Madame Guyon on Hebrews 3:7-8 and Hearing the Voice of God

Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte-Guyon (1648 – 1717) is best known for her writings on prayer. Less well known is that she dictated a commentary on the whole Bible, only published in 1790, several decades after her death (La Sainte Bible avec des explications et refléxions qui regardent la vie intérieure, 20 vols. [Paris: Libraires Associés]). As its title indicates, it is a kind of “spiritual” commentary, concerned with the interior spiritual life. These are her comments on Hebrews 3:7-8, “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness.‘”

My God! how wonderful this passage of scripture is! In order that we might be the house of God [Heb 3:6], that he would lead and govern us as a sovereign, we must surrender ourselves to this condition, that is, if we hear his voice today. This word today means the present moment, in such a way that in all moments we must be attentive to the voice of God.

The one who does not hear the voice of God when he speaks hardens their heart. All evils that happen to us stem from not hearing the voice of God, just as everything good comes from hearing it. All the principles of the Christian and spiritual life boil down to this alone, hearing the voice of God. The one who is faithful to hear this voice hears it infallibly; and the one who hears this voice and is teachable in obeying it, their soul moreover becomes the house of God in which he commands as sovereign. But the one who does not want to hear the voice of God hardens their heart bit by bit such that it becomes no longer susceptible of inspiration. This voice is so gentle, so tranquil and profound, that one must ever keep watch over one’s heart, and by a gentle attentiveness to what is within oneself, one listens, one hears, one tastes this speech, silent and eloquent all at once.

La Sainte Bible avec des explications et refléxions qui regardent la vie intérieure, vol. 18 (Paris: Libraires Associés, 1790), 728-29.

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Cassiodorus’ Monks on 1 Cor 2:8 and God’s Suffering

In 1 Corinthians 2:8, the apostle Paul states that the “Lord of glory” was crucified. This led to certain difficulties on the part of interpreters, wondering how God – who is invincible and immortal – could be said to be crucified, and die. Here are the comments of monks from the monastery of Squillace in southern Italy, founded by Cassiodorus (d.c.580), writing toward the end of the sixth century. They profit from the clarity achieved on such matters by the councils of Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451).

“For if they had known, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory. . . .’” The Lord of glory – and both by merit and nature the Lord of every creature – was made the man Jesus, in whom God could in some way be crucified. “For this reason God also raised him up, and gave him the name that is above every name,” because of the unity of the person (Phil 2:9). God is said to be crucified and the Son of Man to be in the heavens, while when this one was called Lord he was bodily upon the earth. Seeing that Christ, therefore, is a true human being and true God, one person out of a twofold substance, and God a human being, and the same one is king of glory, the Lord of power was not crucified, due to his invincible divinity, yet he was crucified as a man, due to the unity of the person. And so, in a wondrous and unfathomable way God suffered, yet divinity did not suffer. (PL 68:511)

Albert the Great on Asking for Resurrection

In his comments on the raising of Lazarus in John 11, Albert the Great states that it is perfect faith which asks God for the dead to be raised. This perfect faith is faith in Jesus Christ, the cause of our resurrection by virtue of his own. Jesus instructs Martha in such faith by his divine instruction, drawing out her consent. To such faith, nothing, not even the raising of the dead, is impossible.

Here Albert comments on Jesus’ conversation with Martha in vv.25-27: “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’”

Here [Jesus] touches upon a faith perfect in obtaining that for which one asks. An encouragement to such faith is first given, and then perfect faith is described.

Therefore, in the first place he says four things: in the first of these, the perfect cause of the resurrection and life is said to be in Christ; in the second, this to the believer, the possibility to obtaining the resurrection of the dead by asking is shown; in the third, the reward of such faith is signified; in the fourth, the consent of Martha to such faith is sought.

Therefore, Jesus says, “I am,” by way of cause, “the resurrection and the life,” that is, I am the cause of resurrection and life. 1 Thess 4:[14],1 “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.” For he is therefore called “the firstborn from the dead,” since his resurrection is believed in faith, he is the cause of the resurrection of the dead, as Augustine states.2 Rev 1:5, “the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” John 10:10, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

“And everyone who lives,” etc.

Here he touches on the reward of her faith: for since it is now perfect, she lives. Hab 2:4, “My righteous will live by their faith.”

