Exceptions to Matthew 18?

On Matt. 18:15ff. See also first post on the “natural law” aspect.

Our Lord’s words are not such that we are allowed to trump them on the basis of alien principles. Yet we also sense that there are cases where other factors modify the application. It is not our place to define exceptions to the law of God, but reasoning from the law of God sometimes leads to application that on the surface looks like an exception.

As to the text itself, the phrase “against you” (eis se) in the received text of Mt. 18:15 would seem to limit the scope of the command to personal offenses. The phrase is not attested in the aleph (Sinaiticus) or B (Vaticanus), but is in the majority text, and it was evidently in the text used by Jerome. Aleph and B traditionally have carried a great deal of weight for those accepting the Westcott-Hort method, and so some doubt must be raised for those. My own view is that we should accept the phrase, but that it does not bear such semantic weight as to restrict the principle to personal offenses only. It applies to personal offenses; it does not follow that it only applies to such. As we argued in the previous essay, the implied scope of the instructions goes far beyond “church discipline,” and likewise, the genius of the instruction may go beyond the “against you” qualification. Our Lord often uses the part for the whole in His teaching. In any case, the phrase does not weigh in on the public vs. private distinction, since a personal offense could be public or private. Just as ethical reasoning may reveal qualifications in the public vs. private, it may also do so in respect to the personal vs. non-personal — the very distinction that someone might think was settled by the phrase eis se. This is the nature of laws that are stated simply; it is not a quibble. So the safest approach to take, I submit, is to start from the premise that Mt. 18 applies to all detected offenses, and then reason out from that how circumstances qualify.

So the question to ponder is, what circumstances modify the need to follow the three-stage approach of Mt. 18, i.e. when is one allowed to jump straight to level two (or even three)? Even putting it that way — which is very natural and common — betrays that the attitude is often, “when can I draw blood, wreak vengeance, get rid of this guy — without the disgusting need to talk and listen, and perhaps change my own view?” And this is indeed a wicked attitude that everyone should repent of when detected. Nevertheless, if that attitude has been dealt with, there still remain a few areas where the first stage should be bypassed. The rubrics that follow are launching points for reflections, not necessarily strict classes.

1. Where the breach cannot be healed in any case

The first category to consider would be offenses where repentance and restitution would still not be enough to remove the need for judicial action. We deduce this category as the simple negation of the purpose of stage 1. What I am thinking about is not the “unforgiveable sin,” but rather sins where a breach has been caused that as such changes the status quo ante. For example, where oaths were involved. The breaking of the oath could change the situation in a way that might not be reparable by repentance, such as

• a church officer that indicates disbelief of a point of the church’s Confession
• a church officer whose “flagitious” behavior would damage the reputation of the ministry if allowed to remain licensed (i.e. even after repentance)
• adultery
• cheating a business partner

Nevertheless, though process might have to continue regardless of the outcome of stage 1, it is hard to see that this obviates the wholesome benefit (to all involved) of doing stage 1. This would not necessarily involve the original party, if (for example) physical danger were involved. In such cases, the accuser would have the right to argue for the equity of bypassing stage 1.

A distinction must be made due to office. A pastor convicted in the criminal courts of, say, drunken driving — or known to be a drunkard even privately — could be de-frocked, but not excommunicated, without a Mt. 18 process, simply because the facts speak for themselves in proving unfit for office. These offenses are in the category the PCA book refers to as flagitious. However, it should also apply to a man discovered to be a heretic in violation of his ordination vows, even if now repentant. He has shown his oath to be worthless in the past, and repentance does not change that fact about him, as far as we can tell. Excommunication, however, could only follow if, after following the steps of Mt. 18, the man proved unrepentant.

2. Unavailability of the offender.

A spouse abandons the marriage and disappears, and there is sufficient evidence that this is not due to foul play, but rather intent.

Cases where the perp is simply unresponsive do not count as an example of this category. In these, the “first step” actually has been taken, it is simply trivially unproductive.

3. Where the ends are fulfilled more perfectly by skipping the first level.

There are cases where all the ends safe-guarded by Mt. 18 are best achieved by a quick public confrontation. An example that I witnessed should make this crystal clear. A presbyter (call him A) gained the floor in a Presbytery meeting and began deriding another Presbyter (call him B) in the most scurrilous way imaginable. After a few seconds of this, a third Presbyter (call him C) rose to rebuke A for such public calumny and demand that he stop. Instantly, A saw the error of what he was doing and apologized in a most contrite way. The air was cleared, the offense removed.

