Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Mysteries of G-d ... (Part 2)

In a stirring conclusion to a letter which was published about 30 years ago [1], Rev. Richard Wurmbrand  of Torrance CA asserted the following:  "The Jewish people believed from the beginning the one God to be a Trinity. ... It is the Christian Church and not what is called Judaism now, which perpetrates the last religious truth.  Jesus is God."

The assertion is grounded on the revealed Word of God, of course, and certain interpretations of the four letter name of God (YHWH), which Rev. Wurmbrand claimed were "held and transmitted orally since time immemorial."  We cannot hold to "mystical" interpretations as being inspired or canonical, to be sure; but they are interesting, indeed useful, when and where they are stringently normed against the standard of God's Word, and are presented in that light.   Rev. Wurmbrand wrote, "When Jesus commanded to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, He appealed to an article of faith generally admitted in Israel.  So also the prophets before Him.  They did not have to explain themselves.  The teaching about the Trinity belonged to the primordial revelation, before the writing of the first book of the Bible."  Thus, St. Ambrose spoke rightly when he commented on Genesis 18, which details the mysterious appearance of three visitors to Abraham.  But the three were One, who spoke to the patriarch.  St. Ambrose observed:  "Abraham saw three.  He adored One."  Rev. Wurmbrand notes that Abraham "was not astonished to see the One as three."  Indeed.

1.  On Genesis 1

In its very beginning, Genesis reads in the old Hebrew tongue this way: "Be-Reshit bara Elohim et h-shamaim ve-et ha-aretz."   According to Wurmbrand, ancient Hebrews preferred letters as convenient "stand-ins" for numerals.  Thus "be[th]," the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, represents "2;" from time to time it can mean "through," as well as "in" ... which has Christian creedal implications.  The word Reshit , of singular tense, is a term referring to divine "Principle, or "Wisdom" according to some rabbinical commentaries.

Of no little interest to the Christian is its prefix "2."  In olden days, Psalms and entire books were known by the first few passages of their communication; we see this custom retained, in such liturgical devices as the "Gloria  Patri," the "Kyrie," and the "Gloria in Excelsis," as well as the Latin identifiers of the Psalms themselves (cf. The Lutheran Hymnal , p. 123-157).  Be-Reshit is the opening expression of the Bible.  And so it happens, fittingly, that the very Word (or Wisdom) sallies forth and introduces the entirety of God's Word.   Christ, the Incarnate Word, is indeed the first fruits of all that is good; the one thing needful, upon which Mary of Bethany fixed her rapt attention!  The Christian's Holy Bible could be named "Christ (of Two Natures)," as accurately as the 117the Psalm is known as Laudate Dominum.

In this regard, Wurmbrand rightly argued that Be-Reshit captured the "high mystery" enclosed in the name Jehovah, as did certain rabbinical commentators; and that a much preferred and literal English rendering of Gen 1:1 would be along the lines of  "Through the Divine Wisdom, which has two natures, the Godhead (of composite Persons) created the heavens and the earth."  Thus proclaimed, the verse not only elaborates the truth of the Trinity, through the use of the plural form of God (Elohim), but also testifies to the two Persons of our Lord (one hidden ... His Divinity; and the other, revealed ... revealed in the Garden, that the promised Messiah would come in the flesh, the Seed of a Woman as promised to Eve).  How glorious!

 2.  The Name of God
According to Rev. Wurmbrand, some "primordial" Jewish sources perceived the name of YHWH in this way:  "Y" is the Generating Principle, which gives birth to all; the "H" is "Word."  The latter is repeated at the end of the Name, to emphasize emphatically that the Word possesses two natures.  "W" denotes "waw," symbolizing the Hebrew conjunctive expression for  "and."  It is produced, or "proceeds" from the "Y" (Father) and the "H" (Son); or at least so some circles of ancient Hebrew maintained.   The "W" (in text, and in Being) acts functionally to bind together; it corresponds to the Holy Ghost, Whose divine attributes include concord and loving connection.

I can't resist the puckish observation that this YHWH interpretation seems to settle comfortably on the Western side of the great "Filioque" Controversy, but holding to the Latin Rite as I do, I'll admit to some entrenched biases.

