Thoughts and Questions About the Temptations of Jesus   1 comment

Above:  The Temptations of Jesus

Image in the Public Domain

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For St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia

Lent 2019

 

Texts:  Mark 1:12-13; Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13

Reading the Bible for spiritual formation is an ancient Benedictine practice.  My primary purpose in writing this short piece is to ask, how do the accounts (mainly the Lukan and Matthean ones) of the temptations of Jesus challenge us, both as individuals and a parish, to follow Jesus better than we do.

The Temptation to Turn Stones into Bread

Bread was especially precious in ancient Palestine, with relatively little arable land.

We are blessed to be able to purchase our bread inexpensively at stores.  Bread is abundant in our context, so we probably take it for granted more often than not.  We can, however, think of some tangible needs related to scarcity.

One challenge is not to permit tangible needs to overtake intangible necessities.  We all depend entirely on God and dwell within a web of mutual responsibility and dependence.  According to the late Henri Nouwen, this temptation is the temptation to be relevant.  Relevance is not necessarily bad; in fact, it is frequently positive.  However, maintaining the proper balance of tangible and intangible needs is essential.  Furthermore, Christ’s refusal to cave into the temptation to use his power to make bread—to cease to depend on God—ought to remind us never to imagine that we do not depend entirely on God.

Questions

  1. Do we permit tangible needs to distract us from intangible necessities?  If so, how?
  2. Do we manifest the vain idea that we do not depend entirely on God?  If so, how?

The Temptation to Jump from the Pinnacle of the Temple

Many scholars of the New Testament have proposed what the pinnacle of the Temple was.

That matter aside, this temptation is, according to Nouwen, the temptation to be spectacular.  It is also the temptation to attempt to manipulate God by trying to force God to intervene in a miraculous way.  That effort, like turning stones into bread, would indicate a lack of faith.

We humans frequently like the spectacular, do we not?  We tell ourselves and others that, if only God would do something spectacular, we will believe.  We are like those who, in the Gospels, only wanted Jesus to do something for them, and not to learn from him.

Questions

  1. Does our attraction to the spectacular distract us from the still, small voice of God?  If so, how?
  2. Does our attraction to the spectacular reveal our lack of faith?  If so, how?
  3. Does our attraction to the spectacular unmask our selfishness?  If so, how?

The Temptation to Worship Satan in Exchange for Earthly Authority

Many Palestinian Jews at the time of Christ thought of Satan as the power behind the Roman Empire and of the Roman pantheon as a collection of demons.  Jesus affirmed God the Father as the only source of his identity.

This temptation is about idolatry, power, and morally untenable compromises.

Many well-intentioned people—ministers, politicians, and appointed office holders, for example—have, in the name of doing good, become corrupt and sacrificed their suitability to do good.  They have sacrificed their moral integrity on the altar of amoral realism.

Some compromises are necessary, of course.  As Reinhold Niebuhr reminded us, we cannot help but commit some evil while trying to do good, for human depravity has corrupted social systems and institutions.

Questions

  1. Have we established our identity apart from God?  If so, how?
  2. How have we, with good intentions, committed or condoned evil?
  3. Have we made morally untenable compromises?  If so, how?

The Good News

The good news is both collective and individual.

I discover the principle, then:  that when I want to do right, only wrong is within my reach.  In my inmost self I delight in the law of God, but I perceive in my outward actions a different law, fighting against the law that my mind approves, and making me a prisoner under the law of sin which controls my conduct.  Wretched creature that I am, who is there to rescue me from this state of death?  Who but God?  Thanks be to him through Jesus Christ our Lord!  To sum up then:  left to myself I serve God’s law with my mind, but with my unspiritual nature I serve the law of sin.

–Romans 7:21-25, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Jesus has modeled the way to resist temptation—to trust God and to understand scripture.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 10, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF MARIE-JOSEPH LAGRANGE, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF SAINT AGRIPINNUS OF AUTUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; SAINT GERMANUS OF PARIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; AND SAINT DROCTOVEUS OF AUTUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN OGLIVIE, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT MACARIUS OF JERUSALEM, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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Adapted from this post:

https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2019/03/10/thoughts-and-questions-about-the-temptations-of-jesus/

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Thank You for Visiting This Weblog.   Leave a comment

Above:  Part of the Library, St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia, May 28, 2018

Photographer = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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Since June 2, when I wrote the first version of this post, I have altered the structure of categories for this weblog.  I have created subordinate categories for every date of Lent and Easter, for Ash Wednesday, for every day of Holy Week and Easter Week, for the Ascension Day, and for the Day of Pentecost.