Now imagine if instead C had waited until he could “confront A privately,” asking him to repent and apologize. Then more damage would have ensued from the actual speech, and the air would have been poisoned for further business. Clearly, this is a case where C was fully justified in making a public rebuke “without following the steps of Mt. 18.”

But is this a simple ratification of the public/private distinction? I think not. Brother A was very glad to have been stopped by C’s immediate intervention — he would never have complained that his rights of Mt. 18 had been violated. Even if he had been recalcitrant, we can say that “the ideal A,” A if he were in his senses, would agree that the intervention was called for and gave him more, not less respect along the lines vouchsafed by Mt. 18.

This situation was technically “non-personal,” since C was not being slandered, B was. But this is not a relevant distinction here. All the same principles would be operative if B had been the one to rise and protest.

The merits of the case are such that it would indeed have been wrong for the brothers to defer intervention on the grounds of a rigid interpretation of Mt. 18 — contrary to the well-intended but here erroneous advice given in the OPC Book of Discipline, III.5:

Even in the case of public offenses, it is not wrong to seek reconciliation in terms of Mt. 18:15-17 or Mt. 5:21-26 or Gal 6:1.

It would have been wrong for the brothers to have held their peace during the public calumny in order to “to seek reconciliation with A in private.” But even so, their error would be compounded further if, having remained passive during the commission of the offense, they then skipped the first step after all, and proceeded directly to “bringing charges” against A on the grounds of its public nature. Then, absolutely none of the aims of church discipline would have been achieved — neither the restoration of the brother, nor the honor of Christ’s name, nor the peace and purity of the church.

From this one example, we can see that there are many layers in the application of the law of God. A cookbook approach will never do!

4. Things “Seen in Public” ?

We can also easily imagine cases that are “public” where it not only would “not be wrong to seek reconciliation” at level one, but positively wrong not to do so. Imagine what we would think of a brother given a ride to Presbytery, who said not a word “because it was a public offense,” and forthright proceeded to bring charges against the brother that gave him a ride, for speeding. Yes, the offense was “public” in that many people saw it, or could have. This would betray a pugilistic spirit far, far from the intent of our Lord’s teaching.

So the issue is clearly not public vs private, at least in a simple, neat way.

5. Cases of Public Harm

Consider where real harm is being done to a body politic. Say, giving national secrets to an enemy nation. Suppose you witness a coworker doing just that, and he is a Christian in your Presbytery. Should you follow Mt. 18, or bring a charge against him directly?

The question of reporting to the authorities is intertwined. Here, there is urgency both to stop the leaking, but also to bring the perpetrator to justice as it is a crime such that restitution cannot be given. The harm is done and must be punished. Moreover, it is probably necessary for the very possibility of bringing about justice to use secrecy, lest suspicion of detection lead to his going underground. Probably, then, the authorities would need to be notified without prior confrontation. Yet even here, the “Matt. 18 approach” could begin after the arrest is made, through prison visitation, in hopes of rescuing the brother’s soul. After the arrest is made, there is no further advantage to proceeding directly to a church trial, unless circumstances prevented obedience to the first stages — for example, if the authorities did not permit visitation, and if time is of the essence for re-establishing the peace and purity of the church. Think, for example, if the perp were actually a minister.

Perhaps there is something unique about the civil domain that would not apply directly to the church sphere. What would an analogous case look like?

We need to find analogues to the elements that made the example in the civil realm jump out. It needs to be something where “the damage is done and cannot be remedied by private action.” The only examples I can think of here are actions that should be against the civil law, but are not: say, running a porno site. But here again, what is the advantage to anyone of jumping to ecclesiastical process without Mt. 18? Defrocking is granted. But beyond that, is the question. What if the perp immediately took the site down and agreed to submit to counseling? The youth are no longer being corrupted, his soul is being dealt with, so what is left? Perhaps the church needs to make the statement, “not this, not here.” Maybe some kind of process is deemed necessary to make this public statement. It still could take place in parallel with Mt. 18. Perhaps we have found an instance to make sense of the OPC rule that process can take place even though “it is not wrong to seek reconciliation in terms of Mt. 18:15-17” — while adding that it is wrong not to seek to do so.