3.  The Shema of Israel

In Deuteronomy 6:4, "One" was expressed in the Hebraic language as echad, and NOT iachid.  The difference is of monumental importance. The ancient Hebrews clearly recognized the difference between a single something of "composed" unity, and that of an "absolute" unity.  The atom of physical chemistry (and Democrites) is one, but more precisely an echad made up of elementary particles (protons, neutrons, electrons, etc.).  The Muslim of yesteryear and today sees his god as being an absolute unity, or iachid.  Not so the Christian, nor the patriarchal Jew of old.  In Genesis, two humans (male and female) were made to be one flesh ... an echad.  Likewise, the day of Gen 1:4 is a composed unity of  evening and morning ... one day, an echad.  As Rev. Wurmbrand noted,  God is One, but He too is linguistically designated in His Word as an echad ... thus putting a lie to all so-called world "religions," which preach for wisdom the delusional guesses and hapless approximations of mankind.

The great Shema ... according to Rev. Wurmbrand ... is best portrayed and accurately rendered this way:  "Listen Israel: YHWH Eloheinu are YHWH of composed Unity."  There are no accidents to be found in God's Word.   God's Name is repeated three times.  Echad is used in the ancient texts to evoke the One, and I'm afraid that Maimonides, a physician-scholar-theologian, did the Jewish people no eternal service by favoring the translational rendering of iachid, as a Muslim would.

An obvious and immediate implication is that Islam's Allah is not the revealed God of the Old Testament.  Politicians who think and claim that they are, do so for the base purpose of pandering for votes and achieving a false, earthly national unity (echad).  But they, and sadly some Christian voices, are wrong, in terms of basic doctrine and philological analysis, and need to heed the serious warning of Ps 2:10-12.    JESUS IS GOD.  To assert that God is an iachid, is to deny our Rock and our Redeemer, and to deny our Father as well.  The Father was Father of Jesus Christ, before time and we human beings were on the scene!

Another implication is that high-priest Caiaphas did not reject the concept of the Son of God ("H"), or the Angel of the Lord, who was acknowledged and worshiped as God repeatedly in the Old Testament.  Instead, his furor and his showy robe-ripping was prompted by a refusal to see the smitten and bound Jesus from Galilee, "a respecter of no man," as being the kind of Son of God he desired ... and imagined.  St. Isaiah, centuries before, knew better.

[1] R. Wurmbrand : The Kabbala, the Trinity, and the Two Natures of Christ; The Christian News, 16 May, 1983; p. 13      

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Lutheran Theotokos: The Way We Were

Perhaps a few comments are in order,  concerning the profound archeological discovery put on display above.

1.  Both the Holy Child and His blessed Virgin Mother grace the cover of this hardcover book (218 pages, including four 4-colored maps, pronunciation guide and a glossary).  It contains 50 Old Testament and 50 New Testament accounts.  One reasonable guess for the selection of the cover's illustration is that the book is purported to be "practical for extra-school purposes, such as Sunday school and home instructions, summer schools, Saturday schools, and the like," i.e., edifying for the education of youth.  "Extra-school?" you say; "Why, that sounds just like the mouthings of a primly parochial intra-school[marm] sister, one wearing a wimple and flailing her wrist with an ominously attached ruler!"  Indeed,  the text is truly meaty, like the cover portrait, and not infantilized or driven to entertaining.  The Virgin is not portrayed as some veiled cucumber, clutching  a diapered Oscar the Grouch to her breast; while the Bible Stories narratives are secured entirely from an authorized translation of Holy Writ.  And a pertinent and reinforcing Scriptural passage from elsewhere in the Bible, and a short phrase or two from a catechism, accompany the holy text so as to "convey points of the story."  

2.  Our Lady, cloaked in white and blue, views her audience fixedly but with great calm and solemn serenity.  Most noticeably, her forefinger is extended and gesticulates towards her Child, Lord and Savior ... and insistently directs our attention to Him, and not to herself.  The emphasis of the cover is pointedly Christological, not zoological.

3.  The cover motif means that, for the children to whom this book is purposed, the thoughts of Child and Mary, and the wonder of God-in-the-flesh, are not simply relegated to a crèche at Christmass (the spelling is fully intentional).

