A Modern Translation

The Church, I’ve been hearing, has to change, if she is going to have any leverage with men and women of our time. What that means, of course, is that they would like a sexual permission slip. It’s the only thing they care about. What’s it to them, after all, if the Church does not change her teachings, even if she could? They don’t obey them anyway.

But perhaps they are setting their revisionary sights too low. Why change the Bride of Christ, when you might as well go for Christ Himself? Why trick out the bride in lingerie from Astarte’s Secret, you can put new words on the lips of the bridegroom, or give him a new interest?

The Lord says that He comes not to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them. He is the true and only agent of moral evolution. He reveals the truth that had lain hidden in the shadows, or encrusted with local or tribal customs.  He is the refining fire, making ore into gold. So His teachings stretch our dust to infinity.

The law gives us permission, because of the hardness of our hearts, to pray curses upon our enemies. Jesus says, “Do good to those who persecute you, because then you will be like your heavenly Father, who sends down His rain upon the just and the unjust.”

The law gives us permission, because of the hardness of our hearts, to admire ourselves for our almsgiving, like the blandest of pagans. Jesus says, “Let not your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”

The law gives us permission, because of the hardness of our hearts, to put away our women for cause: nagging, burning the soup, and so on. Jesus says, “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”

That is development, an unfolding, a bringing to consummation. It is like the difference between the soft pith of a sapling and the solid trunk of an oak. It is like the difference between the stuttering language of a child and the eloquence of Cicero. More: it is like the dim and fitful visions of good that we have in this life, clearing into the full serene vision of paradise.

Now then, we don’t want this development. We want to cover it over again. We don’t want to be racked from nothingness to the infinite. We want to huddle in the shell. We don’t want the house of the Father, wherein there are many mansions. We want the world’s hut, with mildewed pinups on the wall. We don’t want the Word. We want the stutter.

So we need a Jesus who will fit; a god we can put in the cave to stay. I translate His words accordingly:

“You have heard me say, let your yes be yes and your no be no. What’s the use? Consider the clods of the earth, how they crumble. Are not your words worth less than they? Be content with maybe. Say what you will, to make your days comfortable, because they are few, and they will pass.”

“You have heard me say, he who will not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. What’s the use? I accomplished nothing on the cross. I have no baptism of fire for refining the earth. Don’t bother. Be not too eager to cause other people to suffer, but at the same time be not too eager to expose yourself to suffering.”

"Buddy Christ" from Kevin Smith's 1999 film "Dogma"
“Buddy Christ” from Kevin Smith’s 1999 film “Dogma”

“Blessed are the modestly well off, for theirs are the good schools and the suburbs.”

“Blessed are they who chuckle, for they need not give a damn.”

“Blessed are they who believe in themselves, for they shall cover the earth.”

“Blessed are they who scoff at righteousness, for they shall be less than hypocrites.”

“Blessed are the indifferent, for they shall be left alone.”

“Blessed are the sly of heart, for they shall see porn.”

“Blessed are the compromisers, for they shall win elections.”

“Blessed are they who persecute the righteous, for they shall be called the children of God.”

“Blessed are they who use my name to do as they please, to win the applause of men, while putting down the ignorant and faithful, for theirs are the good schools and the suburbs.”

“You are the salt of the earth. The salt never loses its savor, so don’t worry about it.”

“You are the light of the world. If you put your light under a bushel basket, what difference will it make? Don’t worry about it.”

“You have heard me say, what God has joined together, and all that. I take it back. Divorce at will, but do try to be nice about it, and help your children to buck up.”

“You have heard me say that it’s not what goes into a man that makes him unclean, but what comes out of his heart, things like fornication, adultery, deceit, covetousness, murder, and so forth. Let’s not be so hasty. A man may fornicate, but that does not mean he is not a nice person. A man may betray his wife, steal his partner’s business, stab his neighbor to death, expose his neighbor’s child to lewdness, and lie under oath, but that does not mean he is not a nice person.”

“Be nice, even as your imaginary deity is nice.”

“When you pray, be not as the hypocrites, who go to Mass to celebrate as I have commanded them. I take back the command. Here’s how you are to pray:

Our friend in the sky, give us what we want, and stow what we don’t. Amen.

For the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who gave a feast for his son, and corralled everyone to join him whether they liked it or not. Now quit bothering me, and get lost.”

Anthony Esolen is a lecturer, translator, and writer. Among his books are Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture, and Nostalgia: Going Home in a Homeless World, and most recently The Hundredfold: Songs for the Lord. He is Distinguished Professor at Thales College. Be sure to visit his new website, Word and Song.