Easter and Christmas are the two greatest feasts in the church year.  In the Western Church Christmas is a fixed date, December 25.  Easter, however, moves around each year, according to the lunar calendar.  The dates for Ash Wednesday, Holy Week, Easter Week, Ascension Day, and the Day of Pentecost move around with it.

For your convenience, O reader, I share the following dates for Lent and Easter and church year 2019:

  1. Lent = March 6-April 20;
  2. Easter = April 21-June 9;
  3. Ash Wednesday = March 6;
  4. Holy Week = April 14-April 21;
  5. Palm Sunday = April 14;
  6. Maundy Thursday = April 18;
  7. Good Friday = April 19;
  8. Easter Sunday = April 21;
  9. Easter Week = April 21-27;
  10. Ascension Day = May 30; and
  11. Day of Pentecost = June 9.

Pax vobiscum!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 9, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM CROSWELL, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHANN(ES) MATTHAS MEYFART, GERMAN LUTHERAN EDUCATOR AND DEVOTIONAL WRITER

THE FEAST OF MARTIN CHEMNITZ, GERMAN LUTHERAN THEOLOGIAN

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Posted June 2, 2018 by neatnik2009 in 2019

Devotion for Pentecost, Year A (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Pentecost Dove

Image Scanned by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Receive the Holy Spirit

JUNE 9, 2019

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The Collect:

God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

as you sent upon the disciples the promised gift of the Holy Spirit,

look upon your Church and open our hearts to the power of the Spirit.

Kindle in us the fire of your love,

and strengthen our lives for service in your kingdom;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you

in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 23

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The Assigned Readings:

Joel 2:21-32

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

Acts 2:1-21

John 7:37-39

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Joel 2:21-32 (Protestant and Anglican versification) = Joel 2:21-3:5 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox versification)

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Dating the Book of Joel is difficult, but its message is simple:  After the judgment of God and the repentance of Israel divine mercy will be abundant and God will pour out His spirit on all people.  The assigned reading, quoted partially in Acts 2:1-21, fits well with Psalm 104.  The future age predicted in Joel 2:21-32/2:21-3:5 remains for our future, but its message of God’s universal outpouring of the Holy Spirit is timeless.  For the sake of completeness, however, one should not that Chapter 4 (if one is Jewish, Roman Catholic, or Eastern Orthodox)/Chapter 3 (if one is Anglican or Protestant) contains both judgment and mercy.

By means of both the witness of the Holy Spirit and Single Predestination, taken together, salvation is available to all people, but many people reject it, hence divine judgment.  This is unfortunate, as well as beyond any mere mortal’s pay grade, so to speak.  Nevertheless, the extent of the boundaries of divine grace would probably shock most of us, if we knew all the details.  These are properly matters in the purview of God.

John 7:37-38, in the original Greek, is a somewhat ambiguous text, due to the question of punctuation.  Related to that issue is the matter of theological interpretation, as commentaries reveal.  I feel comfortable asserting that Jesus, not the believer, is the source of the rivers of living water.  In Christianity we must look to Jesus.  God is central; we are not.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 2, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BLANDINA AND HER COMPANIONS, THE MARTYRS OF LYONS, 177

THE FEAST OF ANDERS CHRISTENSEN ARREBO, “THE FATHER OF DANISH POETRY”

THE FEAST OF MARGARET ELIZABETH SANGSTER, HYMN WRITER, NOVELIST, AND DEVOTIONAL WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT STEPHEN OF SWEDEN, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY, BISHOP, AND MARTYR

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2018/06/02/receive-the-holy-spirit-part-ii/

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Devotion for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year A (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Saint Peter, by Marco Zoppo

Image in the Public Domain

Suffering

JUNE 2, 2019

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The Collect:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Acts 5:17-42

Psalm 46

1 Peter 4:12:5:11

Matthew 24:1-14

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Suffering and persecution are prominent in the assigned readings.  The passage from Matthew 24, set during Holy Week, precedes the crucifixion of Jesus.  Sometimes suffering is a result of obeying God, yet, as we read in Psalm 46:7 (The New Revised Standard Version, 1989),

The LORD of hosts is with us;

the God of Jacob is our refuge.

One might also think of lyrics Doris Plenn wrote in response to McCarthyism:

When tyrants tremble, sick with fear,

And hear their death-knell ringing,

When friends rejoice both far and near,

How can I keep from singing?

In prison cell and dungeon vile,

Our thoughts to them are winging;

When friends by shame are undefiled,

How can I keep from singing?

After all, God transformed a Roman cross, a symbol of humiliation and a means of execution, into the ultimate symbol of grace and victory over death and sin.