4.  If you guessed that the authorized version referred to above is the Vulgate or the Douay, you would be wrong.  If you guessed that the catechism referred to above flaunts a Vatican imprimatur, you would be wrong.  But this being 2014 A+D, and given the power of protestant inroads over the years, we understand your confusion.  You probably also guess that Professor Pieper was subject to too many Lewy body inclusions of frontal lobe neurons, when he declared in his Christian Dogmatics that Semper virgo is the default orthodox position, of the Church of the Augsburg Confession.  You would be dead wrong.

Surprise.  The publisher of the book is not Ignatius Press.  Here we have  the frontispiece of that book with the cover just discussed previously.  Unfortunately, no human editor or even a copyright is identified therein; although given the textual content of the book, the Author responsible for its bulk can be confidently identified as God.  I cannot hazard the date of publication, although this book has undergone four printings.  The text is the unvarnished Authorized Version.  The short catechetical reminders are lifted directly from the pages of Luther's Small Catechism.

In the copy in my possession, there is a penciled inscription on the inside front cover reading "Miss Tekla Loeber," which is the maiden name of my mother-in-law.  Mrs. Otte is a direct descendant of Rev. Fr. G. H. Loeber, one of the young pastors who came to Missouri with the Saxon immigration.  She is well over 95 years of age.   This suggests that the book is quite old, arising from a different time, and perhaps from a different spirit.

This startling archeological find will likely carbon-date to 2003 (p <0.001).  It has a hardcover format (which makes it very old, indeed) and consists of all of 64 pages.   It contains, we are assured by its St. Louis book-purveyor, thirty-five "well-known" Bible stories (18 Old Testament and 17 New Testament) by (sic)  Leena Lane.  The animals on the cover look warm, extroverted, docile and fuzzy, but appear unpaired to my trained physiologist's eye, at least to a first approximation, so the absence of an Ark is understandable.  Mary -- a spunky woman prefigured by yet another Ark (i.e., one containing life-giving manna; a budding-growth surging from a barren rod; and the Word breaking forth from rock, unhewn by man's hands) -- is not seen though; true too, of any manger.   But that comet in the sky sure looks like it could pass for David's Star, and maybe this is an artistic interpretation of Bethlehem by night, when Quirinius was governor of Syria.  With a few delightful additions, of course.  These are to meet the 21st century's insistence that the instillation of fear and love of God,  in the hearts of His Kingdom's children, requires froth and whimsy.  So that the kids might predictably chant (responsively), to their Bible and their Babar alike:  "Good night moon!  Pack it in pachyderm!"

This is Russian artist Vassily Polenov's remarkable rendition of home-town school life in Nazareth, entitled "Was Filled with Wisdom."  Here the little Lord Jesus, by Whom all things were made,  is studiously attending to His Father's business (and growing in knowledge about Himself, the Word) ... even if there are no warm, extroverted, docile and fuzzy animals on the cover.

It's Official: The Home-Land of Cranmer's "Book of Common Prayer" Is Pagan

The results of the third National Psychiatric Morbidity Study were recently published in the very august, peer-reviewed British Journal of Psychiatry; and they suggest that if Mr. Stanley were hunting for the tirelessly devout missionary Dr. David Livingstone today, he could do far worse than to begin his search at Trafalgar Square, rather than the vicinity of the Congo River.

The NPMS is noteworthy for being the first general population survey in England to include questions which probe an individual's religious and spiritual beliefs.  The survey's data (collected between October 2006 and December 2007) were weighed to account for potential selection and non-response biases, and are considered to be reliably representative of the English household population, age 16 years and older.  The following definitions were employed by the investigators, to establish categories of interest:  "By religion, we mean the actual practice of a faith, e.g., going to a temple, mosque, church or synagogue.  Some people do not follow a religion but do have spiritual beliefs or experiences.  Some people make sense of there lives without any religious or spiritual beliefs.  Would you say you have a religious or spiritual understanding of your life?"   If participants adhered to a specific religion, they were asked to name it.  If religious or spiritual, they were presented with two separate, self-assessment sliding scales to measure the intensity of claimed belief and the importance of its practice.  Those who identified themselves as "religious" were also asked to quantify the frequency of attendance at "services, prayer meetings, and places of worship."

