeed, it would not be absurd to think that the Son of God, who had, in his divine nature, drawn up a plan conjointly with the Father and Holy Spirit, being equal and consubstantial with one and the other, had, in the “form of a slave” [Phil. 2:7] which he had received, in his humanity, consulted God; that he had, in his smallness, inquired after the scale of this plan. Not to be instructed about what he himself knew from all eternity, being with the Father in the form of God, but to defer in all things to the Father, to give him his obedience, to offer him his abasement. There, in the secret places of the Father, he spoke of the baptism for him to receive, of the choice of his disciples, of the establishment of the Gospel, of miracles to accomplish, and finally of the suffering for him to undergo and of the glory of the resurrection.

Everything being divinely regulated, the next day he granted the sweetness of his design to the choirs of angels and archangels; he announced to them that the ancient defection of the citizens of heaven would soon be made up for, and he thus caused the whole city of God to rejoice.

At last, the third day, he mingled with the flock of patriarchs and prophets; to those that had already learned of this plan from the holy elder Simeon, he confirmed it by unveiling his face; he consoled them in the length of their long wait by the promise of the imminence of redemption, making them all more patient and more joyful. (Quand Jesus eut douze ans, Sources Chrétiennes 60, pp.61, 63)

Interview with Meillassoux

There’s an interesting new movement in French philosophy termed “speculative realism” which attempts to recover a chastened confidence in reason. There’s an interview with one of its leading proponents, Quentin Meillassoux, over at Idée@Jour. Since, however, it’s in French, here’s a translation:

Q. Can metaphysics speak to these times of crisis?

A.The very fact of getting back in touch with metaphysical questioning is itself a call to a refound confidence in the capacities of thought. This confidence certainly assumes an increased vigilance, bound by the critical heritage of the last decades, toward the dogmatic illusions which speculative philosophy was able to haul through the centuries. But we see today that the abandonment of metaphysical reflection, far from causing the intolerance of thought to decline, did nothing but exacerbate the desire for a blind faith—as though an overreaching skepticism towards reason turned into a fanaticism wishing to be inaccessible to discussion. Resetting ourselves in a metaphysical perspective permits us to confer anew on the concept—rather than on faith alone or the sole opportunism of interest—the duty of helping us to construct our existence, to “vectorise” the concept in its relation to a world both rich and opaque. A metaphysics instructed by the work of its great adversaries—instructed by its reversals (Nietzsche), by its destruction (Heidegger), therapeutic dissolution (Wittgenstein), or deconstruction (Derrida)—sets out both an extraordinary heritage, a treasure of unique thought towards which we are yet able to return—and at the same time imposes on us a totally new and exciting task: that is, how to produce a contemporary metaphysics, able to give a meaning, even a fragile one, to our lives by the sole force of thought, and one which may be likely to “pass across” [passer au travers] those tremendous undertakings of “demolition” which together ran through [traversé] the 20th century.

Q. What are the paths for metaphysics in 2010?

A. They are numerous, and the foremost among them bears a relation to the renewed questioning of its singular: is it still necessary to speak, like Heidegger or above all Derrida, of metaphysics [“la” métaphysique], or is it better rather to speak of metaphysics-plural [“des” métaphysiques-pluriel] which echoes the title of our [new book] series? In effect, this plurality is manifested to us in at least three ways, which make up three important modalities of contemporary research:

  • First of all, returning to the surface of those metaphysics either forgotten or neglected for a long time in France, when, that is, they represent alternatives to the grand classical systems of Aristotle, Descartes or Hegel: a metaphysics no longer of substance, of the subject, or of the closed system, but of the Open (Bergson), of the event (Whitehead), of singularity-in-becoming (Simondon), of possession (Tarde), of the work to be created [l’oeuvre à faire] (Souriau). Many more undertakings which demonstrate that metaphysics [“la” métaphysique] is not reducible to a determined collection of concepts which, once disqualified, take with them the whole of speculative thought.
  • This power of the difference [l’altérité] of metaphysics permits us to be comforted in our hope for its renewal, and that from the heart itself of those currents which contested it the most radically: Alain Badiou, thinking totally within the heritage of Lacan‘s anti-philosophy, takes up in depth the most radical requirements of Platonism in order to elaborate a system of the undecidable event and its weak multiplicities; Graham Harman, an American philosopher whose first work in French we are about to publish, successfully extracts from Heidegger himself a completely rethought metaphysics of the object.
  • Finally, this rediscovery of an “other metaphysics” [autre métaphysique] (according to the expression of Pierre Montebello) is accompanied by the discovery of a metaphysics of the other [métaphysique de l’autre]—that is to say, of “non-Western” peoples. In Métaphysique cannibales, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro establishes that the Amerindians developed a metaphysics of original predation, a “multinaturalist perspectivism” that philosophy—in particular that of Deleuze and Guattari—can help us to tackle and understand. Viveiros can then cite, to support his point, a postface of Lévi-Strauss to a volume of L’Homme, dating from 2000, which treats of this “metaphysics of original predation” and reveals to us the gripping evolution of the author of Mythologiques vis-à-vis philosophy: “…whether one rejoices or worries, philosophy once again occupies center stage. No longer our philosophy, of which my generation had asked foreign [exotiques] peoples for help to dismantle [défaire]; but rather, by a striking turn, theirs.”

One could not better describe the movement underway: this benefit (bien) from a thirst for otherness [altérité] and the decentering which metaphysics begins again in the plural, requiring us to think this profusion in preserving it, as much as we can, from ancient wanderings.

William of St. Thierry on Tasting God’s Gifts

The 12th-century monk, William of St. Thierry, wrote many short books on the spiritual life. Here’s from near the end of his “The Contemplation of God”:

I remain therefore in the place of my solitude, like the solitary evening primrose, having my lodging in the earth of salts; and drawing my breath of love, I open my mouth towards you, Lord, and I breathe spirit. And sometimes, Lord, while I am gaping toward you, eyes closed, you place something in me, in the mouth of the heart; but it, I have no right to know what it is. I certainly sense a flavour, so soft, so sweet, so comforting, that if it were left perfect in me, I would no longer go searching for anything else. But when I receive it, you do not let me figure out what it is—neither by sight, nor by a feeling of the soul, nor by a thought of the mind; when I receive it, I want to hold it and think about it, to judge its flavour; but quickly it passes. I surely swallow it, whatever it may be, in the hope of eternal life. Yet in thinking a long time about the virtue of its working, I hope to transfuse it through all the veins and marrow of my soul like some life-giving sap, in order to lose the flavour of all other affections, and no longer savour anything except it alone and forever; but it hastens to pass on.

Je me tiens donc dans la demeure de ma solitude, comme l’onagre solitaire, ayant mon logis en la terre des salines ; et aspirant le souffle de mon amour, j’ouvre la bouche vers toi, Seigneur, et j’aspire l’esprit. Et quelquefois, Seigneur, tandis que je suis comme béant vers toi, les yeux clos, tu me mets quelque chose dans la bouche du cœur ; mais cela, je n’ai pas licence de savoir ce que c’est. Sans doute, je sens une saveur, tellement douce, tellement suave, tellement réconfortante, que si elle se parfaisait en moi, je ne rechercherais plus rien outre. Mais quand je la reçois, tu ne me permets de discerner ce que c’est ni par une vision du corps, ni par un sens de l’âme, ni par une intelligence de l’esprit ; quand je la reçois, je la veux retenir et ruminer, et en juger la saveur ; mais aussitôt elle passe. Je la déglutis sans doute, quelle qu’elle puisse être, dans l’espoir de la vie éternelle. Mais en ruminant longtemps la vertu de son opération, je souhaiterais transfuser dans toutes les veines et toutes les moelles de mon âme comme quelque suc vital, pour perdre la saveur de toutes les autres affections, et ne plus savourer qu’elle seule et à jamais ; mais elle se hâte de passer. (La contemplation de Dieu, 115)