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Colossians 2:16-17



"So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ."

So wrote the forbidding fellow now known as St. Paul.

I only recently discovered that there is some ecclesiological dispute as to what this passage in the letter to the Colossians means. I was surprised by that, though, because the meaning seems to me pretty clear.

That is a text written almost in anticipation of William James and his now-famous stress on the personal and experiential significance of religion over the trappings, the ritual, the rules.

James put it this way: Churches, when once established, live at second-hand upon tradition; but the founders of every church owed their power originally to the fact of their direct personal communion with the divine. Not only the superhuman founders, the Christ, the Buddha, Mahomet, but all the originators of Christian sects have been in this case; -- so personal religion should still seem the primordial thing, even to those who continue to esteem it incomplete.

Comments

  1. Christopher, I am surprised at how the quotation from James makes him sound unequivocally like a believer. Would it be fair to take James' phrase "communion with the divine" as meant from the point of view of the founders of every church, and his phrase "superhuman founders" as meant from the point of view of adherents to the respective religions?

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  2. Yes, I think that's a fair reading. He is writing as a psychologist in this passage, not a metaphysician.

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