Here ends the lesson.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 2, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BLANDINA AND HER COMPANIONS, THE MARTYRS OF LYONS, 177

THE FEAST OF ANDERS CHRISTENSEN ARREBO, “THE FATHER OF DANISH POETRY”

THE FEAST OF MARGARET ELIZABETH SANGSTER, HYMN WRITER, NOVELIST, AND DEVOTIONAL WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT STEPHEN OF SWEDEN, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY, BISHOP, AND MARTYR

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2018/06/02/suffering-part-iii/

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Devotion for the Feast of the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, Years A, B, C, and D (Humes)   2 comments

Above:  Embrace of Elizabeth and the Virgin Mary

Image in the Public Domain

Humility and Arrogance

MAY 31, 2019

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The Collect:

Almighty God, in choosing the virgin Mary to be the mother of your Son,

you made known your gracious regard for the poor and the lowly and the despised.

Grant us grace to receive your Word in humility, and so made one with your Son,

Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you

and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 33

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The Assigned Readings:

1 Samuel 2:1-10

Psalm 113

Romans 12:9-16b

Luke 1:39-57

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Depending on the date of Easter, and therefore of Pentecost, the Feast of the Visitation can fall in either the season of Easter or the Season after Pentecost.

The history of the Feast of the Visitation has been a varied one.  The feast, absent in Eastern Orthodoxy, began in 1263, when St. Bonaventure introduced it to the Order of Friars Minor (the Franciscans), which he led.  Originally the date was July 2, after the octave of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (June 24).  Pope Urban VI approved the feast in 1389, the Council of Basel authorized it in 1441, propers debuted in the Sarum breviary of 1494, and Pope Pius V added the feast to the general calendar in 1561.  In 1969, during the pontificate of Paul VI, Holy Mother Church moved the Feast of the Visitation to May 31, in lieu of the Feast of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which Pope Pius XII had instituted in 1954.  The Episcopal Church added the Feast of the Visitation to its calendar in The Book of Common Prayer (1979).  The feast had long been July 2 in The Church of England and much of Lutheranism prior to 1969.  Subsequent liturgical revision led to the transfer of the feast to May 31 in those traditions.

The corresponding Eastern Orthodox feast on July 2 commemorates the placing of the Holy Robe of the Mother of God in the church at Blachernae, a suburb of Constantinople.

The theme of humility is prominent in the assigned readings and in the Lutheran collect I have quoted.  A definition of that word might therefore prove helpful.  The unabridged Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary of the English Language (1951), a tome, defines humility as

Freedom from pride and arrogance; humbleness of mind; a modest estimate of one’s own worth; also, self-abasement, penitence for sin.

Humility refers to lowliness and, in the Latin root, of being close to the ground.  God raising up the lowly is a Lukan theme, as is God overthrowing the arrogant.  After all, the woes (Luke 6:24-26) follow the Beatitudes (6:20-25), where Jesus says,

Blessed are you who are poor,

not

Blessed are you who are poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3).

The first will be last and the last will be first, after all.

Wherever you are, O reader, you probably live in a society that celebrates the boastful, the arrogant.  The assigned readings for this day contradict that exultation of the proud, however.  They are consistent with the ethic of Jeremiah 9:22-23:

Yahweh says this,

“Let the sage not boast of wisdom,

nor the valiant of valour,

nor the wealthy of riches!

But let anyone who wants to boast, boast of this:

of understanding and knowing me.

For I am Yahweh, who acts with faithful love,

justice, and uprightness on earth;

yes, these are what please me,”

Yahweh declares.

The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

St. Paul the Apostle channeled that ethic in 1 Corinthians 1:31 and 2 Corinthians 10:17, among other passages.

That which he understood well and internalized, not without some struggle, remains relevant and timeless.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 1, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JUSTIN MARTYR, CHRISTIAN APOLOGIST AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAMPHILUS OF CAESAREA, BIBLE SCHOLAR AND TRANSLATOR; AND HIS COMPANIONS, MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL STENNETT, ENGLISH SEVENTH-DAY BAPTIST MINISTER AND HYMN-WRITER; AND JOHN HOWARD, ENGLISH HUMANITARIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT SIMEON OF SYRACUSE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2018/06/01/humility-and-arrogance-part-ii/

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2018/07/12/devotion-for-the-feast-of-the-visitation-of-mary-to-elizabeth-years-a-b-c-and-d-humes/

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Devotion for the Feast of the Ascension, Years A, B, C, and D (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Ascension.  Olivet With Clouds, Between 1934 and 1939

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-12383

Empowered by God

MAY 30, 2019

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The Collect:

Almighty God, your only Son was taken up into heaven and in power intercedes for us.