6. Where “Time is of the Essence” ?

One notion that can hardly be applied is that “time is of the essence.” For, Mt. 18 need not take a long time. Upon discovery that A is doing the porno site, B calls him up and rebukes him (after asking if it is true, presenting the evidence if necessary and so forth). A shuns the rebuke. An hour later, B shows up with C and D at A’s door and they rebuke him a second time. A turns a deaf ear. The next day, Session convenes a pro re nata meeting and charges are perfected.

Of course, if the situation drags on for a year without either Mt. 18 or any other action, then one can hardly claim either time being of the essence, nor the public nature. Consistency is one indicator of a good heart.


From these several examples, we can develop some heuristics for when the Mt. 18 procedure can be bypassed.

• when the act is in flagrante and further damage can be stopped
• when following Mt. 18 is impossible by time or space
• when the brother himself, if in his right mind, would agree that the immediate public intervention was the best solution. In other words, the Golden Rule applies here as well.
• cases of defrocking

In all cases, the accuser should be able to give a reason why the state of affairs is better with the public remedy than the private one: he has the burden of proof. No cliché category like “public” will suffice. If it is simply laziness or cowardice, that will hardly do. Negatively, if a great deal of time has elapsed during which the accuser was aware of the “crime,” then he has some explaining to do as to why no effort was made during that elapsed time. Why is it suddenly, a year later let us say, so urgent that he has to cut to the chase?

Note how such reasoning is quite different than how a bureaucrat with his codebook “reasons.”

This is the nature of ethical reasoning.

Matthew 18 as Natural Law

Matt. 18:15-17

Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

This episode is so well-known in our circles that it often referred to synecdochally simply as “applying Matthew 18” without further specification. Nevertheless, there are some aspects of the text that expositors brush over too quickly, applying Christian hermeneutical reflexes that too quickly move to a conclusion, even when the conclusion is valid. That is, some richness is lost when the movement is too quick.

At stage 2, one takes “one or two others” in obedience to the law which is cited (Deut. 19:15), namely “that at the mouth of two or three witnesses every word/matter is established.” From this, we see the genius of brevity in our Lord’s words as recorded by the apostles. There is much that follows from what is said, and which he therefore does not need to spell out. Part of the wisdom of the Law is in pondering it, in drawing out its conclusions for ourselves.

By mentioning the need for witnesses, and doing so in the very act of citing an OT law, it is clear that the “third stage” is one of formal juridical process; it is not some license to spread an evil report “now that I have checked off steps one and two.” Furthermore (and in consequence), just having two witnesses does not clinch the case against the offender if it goes to stage 3. The witnesses are witnesses to the confrontation itself, not necessarily to the sinful deed being rebuked. The witnesses described in this passage establish the single point that an attempt was made to resolve the matter privately.  It may be that they can witness only to the facts surrounding the confrontation — what the subject was, what sin was isolated, what the accused’s response was. The alleged offense itself, if disputed, would still have to be proved as a separate matter (itself requiring “two or three witnesses”).

What is interesting is that the function of the witnesses in Mt. 18 shows that the “charge” is not the first point of interest, but rather that a method of restoration was followed. That is, the concern of the Word of God is not in the first place that offenses should be dealt with juridically, along with a means to do so veridically; rather, the concern in the first place is that a way of life is pursued in which correction of faults can take place without any judicial intervention at all. The sphere in which this is done should be as small as possible. How different this is from the “outing” phenomenon we see in our modern society, where great delight is taken at “exposing” someone’s deep dark sin, perhaps to the loss of his job or ruined reputation. How different it is also from the “informant” modus operandi invented by the totalitarian state of the twentieth century, and now practiced routinely by “the democracies.” Perhaps a fault could even be found along these lines with how the Inquisition was sometimes carried out — though much more could be said in favor of the Inquisition that for our Nanny tattle-tale state.

Hence we see that the law of God has an organic and (if I may say so reverently) very human character. It is not simply a set of abstract principles plus a court which, if everything is functioning correctly, will set straight every violation. Many would-be offenses will turn out to be based on a misunderstanding or ignorance that can be remedied before seeing the light of day. Many will be corrected privately. Many will be covered by love, others will never come to public light because the injured party refuses to do his duty of confrontation. In a sense the victim’s own vice of pride or ungodly fear opens up a sphere of non-culpability for the perp as far as public justice. This does not let the offender off the hook ultimately, but in a sense it does as to the social fabric, for the victim has duties also.

Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him. Lev. 19:17.

Our translation speaks at stage three of “telling it to the church.” As already mentioned, this does not give license to wag the tongue during the coffee hour, but refers to a disciplined juridical process. However, we should also note that the word translated church (ekklesia) is translated ‘church’ only proleptically, and in our Lord’s mouth would have had a more general sense. The “church” as we know it from our ecclesiology did not exist in that form during His earthly life. Probably, ecclesia is the Greek word chosen by Matthew to translate the Hebrew kahal or its Aramaic cognate, meaning “the summoned, the called out” or the synagogue. This is further ratified in that the punch line — treat the unrepentant offender as if he were a goy (ethnikos) or tax-collector — both center the discourse in a jewish context, not the Christian church. In the older administration, no sharp distinction was made between “brother” in the metaphorical, spiritual sense, and “brother” as fellow tribesman. The two concepts, more sharply distinguished in the new administration, overlay one another in the old. Doubtless our Lord intended the principle described in “Matthew 18” to apply in a specific sense to the constitution of the ekklesia qua church to be established in the future — hence the “binding” in verse 18 —, but the setting and terminology used to describe the principle is cut wholly from old administrative (Hebrew) cloth. Note that “brother” in the sense of kinsman according to the flesh does not completely disappear in the new administration either.

What I want to suggest is that these considerations point to the idea that the principles of human interaction known as “Matthew 18” are not merely a “checklist” for “properly following church discipline,” but are an exposition for living humanly in society in general. In other words, there is a “natural law” aspect to Matthew 18, or perhaps better said: an agrarian aspect. It applies to the Rotary Club, your apartment building, and the office just as much as within the church.

The clincher for this is the impossibility of the contrary. For, once appraised of the Matthew 18 principle, who could possibly gainsay it? Who could possibly say, “no, it is better for the just ordering of the club/society to sneak behind people’s back and report them to the officers/authorities directly”?

I have tried, albeit very imperfectly, to apply this at the workplace and living place. I am thinking of an incident at the workplace where I privately admonished an older man for some unacceptable behavior. At first, he was outraged that I would dare confront him — for we live in a feminized culture of public smiley-faces and deeply-concealed resentments. Then, when I simply reminded him that I could have gone directly to the bosses, but wanted to work it out privately instead, his demeanor changed instantly to gratitude.

And what sane person could but?

The principle taught by our Lord would apply even if there were no such thing as “church discipline,” and thus its full scope and inner beauty should be mastered prior to the specific application to church discipline.

Any society — whether an apartment complex, a workplace, a town, a club — would take on a wholly different character if the Matt. 18 principle were introduced. There would be more confrontation and consequently more love (Lev. 19:17); and consequently, less need for imposition of authority. There would be a dynamism, a social fabric.

It is almost as if obeying the Lord’s instructions would lead to greater richness of human life. What a thought!

There are some circumstances where the three-stage method must be modified, and looking at these will be the subject of a followup post.

Coffin on Confessionalism

This is an essay in The Practical Calvinist (festschrift to Clair Davis, detailed info at end). It was written in connection with a discussion in the PCA, in which body Dr. Coffin is a pastor. At issue is how strictly subscription is to be interpreted. Coffin sets out to defend a (relatively) strict view of subscription as a logical deduction from the raison d’être of having a confession:

The heart of what I hope to show is this: that the justification for having a confession ought logically to determine the manner of subsription to that confession. (p. 331)

Rather than first summarizing Coffin’s arguments, then returning to a critique, for the sake of brevity I will jump right in to my criticism under three headings. Explaining the criticism will entail a summary of his positive exposition, and so we can kill two birds with one stone.

1. Which comes first, unity or confession?

Coffin argues that a confession is the basis for unity; I affirm in contrast that unity must precede confession.

Coffin cites American Presbyterian authorities from the nineteenth century to make his case. However, these citations are not as clear-cut as he makes out. The quote from the 1824 GA lists some attributes of its Confession, but does not exactly state that this is the very basis of its constitution (with a small ‘c’) as such. The same is true of the Assembly’s 1805 statement (pp. 334f.) and that of A. A. Hodge quoted on page 334. Samuel Miller’s reference to “the importance of Creeds and Confessions for maintaining the unity and purity of the visible Church” (citation on p. 330, emphasis added by Coffin), is equally supportive of my counter-thesis if the emphasis is instead put on the word maintaining. Alone Miller’s quote on p. 333 comes close to Coffin’s agenda in the phrase “for the purpose of ascertaining how far those who wish to unite in church fellowship are really agreed” (p. 333).