As the authors of the report state, the data indicate that the expression of the Christian faith in the country of Wilberforce, Auden, Eliot, Waugh, Tolkien and Charles "Chinese" Gordon is unquestionably a "minority activity."   While 53% of the participants lay claim to at least a nominal religious affiliation (86% of these were Christian), only about one-third (35%) of the entire sample had a "religious understanding of life."   The remaining sixty-five percent were non-religious.  Those who considered themselves "spiritual" in orientation, but spurning religious rites and practices, constituted 19% of merrie auld England.  The largest group -- indeed nearly half of the sample in toto (46%) -- saw no practical value to religion or spirituality whatsoever.

Of  interest, the "purely spiritual" were more inclined to suffer from eating disorders (including anorexia nervosa and bulimia), anxiety disorders and neuroticism, than the religious.   People with no religious or spiritual understanding were least likely, of the three groups, to be taking psychotropic medication; with the most likely of the groups, being the ethereal anti-Incarnational "spiritual." This tendency correlates to an extent with the relative prevalence of mental disorder, among the groups. Speaking of which, the likelihood of mental disorder in the "non-religious and non-spiritual," was statistically no different from that of the "religious," for the most part.  The one exception was uncovered in the area of substance abuse; here, the incidence of seeking solace in bottle or syringe is considerably more common in those rejecting religion.  In the latter, "Hate the Prozac, love the Smithwick's" seems to be a dominating motivation.  But again, the "spiritual" attitude significantly correlated the strongest with a history of any (ilicit) drug exposure, and drug dependency as well.  So "I would that ye be hot or cold, rather than lukewarm" finds a validation in the mental ward.  Psychoticism was consistently less prevalent among the religious than in the other two categories, but the trend did not attain a statistical significance.   No inter-group differences existed with respect to clinical depression.

This last result is unexpected, I think, but the authors offer a passing speculation that the increasingly entrenched and worsening "minority status" of the religious, inside England, may be weakening the "social support" fabric's ability to counteract despair.   There are some indications ... these are cursorily reviewed in the NPMS paper ... that within the United States, at this moment, a different outcome prevails.  The USA is generally thought to be more "God-oriented" than the UK; but let the English experience stand as a warning.  As Luther noted, the nourishing Gospel rains can migrate, as God wills and as people reject, and should not be taken for granted.


M. King et al. :  Religion, spiritually and mental health: results from a national study of English households.  B J Psych 202:68-73, 2013

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Never Without Water

Tertullian writes [2],

"Christ was never without water.  He Himself was baptized with water; when invited to a marriage He inaugurates the exercise of His power with water; when talking He invites the thirsty to partake of His own everlasting water; when teaching about charity He approves among the works of love the offering of a cup of water to a neighbor; He refreshes his strength at a well-side;  He walks on water; He crosses it at will; He uses water to do an act of service to His disciples.  This witness to Baptism continues right up to the Passion.  When He is handed over to the cross, water plays a part (witness Pilate's hands); and when He is pierced, water gushes out from His side (witness the soldier's spear) ..."

The Holy Ghost was never without water, either, as God is One-in-Three, and in Lord Jesus the fullness of the Godhead dwells.   In the beginning of our coming to be, the Word informs us,  "the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters" (Gen 1:2).   The Holy Ghost did so again, in the beginning of a ministry which sought after our coming Home, when the Face of the Father was baptized and the Transcendent Deep uttered "Thou art My beloved Son; in Thee I AM well pleased"  (Lk 3:22).

You see, with the hovering of the Holy Ghost on the water, and especially on the Water of Life, the Father of that Water too can never be far away.   Under theses circumstances, the Father cannot help but "intrude" and predictably glory in, and immediately brag about, His beloved Son ...  whether calling Him "Light" (Gen 1:3), or calling Him "well-pleasing," or calling Him "Good" (Gen 1:4).

This is the nature of the Trinity, and the faithful Jew of yore knew this in his heart.  The worshipful Abraham was not shocked, befuddled or perplexed by the Presence of God, standing before him as Tri-unity.

Christ the God-man is never apart from water. It cannot be otherwise.  Water is a means by which God, again and again, chooses to relate to humanity.  This is the nature of the Incarnation.  For while man is derived from the stuff of the earth, he is also no less than 60% water by weight [1].


