Saturday, December 31, 2011

Great Passage From Ruth

Then she fell on her face, and bowed herself to the ground, and said unto him, Why have I found grace in thine eyes, that thou shouldest take knowledge of me, seeing I am a stranger? And Boaz answered and said unto her, It hath fully been shewed me, all that thou hast done unto thy mother in law since the death of thine husband: and how thou hast left thy father and thy mother, and the land of thy nativity, and art come unto a people which thou knewest not heretofore. The LORD recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust. Then she said, Let me find favour in thy sight, my lord; for that thou hast comforted me, and for that thou hast spoken friendly unto thine handmaid, though I be not like unto one of thine handmaidens. -Ruth 2:10-13

Friday, December 30, 2011

Augustine Quotation Stolen from Pr. Weedon's Blog

"But as I do not wish my reader to be bound down to me, so I do not wish my critic to be bound to himself. Let not the pious reader love me more than the catholic faith. Let not the critic love himself more than the catholic truth. I say to the pious reader, do not be willing to accept my writings as canonical Scriptures. But when you have discovered in the Scriptures what you did not previously believe, believe it unhesitatingly. While in my writings, unless you have understood certainly what you did not before hold as certain, be unwilling to hold it fast. I say to the critic, do not be wiling to amen my writings by your own opinion or argument, but [amend them] from the divine text or by unanswerable reason. If you apprehend anything of truth in them, its being there does not make it mine, but by understanding and loving it, let it be both yours and mine. But if you detect any falsehood, though it had once been mine in that I was guilty of error, now by avoiding it let it be neither yours nor mine." -St. Augustine "De Trinitate" 3.1

Read it for yourself, here

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Early Gallicanism - Arnulf of Reims

"a very monster of iniquity, reeking with the blood of his predecessor, mounts the throne of Peter. True, he [Pope Boniface VII] is expelled and condemned; but only to return again... What would you say of such a one, when you behold him sitting upon the throne glittering in purple and gold? Must he not be the 'Antichrist, sitting in the temple of God, and showing himself as God'? Verily such a one lacketh both wisdom and charity; he standeth in the temple as an image, as an idol, from which as from dead marble you would seek counsel.

But the Church of God is not subject to a wicked pope; nor even absolutely, and on all occasions, to a good one. Let us rather in our difficulties resort to our brethren of Belgium and Germany than to that city, where all things are venal, where judgment and justice are bartered for gold. Let us imitate the great church of Africa, which, in reply to the pretensions of the Roman pontiff, deemed it inconceivable that the Lord should have invested any one person with his own plenary prerogative and judicature, and yet have denied it to the great congregations of his priests assembled in council in different parts of the world... Why should he not be subject in judgment to those who, though lowest in place, are his superiors in virtue and in wisdom? Yea, not even he, the prince of the apostles, declined the rebuke of Paul, though his inferior in place, and, saith the great pope Gregory, 'if a bishop be in fault, I know not any one such who is not subject to the holy see; but if faultless, let every one understand that he is the equal of the Roman pontiff himself, and as well qualified as he to give judgment in any matter.'" - Abp. Arnulf of Reims A.D. 991

This speech was given in a Council which Pope John XV naturally declared null and void. Far be it from me to say this was an eschatological interpretation or that this and not Papal Supremacy was the majority opinion. However, it does seem to show how traditional and early Gallicanism had developed against Papal Supremacy.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

"You Alone Are The Holy One"

"The work of the Redeemer is a perfect work: nothing can be added to it, and nothing must be taken away from it. It is everlasting in its duration and efficacy; upon this the eye of faith should be invariably fixed, and from thence comfort and support in every state is to be drawn. Christ's blood is a constant propitiation, his righteousness is a perfect covering; to these reader, have daily recourse for cleansing and recommendation before God; by these you may silence all the accusations of Satan, all the clamours of conscience, all the threatenings of the law; for in Christ the believer is complete, and here may he safely rest in his dullest and heaviest moments." - Carl Heinrich von Bogatzky

First Lutheran Confession Today: 'All May, Some Should, None Must'

You should speak to the confessor thus: Reverend and dear sir, I beseech you to hear my confession, and to pronounce forgiveness to me for God's sake.


I, a poor sinner, confess myself before God guilty of all sins; especially I confess

(insert sins here)

Then shall the confessor say:

God be merciful to thee and strengthen thy faith! Amen.


Dost thou believe that my forgiveness is God's forgiveness?


Yes, dear sir.

Then let him say:

As thou believest, so be it done unto thee. And by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ I forgive thee thy sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. Depart in peace.