Now if confession is taken in a very broad sense, we can indeed say that confession precedes being incorporated into the church. This happens to each individual at baptism; and undoubtedly baptism was always premised upon a certain confession of the neophyte. Even the founding members and officers of the church — the original twelve apostles — can be said to have been established in that position by confession. I am thinking specifically of Peter’s confession in Matt. 16:16-19. Peter’s spontaneous confession is taken by our Lord as the very thing that constituted him/them as the constitutive foundation of the church, building on Himself as the chief cornerstone.

However, the situation is subtly yet crucially different when defining dogma in the form of a Creed or Confession. Historically, leaving the American situation out of the picture for the moment, creeds and confessions were instruments of an already-established church giving definition of their credo in response to a crisis. This can be seen in the ecumenical creeds, and in the formation of the Augsburg Confession during the Reformation. The Swiss and Dutch churches wrested their independence from Rome in which they continued as a national church prior to articulating their new basis by adoption of symbols. The same is clearly seen in the adoption of the WCF by the Church of Scotland.

It is interesting that the Westminster Assembly was called into existence with an objective similar to Dr. Coffin’s thesis, namely, to serve as the basis of a constitution of the church “new” by virtue of uniting the three branches — English, Irish, and Scottish. This could be seen, perhaps, as the sole historical example that partially would ratify Coffin’s thesis — and it failed. The sought-for unification that was the whole goal of the Assembly failed to materialize.

Only in the American experience can we see some plausibility to Coffin’s model. Even here, however, this process only began some hundred years after the original colonies — which were compact and more in line with the previous experience of Christendom — had been diluted and dispersed by multi-confessional immigration and mingling.

The uniqueness of the post-colonial American situation can be summarized as that which occurs when there is non-cohesive immigration in the absence of a national ecclesiastical settlement. So the discussion in this context needs to be enlarged to ask whether the American situation is to serve as a “scarecrow to the nations” (as Dabney said in another context), or whether it is the stuff of a chapter on ecclesiology where the “exception proves the rule.” But in either case, our understanding of the holy catholic church will be truncated and distorted if we take the idiosyncracies of America as a foundational starting point.

2. The legitimate ways that an officer may depart from strict subscription

Perhaps my rubric is not worded in the best way, for the elbow-room Coffin carves out is intended, I think, more to define than weaken what is entailed by the adjective “strict.” But the devil is in the details, and a couple points need to be made.

Three classes of possibly-acceptable deviation are outlined, and what I want to note first is that Coffin only mentions the need for presbytery examination of the first two. First is the word/proposition distinction. In this case, “he must declare his judgement to the presbytery, so that the body receiving his pledge can confirm or disconfirm his judgement” (p 343). Second is the essential vs possible way to interpret the words. “The court must judge whether that professed sense is in essential agreement with the Standards, or in fact an exception of substance” (p. 344). The third is the original sense vs. current understanding. Notably, Coffin does not repeat his stricture of Presbyterial examination in this case. Perhaps this was just a slip. But it cannot be assumed in such a systematic and thorough thinker as Coffin that such a gap is unintentional. It is a serious issue that should be corrected.

In addition, the examples given in the third category are uneven in a way that could lead to the very subversion Coffin is trying to prevent. We have, on the one hand, whether “light of nature” should be taken qua the scholastic or vantillian understanding, whether “covenant” is “contract,” and whether “bodies” of the resurrection are understood in a “formal, or some other non-material, sense.” But interleaved with these kinds of issue are (i) whether “post-industrial necessities of modern society” qualify the Sabbath prohibitions, and (ii) the interpretion of “days” of Creation. This mingling is quite unfortunate, since the items in the latter category have been controversial and controverted in recent history in the PCA, and will probably continue to be for some time. This almost seems to give license to those taking the modern positions on these issues to skate through without even mentioning them. And this would be a serious mistake. Far better would be to require mention and examination of all departures from the historical sense, with the understanding that some items would be virtually rubber-stamped, while others might lead to more discussion.