1.  VR Lingappa & K Farey, Physiological Medicine, p. 459, McGraw-Hill Co., Inc., New York (NY), 2000
2.  RL Wilkins, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, p. 40-41, Yale University Press, New Haven (CT), 2003

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Open Wide ... (Part 4)

Meantime I seek no sympathies, nor need;
The thorns which I have reap'd are of the tree
I planted, -- they have torn me  --  and bleed;
I should have known what fruit would spring from such a seed.
                                           ~  Lord Byron, "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage"

"It is not clear what methods modern psychiatry has for dealing with real guilt."
                                           ~ Dr. O. Hobart Mowrer, "The Crisis in Psychiatry and Religion"

The reader will recall the argument of Mowrer, a past president of the American Psychological Association (1954), that disorders of anxiety and mood arise from unacknowledged moral failings, which injure others and estrange the self's relationships to such.  The aim of psychotherapy, in his view, was to release or free the patient's conscience (Mowrer, p. 27), by facilitating an unbounded acceptance and admission of a heretofore publicly hidden (if not actively repressed) responsibility for the interpersonal rupture.  The anticipated result would be a gratifying, indeed grace-full, relief of the conscience and peace for the mind.   Interestingly, Mowrer was openly not adverse to the use of the word "sin," to describe the process of injury to either man or God (Mowrer, p. 48).   But he firmly rejected the insistence of Freud's disciples that a punitively harsh "super-ego"  ... a supposed derivative "structure" of the mind, introjected from and shaped by the external mandates of the (frequently) harsh parent and irrational society  ... was the root cause of neurosis and its crippling sense of a "false" or unnecessary guilt.  He also rejected any conclusion that this particular "structural" artifice somehow had to be made less rigid and less confining, in deference to the instinctual drives of survival which seek sexual and aggressive satisfaction.

Mowrer maintained that the prevailing Freudian stance (of his time) "in essence, holds that anxiety comes from evil wishes, from acts the individual would commit if he dared (Mowrer, p. 26)."  Today's insurance-favored cognitive-behavioral (CBT) and rational-emotive (RET) therapies, with their shared emphasis on problematic "core beliefs" and "automatic thoughts," are in reality not too far afield from classical psychodynamic theory, although being further dressed up with the finery of Stoic philosophy.   Mowrer's alternative scheme was that anxiety emerges from acts which the patient has committed, but wishes he had not.  Mowrer's proposal was a "guilt theory" of anxiety, rather than an "impulse theory."

Mowrer saw potential danger lurking in the Freudian metapsychology, in that impulses could be excused and condoned  in association with a loosening or even dismissal of group standards, especially in times where societal bonds come to weaken in their force.   Blame for the internal misery of the neurotic (or even the psychopath) could conveniently be externalized and the finger-pointing shifted.   Now, the patient could be seen as an innocent and helpless victim ... not of his own sin (if any such thing were recognized), but of the "sins of the fathers"  and patriarchal foofram.  Ann Russell's "Psychiatric Folksong," cited too by Mowrer (p. 49), prophetically sums up an entire age (one extending to our own) deliciously well:

At three I had a feeling of 
Ambivalence toward my brothers,
And so it follows naturally
I poisoned all my lovers.
But now I'm happy; I have learned
The lesson this has taught;
That everything I do that's wrong
Is someone else's fault.

It is left as an exercise for the good reader, to supply the appropriate "Selah."

As one might expect from the title of his book, Mowrer does not let the Church, especially its protestant manifestations, off the hook.  He theorized that the ministry to the Thessalonian creature composed of body, mind and spirit (1 Th 5:23) has been progressively enfeebled, by a "cheap grace" which de-emphasizes or completely avoids lancing the abscesses of anxiogenic sin (through specific and personalized confession of a named iniquity).

Examination of Roman Catholic and Evangelical Catholic practice in this regard (the Jesuits are on notice that the latter term refers to, well, to us ... the adherents of Augustana), and the benefits of such practice, will be reserved for a future post.  For now, we turn the eye on a still relevant case once formally presented years ago by Dr. Anton Theophilus Boisen, a hospital chaplain and clinical psychologist sympathetic to Mowrer's postulates, with whom he corresponded from time to time.               

Case summary (paraphrased and expanded from Boisen, 1958):
A thirty-eight year old man presented to the hospital in a severely agitated condition.  He maintained that he had committed "the unpardonable sin," and that "something was going to happen" to his wife and children.  He accordingly was exasperatingly adamant in his refusal to let them out of his sight.  He was certain that a world war was imminent, and when asked as to what role he was to play, if any, in this calamity, he replied with a fervent if not-so-cryptic conviction that "A little child will lead them."