“And believes in me,” that is, by believing draws toward me [tendit in me], “will not die in eternity [or “forever,” in aeternum, here and following],” for although one dies bodily in time [or “for a time,” ad tempus], nevertheless they do not die so as to die in eternity. For the damned die in this way in eternity, as to always die. John 8:52, “Whoever keeps my word will not taste death in eternity.” John 3:[16],3 “that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Hos 8:14 [Vulg.], “From the hand of death I will free him, from death I will redeem them.”

“Do you believe this?”

He elicits consent to this perfect faith, to whose asking nothing is impossible. Mark 9:[23],4 “All things can be done for the one who believes.” Matt 17:[20],5 “if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”

“She said to him, ‘Yes,’” etc.

Here she now sufficiently presents consent in perfect faith by means of an elevated instruction.

“Yes, Lord.” Matt 15:28, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”

And she explains this faith, saying, “I believe,” firmly believing and simply confessing, “that you are,” because you hide in human nature, “Christ,” anointed with the anointing of deity, “the Son of God,” born of the Father before all ages, “who,” born from a woman, the Virgin, came under the law, “came” through the assumption of flesh “into this” visible “world.” And this is perfect faith in relation to this article; so, he does not further instruct her in the faith. Matt 16:16, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And therefore, as to Peter the keys were given upon this confession, against which the gates of hell will not prevail, so the doors of death, which held the dead, could do nothing about this faith, but gave up the dead which it had taken in. Ps 107:16-17 [Vulg. 106:15-16], “For he shatters the doors of bronze, and cuts in two the bars of iron. He brought them out from their sinful ways.”

D. Alberti Magni Opera Omnia, vol. 24, In evangelium secundum Joannem, ed. Borgnet (Paris: Vivès, 1899), 447-48

1 The Borgnet edition reads I Thessal. IV, 13. We still await a critical edition of Super Iohannem.

2 I have not yet been able to identify the precise text of Augustine to which Albert might be referring.

3 The Borgnet edition reads Joan. III, 13.

4 The Borgnet edition reads Marc. IX, 22.

5 The Borgnet edition reads Matth. XVII, 19.

A Christology of Love

And for love he made mankind, and for the same love himselfe wolde become man.
— Julian of Norwich, A Revelation of Love 57

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only-born Son.
— John 3:16

[F]or everything that has been done through Christ has been done for our sake.
— Martin Luther, Four Sermons on the Resurrection of the Dead (LW58: 150)

[I]t pleased God to come to aid the lost world, that is, by the death of his Son, in which he allures us to love of God and calls us away from the love of the world.
— Sebastian Meyer, In utramque D. Pauli epistolam ad Corinthios commentarii (Frankfurt: Petrus Brubacchius, 1546), fol. 8r

In these four phrases are the seeds of a whole Christology written around the theme of love.

 

Form and Content in History of Exegesis Scholarship

[M]odern scholars have a tendency to concentrate on form and method to the exclusion of content. (John F. A. Sawyer, The Fifth Gospel: Isaiah in the History of Christianity [Cambridge, 1996], p.22)

Hardly was there a truer sentence written. Sawyer laments that when scholars come to quotes from Isaiah in the New Testament, they usually list the quotations, note the introductory formulae, ask which original language version they correspond to, and how the quotation is treated, etc. I have found very much the same in studying the history of exegesis. Everyone is concerned with what sources commentators used; whether we can pinpoint an edition of the work cited; the chain of transmission; what languages the commentator knew; whether to characterize the interpretation as literal or allegorical or typological or figurative, and so on. For so long, very few were at work on the actual theology so richly present in the history of exegesis: what were these commentators actually saying? This is changing, thankfully. There are theologically-attuned history of exegesis works, such as G. Sujin Pak’s excellent The Judaizing Calvin (Oxford, 2009), and now many essays take this methodology. My own work on premodern commentary in 1 Corinthians 1-4 is strongly focused on the theology developed in those works which, after all, is what the commentators were principally concerned with.

Good Theology

“On the glorious splendour of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate” (Psalm 145:5 ESV). This is what good theology is: a meditation on God in himself (“the glorious splendour of your majesty”) and on all God’s acts (“your wondrous works”).

(This is, by the way, not substantially altered by the variant reading present in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Septuagint and Syriac, followed by the NIV: “They speak of the glorious splendour of your majesty—and I will meditate on your wonderful works.” One can take it of the theological, or more broadly, ecclesial, community.)

Ephesians 1:3-14 and Exodus

I just ran across this line from N.T. Wright, which agrees with what I have long thought: “Ephesians 1.3-14 is, among other things, a retelling of the exodus story” (The Resurrection of the Son of God, p.236).