But those who have great burdens upon their consciences, or are distressed and tempted, the confessor will know how to comfort and to encourage to faith with more passages of Scripture. This is to be merely a general form of confession for the unlearned.

* These questions may not have been composed by Luther himself but reflect his teachings and were included in editions of the Small Catechism during his lifetime.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ruminations on Roger Scruton's Essay: "What Losing Faith Really Means"

Paying Attention to the Sky has posted an essay by Roger Scruton

As a person of vastly inferior intellect to Dr. Scruton, and as an ally to many of his causes, I wish to offer not so much a critique as my own perspective on the matter.

Two starting quotations:

"Husserl insists, the perspectival givenness of physical objects does not merely reflect our finite intellect or the physical makeup of our sensory apparatus. It is, on the contrary, rooted in the things themselves. As Husserl writes, even God, as the ideal of absolute knowledge, would have to experience physical objects in the same perspectival manner. Otherwise it would no longer be physical objects that he was experiencing." - Dan Zahavi "Husserl's Phenomenology" p 34

"A man must do his own believing as he must do his own dying" - Martin Luther as translated by Jaroslav Pelikan in "Luther and the Dawn of the Modern Era" p.5 (Pelikan goes on to attack the interpretation of this phrase that I will use)

Faith is an immensely personal thing. It is intensely uncool in academic settings to be a fan of the individual, as that is perceived even by those on the left as being crassly modern. Obviously, hyper-individualism has been problematic, but after seeing its excesses and those of the hyper-conformists (confessionalistas?) as I'd call them, I have to say I prefer St. Augustine to Pope Boniface VIII.

This is because, in my experience, when push comes to shove, at the root of all Western Christendom, lies the Confessions of St. Augustine. Perhaps the most individualistic propagation of theology ever, that spawned western introspection and was itself a reflection of Socrates' own struggles with his beliefs philosophy.

There was a phrase of medieval soteriology which went as follows: in fine salvus consistet - meaning One's salvation consists in the end (meaning the last moment of one's life).

Graham Greene's novels "The Heart of the Matter", and "Brideshead Revisited" by Evelyn Waugh exemplify this in Catholic thought. In both cases it is the individual in the last moment who decides their salvation or damnation. I don't think there are funerals (even in the harshest Rad-Trad Catholic churches) for those knowingly outside a state of grace, or who had excommunicated themselves (perhaps divorcees), where you'd hear a pious theologian tell the bereaved that because their loved one was outside the visible bonds of the Church they were burning in Hell (and this was to be known with dogmatic certainty). Divorcees, after all, now receive Catholic funderals, and canon law allows priests to say masses for "anyone, living or dead" (Canon 901).

In "Brighton Rock" Graham Greene has a murderer constantly singing the Agnus Dei to himself in the car, and continually repeating to himself that 'between the horse and the stirrup' - in that last moment of death - there can be true repentance. Greene himself wrote that perhaps no one loses his faith, it merely appears under another mask. And similarly, Greene placed into the mouth of the priest at the end of "Brighton Rock" a great speech about Charles Peguy who is tacitly acknowledged as a saint though he never received any of the sacraments of the Church. Simone Weil is another figure Catholics particularly admire who was in the same boat.

All of this in the end, is because whether they want to admit it or not, all Christians know that faith is a matter of the heart. The elect after all, are "hidden with Christ in God" (Col. 3:3). It's not visible or precisely measurable by human terms. In Catholicism interior contrition (true sorrow for sins) alone can save a person without any of the sacraments. In Protestantism interior saving faith alone (trust in Christ's meritorious death on the cross) can save a person, without any visible confession of it. As much as churches like to categorize faith by Confirmations, Confessions, and outward signs, it is all meaningless (as they admit) without the personal, the individual, and the interior. This is perhaps best displayed in Robert Bolt's classic work "A Man For All Seasons" about Sir/St. Thomas More who refused the act of Supremacy based on his personal religious convictions.

While churches, confessions, creeds, and confirmations all aim to give human guages to that invisible divine faith, they must always be remembered as provisional rather than definitive. St. Joan of Arc after all was condemned as a heretic and burnt at the stake only to later by canonized by the Roman Catholic Church as a saint. As my father's friend liked to say "the heart has no dipstick".

If one wishes to guard against individuality I much prefer the way Luther proposed, when he wrote that:
"This is the reason why our theology is certain: it snatches us away from ourselves and places us outside ourselves, so that we do not depend on our own strength, conscience, experience, person, or works but depend on that which is outside ourselves, that is on the promise and truth of God, which cannot deceive."