May we also come into your presence and live forever in your glory;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 22

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The Assigned Readings:

Acts 1:1-11

Psalm 47

Ephesians 1:15-23

Luke 24:44-53

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The Feast of the Ascension celebrates the enthronement of Jesus as the King of Heaven.  Ascension is an ancient commemoration, one nearly universal in the Church by the 300s.  On some calendars it falls on a Thursday, on the fortieth day of Easter, to be precise.  On other calendars it transfers to the following Sunday.  On still other calendars Ascension is absent, thrown out with the proverbial bath water of Roman Catholic tradition.

For many the rejection of tradition has become a tradition.

The departure of Jesus from this realm placed a great responsibility on the surviving Apostles, whose number did not yet include St. Matthias.  They were to have divine assistance, however.  So they did.  The Apostles’ responsibility to be witnesses of Jesus has passed to we Christians of today.  Fortunately, God’s assistance in fulfilling this mission has never ceased.

People have different abilities and personality types.  I, for example, am an introvert.  People who knock on my door with the intention of converting me always fail.  One reason is that I dislike that interruption when I am at home.  Annoying me is a bad first step.  Besides, I have always been uncomfortable while engaging in excessively extroverted activities for too long.  I will not, therefore, knock on anyone’s door with the intention of evangelizing him or her, but I feel at ease sitting at a computer keyboard.  What I do there can reach people I will never get to meet anyway.  There are many useful roles for introverts in the Church.

Whatever God is calling you, O reader, to do, God also empower you to do.  May you do it, for the glory of God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 1, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JUSTIN MARTYR, CHRISTIAN APOLOGIST AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAMPHILUS OF CAESAREA, BIBLE SCHOLAR AND TRANSLATOR; AND HIS COMPANIONS, MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL STENNETT, ENGLISH SEVENTH-DAY BAPTIST MINISTER AND HYMN-WRITER; AND JOHN HOWARD, ENGLISH HUMANITARIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT SIMEON OF SYRACUSE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2018/06/01/empowered-by-god-part-vi/

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Devotion for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year A (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Parable of the Great Banquet, by Jan Luyken

Image in the Public Domain

A Faithful Response, Part IX

MAY 26, 2019

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The Collect:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Acts 5:1-11

Psalm 66

1 Peter 4:1-11

Matthew 22:1-14

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The king’s action–burning the city in which the murderers lived–seems excessive in Matthew 22:7.  Yet, if one interprets that passage and the parable from which it comes in the context of the destruction of Jerusalem (70 C.E.), it remains problematic, but at least it makes some sense.  Might one understand the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. as divine judgment?  One might, especially if one, as a marginalized Jewish Christian in the 80s C.E., were trying to make sense of recent events.  A note in The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003) links this passage to Matthew 24:27-31  and divine judgment on the Roman Empire.

Scholar Jonathan T. Pennington, rejecting the consensus that “Kingdom of Heaven,” in the Gospel of Matthew, is a reverential circumlocution, contends that the Kingdom of Heaven is actually God’s apocalyptic rule on Earth.  The kingdoms of the Earth are in tension with God and will remain so until God terminates the tension by taking over.  That understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven fits well with the motif of divine judgment in the Gospel of Matthew.

We also read of divine judgment in Acts 5:1-11, which flows from the end of Acts 4.  The sins of Ananias and Sapphira against the Holy Spirit were greed and duplicity.  As I read the assigned lessons I made the connection between Acts 5:1-11 and Psalm 66:18 (The New Revised Standard Version, 1989):

If if had cherished iniquity in my heart,

the LORD would not have listened.

The brief reading from 1 Peter 4 is packed with themes and some theologically difficult verses, but the thread that fits here naturally is the call (in verse 8) to love one another intensely while living in and for God.  That fits with Acts 5:1-11 (as a counterpoint to Ananias and Sapphira) well.  That thought also meshes nicely with Psalm 66 and juxtaposes with the judged in Matthew 22:1-14.  At the wedding banquet a guest was supposed to honor the king by (1) attending and (2) dressing appropriately.  Infidelity to God brings about divine judgment, just as faithfulness to God (frequently manifested in how we treat others) pleases God.

That is a concrete and difficult standard.  It is one we can meet more often than not, though, if we rely on divine grace to do so.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 1, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JUSTIN MARTYR, CHRISTIAN APOLOGIST AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAMPHILUS OF CAESAREA, BIBLE SCHOLAR AND TRANSLATOR; AND HIS COMPANIONS, MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL STENNETT, ENGLISH SEVENTH-DAY BAPTIST MINISTER AND HYMN-WRITER; AND JOHN HOWARD, ENGLISH HUMANITARIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT SIMEON OF SYRACUSE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2018/06/01/a-faithful-response-part-x/

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