What had triggered this paranoid and delusionally grandiose state of anxiety?     

The patient's record of  life, to this point,  was that of a well-meaning and conspicuously affable individual who had been sexually promiscuous both before and after marriage.  What seemed to trouble him most was an affair with a woman some ten years his senior.  She had undergone two abortions, which he had urged on her.  She had recently died of carcinoma, for which he also believed he held direct responsibility, in some way.  His emotional distress had taken root shortly after his lover's death.

The first disabling symptom to emerge was a resort to heavy drinking, which culminated in a loss of employment.   Following this setback, he somehow successfully managed to abstain from alcohol, but had unfortunately become increasingly depressed.  Now he began to agonize that his fraternal society, the Odd Fellows, was relentlessly "out to get him" because he had violated the lodge's solemn oath of civilitude.   This persecutory obsession became increasingly entrenched over the succeeding months; and eventually he sought a permit to carry a handgun, in order to thwart the murderous intent of his foes.   Finally, in great despair and panic, he felt compelled to confess to his wife his history of sexual transgressions.  This he did.

She responded with a generous and forgiving charity, but this did not alleviate his agitated fretting about her fate ...and the world's ... which things he was personally shouldering to extremis.  As mentioned earlier, he agreed to seek professional care and was admitted to an in-patient psychiatric facility.  His initial hospital course was noteworthy for the continuing marked intensity of anxiety, signs of de-realization, and a "deeply aroused religiosity."  By the end of approximately 2 months, however, he had achieved what physicians considered to be "an excellent recovery."   Dr. Boisen reported that there had been no comparable symptomatic relapse in the thirty years which followed this crisis; indeed, the gentleman was described as being "at present a successful contractor  and his family is happy and prosperous."

Observations of Boisen:
Boisen sees the "little child" of the patient's narrative as being "obviously" self-referential; the patient alone has provoked an inner war by his behavior, one with devastating and global consequences for his very constitution.  Boisen makes a further aside that his troubled patient's lover was "clearly a mother substitute."

A good deal of somewhat puzzled attention is paid to the post-confessional agitation of the patient, the intensity of which necessitated a locked-ward confinement.   Why was he not calmed and emotionally "cured" by a sharing of his transgression, with a remarkably sympathetic and forgiving ear?  Boisen argues (cited by Mowrer, p. 99) that the confession surely "brought about a certain socialization" to the patient.  But this restoration of healthy relationship and community was predicated on the discarding of "pretense and hypocrisy and put the suffer in position to be accepted for what he really was."  This is no easy task to achieve, this degree of psychological nudity; and it's one requiring a considerable store of psychic energy, mused Boisen. Such exhausting emotional turbulence, once stirred, could hardly be expected to subside immediately (especially in an everyday-setting) and required specialized care to tame.         

Observations of Mowrer:
Mowrer finds Boisen's analysis to be "eminently reasonable."  We won't belabor this point, to which we agree in good part.   Mowrer's genius goes on to insist that the hospitalization, however, was ... and this is startling in its implications ... "dynamically necessitated by the confession (Mowrer, p. 99) ."   He suggests that most human beings who have been ensnared in situations like that of Boisen's patient, feel uneasy with their emotional ledgers until "every last farthing is paid;" or rather, as Mowrer puts it, he or she has "taken her medicine and paid for ... past misdeeds."  This is on the order of common sense.  In legal circles of the Left Kingdom, the confessed murderer is not patted on the head, praised for taking a bold step in front of a jury of his peers, and released.  Instead, he serves his time and pays his debt to society (however that is determined), which may entail the surrendering of his life.   Mowrer makes an arresting aside, to the effect that we may not be perceiving the real function of the psychiatric ward ... that it may serve as a kind of expiation!

Comments of this writer:
1.  Some of Dr. Boisen's take is a necessary, professional bow to the Freudian interpretations dominating the '30's.   The patient's "little child" remark is less the disclosure of a lost waif, seeking a mommy of Oedipal fantasy ... a mommy only ten years his senior, by the way ... than a marker of someone likely familiar with conventional religious standards of the Law.  The "unpardonable sin" thing is not the verbiage of the typical worldling.   We are not provided much detail about the patient's childhood development, or his religious affiliation, which is unfortunate.  Perhaps the patient in crisis readily sees his promiscuity as infantile and ultimately unsatisfying and aimless and "leading to destruction"; or perhaps he does have a mother-fixation.  Who knows.  The apparent absence of any resort to clerical intervention, by what seems to be a religiously-versed fellow, is interesting; and, dare I say it, tragic.  It may have been a simple narrative omission on Boisen's part; but based on Boisen's vocational interests and his intense attitude, this possibility is not convincing.