3. Uniformity enforced by complaint and appeal only?

This point flies past rather briefly, but it can serve as the occasion to make another important point in connection to confessionalism. He says

Thus by the wholesome procedures of appeal and complaint, used with restraint and modesty, the Church defines and refines the boundaries of the language of her Confession through judgment in particular cases. (p. 348)

As such, this is true enough, but there is an important lacuna as stated. Namely, each wider judicatory should review the minutes of the judicatories in its jurisdiction, offering correction when needed; and this task should be taken very seriously as the ordinary means by which confessional uniformity is enforced. This is positive and regular; complaints and appeals are negative and desultory — and might not even occur when they ought, if the cognizant parties nod.

Coffin’s theory could easily incorporate this aspect, but I submit it is not merely a quibble to bring it up: it goes to the heart of a practical ecclesiology that mirrors the essential features of the holy catholic church.

We should extend this observation also to the matter of exceptions, by urging that all exceptions and quibbles to the standards allowed by Presbytery in the examination of a candidate should be clearly noted in the minutes for review by the wider church.
As an additional application of this principle, I would urge the church to consider this remedy. A book should be published and updated from time to time listing, under the name of every single pastor or teaching elder, all the exceptions allowed to him by his presbytery. Especially in an age when (oxymoronically) exceptions are the rule rather than the exception, it would be useful to the health of the church if we could discover what each man stands for, and not simply rest in the knowledge that at one time in the past some fellow-elders decided they were not fatal.

Coffin, David F., Jr. (2002) The Justification of Confessions and the Logic of Confessional Subscription. In Lillback, Peter A. (Ed.), The Practical Calvinist: An Introduction to the Presbyterian & Reformed Heritage, In Honor Dr. D. Clair Davis on the Occasion of his Seventieth Birthday etc. (pp. 329-355) Fearn, UK: Christian Focus Publications.

Brief Intermission: Tribute to Greg Bahnsen

A brief side-bar is needed in this autobiographical sketch of life-changing books. Spanning the interval 1983-1993, no single book stands out, but that was the period of my association with my dear friend and mentor Greg Bahnsen. Though I am avoiding mentioning names in this bookish auto-biography, his needs to be mentioned as the greatest single personal influence on my life in adulthood.

In view of that, it will perhaps be thought odd that I do not count any of his books as life-changing. Indeed, I found many of his books pedantic, even annoying. We had opposite tendencies at the aesthetic level. It is hard for me to imagine anyone becoming a Theonomist through reading Theonomy or its sequels. Then again, he may have felt the same way. Theonomy was actually a comparatively small part of his life, less in fact (by way of negation) than for many of his vitriolic opponents.

One of his teachings that drove deeply into my soul was the ramified implications of Matt. 18. Beyond the obvious three-fold “method” taught there for correcting offenses, Greg taught that even if you have a legitimate grievance, if the way you got to this point was via gossip, slander, tale-bearing, or prevarication, then you had to first go back and fix those errors before “continuing.” The putative grievance had to be left on the table until those errors were dealt with properly. Often, it turned out that the grievance all but vanished by the time those steps were taken — or at least, could be covered in love. What this taught me was that Matt. 18 is not some bureaucratic “manual of discipline,” but something much deeper: an insight into what it means to be human, and to be a human with integrity. The requirements of privacy and caution are not just little nuisances, but go to the heart of the matter. I have continued to develop this theme and hope to write on it anon.

Twice I turned against him. Both times, God gave me the heart to seek reconciliation, and Greg was gracious in a way that was itself life-changing. When I came to him the second time, I was moved to the core by his statement that the whole purpose of his ministry for the previous ten years may well have been, in God’s providence, just to set the stage for that moment. And afterwards, my offenses were never mentioned or remembered.

I will not try to summarize all the many ways he changed my life. That has come out before and will continue to do so. In summary, I will simply say he was a man of a great heart. Indeed, in the divine comedy, the literal heart ailment that killed him well before the age of 50 can be taken as a metaphor for his life. Like our Lord, he can be said to have died of a broken heart.

Ten or twelve life-changing books: #4

4. 1976 Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

Throughout the grinding of our souls in the gears of the great Nighttime Institution, when our souls are pulverized and our flesh hangs down in tatters like a beggar’s rags, we suffer too much and are too immersed in our own pain to rivet with penetrating and far-seeing gaze those pale night executioners who torture us. A surfeit of inner grief floods our eyes. Otherwise what historians of our torturers we would be! (Vol 1, chap 4).

I can remember how passages like this made my hair Continue reading