2.   The insights of Dr. Mowrer are intriguing, and may help explain the repetitive pilfering of Dr. Meehl's adolescent girl (see part 3 of this series).  It seems she was not held to any significant restitution for her acts, certainly nothing comparable to that of, say, the forgiven tax collector Zaccheus.   The fascinating history of formal penance within the early Church has been examined by Lutheran theologian Werner Elert, in his Eucharistic studies.  While not consistent with the fresh breeze of Gospel forgiveness from the hands of God the merciful, penitential ritual appeared to have served a necessary juridical function, at a time when barbarian inroads had devastated civic authority, especially in the West of the fourth and fifth centuries (and beyond).  In the somewhat more secure East, it was deemed as a safeguard to the holiness of the communal Sacrament, culling away the "less sincere" and stubbornly impenitent from the altar; as being usefully instructive as to the seriousness of sin; and as "concern for inner healing (Heilung);" cf. for example Elert, p. 99.   This, in a sense, brings us full circle to Mowrer's cure ... if not for achieving the forgiveness of sins, and the attaining of life and salvation ... then for alleviating the agony of a "real guilt" neurosis.

3.  Whatever the merits of conceiving the "psych-ward" as means of penance, it is curious that both Boisen and Mowrer (no strangers, less enemies, to religion) address only the patient's "horizontal-axis" of confessional reconciliation; and that, with his wife alone.  The patient's anxious feelings engendered by the realities of two aborted children, and a deceased lover, are not in any way explicitly assuaged, unless such burdens were addressed and ameliorated in the course of a lengthy hospital stay. We are not directly informed about this, and in any event, those no longer living were not themselves witnesses to the patient's change of heart and subsequent recovery.  But the feelings of the patient  along these lines were certainly searing enough, to the point of a conviction that he was responsible for a carcinoma.  The "vertical-axis" of a confessional reconciliation with God would be of prime importance here, one thinks; one cannot help but recall the Davidic testimony of Ps 51:4  "Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You may be justified in Your words and blameless in Your judgment."  Given this abiding truth, the role of God's ordained representative, and his absolving role, is difficult to ignore.  But it was, in Mowrer's recapitulation of events.

4.  These days, in modern America,  a two-month or more stay in a psychiatric facility is exceedingly uncommon, even in instances of diagnosed psychotic anxio-depression.  I'm not convinced that this can be completely ascribed to the wonders and efficacy of contemporary medicines; economic pressures to "move things along" are that strong.  But this situation makes a return to that sacramental practice which the Lutheran fathers claimed was routine and not in any way abandoned by their parishes (AC XXV.1-5), all the more to be encouraged among us, in full service to the troubled neighbor.
Boisen A.T. :  Religious experience and psychological conflict.  Amer Psychol 13:568-570, 1958
Elert W. (trans. by N.E. Nagle) : "Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries," Chap. 8 (Church Discipline and the Lord's Supper), Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis (MO), 1966; paperback
Mowrer O.H. : "The Crisis in Psychiatry and Religion," D. van Nostrand Co., Inc.,  Princeton (NJ), 1961; paperback

Nota bene:  The painting above illustrates the great 19th century French neuropsychiatrist Charcot at work, demonstrating to young physicians a clinical example of "conversion disorder."   As the DSM-IV emphasizes, the existence of the presenting motor or sensory deficits of the disorder invariably do not conform to known anatomical pathways or physiological functions.  But malingering is not an issue, here; the unfortunate sufferer is not "faking it." Traditionally, in psychiatry, the somatic symptoms were ascribed to a symbolic resolution of unconscious psychologic conflicts, often of a sexual character, and which solution served to keep the conflict out of awareness.

Next:  Forgiveness of sins, life and salvation, yes! But can the Sacrament of Absolution ("Private Confession") secondarily influence mental health in a positive way? --   Roman Catholic conniptions, and Lutheran lassitude cloud things.