By resting in the promises of God, one avoids the proud arrogance of individualism, but places oneself in relation to the one individual who ties everything together. As Peter Kreeft liked to say, Christ is the center of Catholicism, and Christ is the center of Protestantism, and ecumenism must work outward from this unity. The Roman Catholic theologian, Hans Urs Von Balthasar, liked to say that the crucifix is the focal point of every Catholic church for a reason. To quote Chesterton: the cross is the crux of the matter.

In Christ we find unity, and become a part of the True Israel. Elijah could not break bread with the rest of Israel when he was off in the wilderness, but God fed him by ravens. Let us not be too hasty in our professions of extra ecclesiam nulla salus, to forget that as with Elijah, many scraps fall from the table of the feast of Abraham. Shame on us, if we reduce the invisible to the visible communion.

Thus faith can remain even in the hardest of hearts. Faith can do this because it is a resilient thing. It moves mountains. It has toppled empires. The righteous shall live by faith, even faith, as small as a mustard seed, and even the faith in the confession "I believe Lord, help thou mine unbelief".

An Old Lutheran Ecumenical Statement on Eastern Orthodoxy

"It was to destroy this sort of religion that Jesus Christ suffered himself to be nailed to the cross, and now we find it re-established under his name..." - Adolf von Harnack

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Not Really Theology But...

I finished my last history paper of the semester. It was on English newspaper coverage of Anti-Clericalism in the Spanish Civil War, and about how reports of anti-clerical violence were used to smear Communism by Fascists, but also how Christian Socialists perceived the Spanish Roman Catholic Church's siding with the Nationalists as in a sense anti-clerical in that it attacked the laity who were in one sense a royal priesthood.

It's been a good 5 years writing essays on Catholics, and that was my last one. From now on I guess I'll write about Protestants, which is awkward because I really haven't dealt with them in a while... Or I could just continue writing about Catholics. Apparently there are Lutheran and Protestant historians of (Roman) Catholicism. Leopold von Ranke and J.N.D. Kelly I can think of from the top of my head.

We'll see...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Excerpts of The Delicious Destruction of Thomism by Paul Ricoeur

""repentance" belongs to the same thematic universe as trnsgression and merit, and it is no accident that it was precisely Judaism that laid emphasis on this concept. For "repentance" signifies that "return" to God, freely chosen, is always open to man; and the example of great and impious men who have "returned" to the Eternal attests that it is always possible for a man to "change his way." This emphasis on repentance is in conformity with the intepretation of "evil inclination" as occasion of sin and not as radical evil. The ethical universe of Pharisaism is already that of Pelagius: no great contrasts, as in Paul, Augustine, and Luther, between radical evil and radical deliverance, but a slow and progressive process of salvation, in which "pardon" is not lacking to "repentance," grace to the good will." - Paul Ricoeur "The Symbolism of Evil" (131)

"justice, although it is extrinsic to a man as far as its origin is concerned, has become something that dwells within him, as far as its operation is concerned; the "future" justice is already imputed to the man who believes; and so the man who is "declared" just is "made" just, really and vitally. Thus there is no ground for opposing the forensic and eschatological sense of justice to its immanent and present sense: for Paul the first is the cause of the second, but the second is the full manifestation of the first; the paradox is that the acme of outwardness is the acme of inwardness, of that inwardness that Paul calls new creature, or liberty. Liberty, considered from the point of view of last things, is not the power of hesitating and choosing between contraries, nor is it effort, good will, responsibility. For St. Paul, as for Hegel, it is being at home with oneself, in the whole, in the recapitulation of Christ." - Paul Ricoeur "The Symbolism of Evil" (148)

"Such is the symbol in the light of which the final experience of fault is perceived as something in the past that one has got beyond. It is because "justification" is the present which dominates the backward look on sin, that the supreme sin consists, in the last resort, in the vain attempt to justify oneself... Justification by faith, then, is what makes manifest the failure of justification by the law, and the failure of the justice of works is what reveals the unity of the entire domain of sin." - Paul Ricoeur "The Symbolism of Evil" (148)

"evil is not nothing; it is not a simple lack, a simple absence of order; it is the power of darkness; it is posited; in this sense it is something to be "taken way": "I am the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world," says the interior Master. Hence, every reduction of evil to a simple lack of being remains outside the symbolism of defilement, which is complete only when defilement has become guilt." - Paul Ricoeur "The Symbolism of Evil" (155)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Beautiful Excerpt From Donne

(this is New St. Paul's Cathedral in London)
John Donne (the sometime Dean of Old St. Paul's) has inspired me lately as a recusant (his mother I believe was the grand-niece of St. Thomas More) who turned Anglican. His faith is usually seen as a forgery out of expediency, like so many, a minister of the CofE for profit. However, lately I've found a lot of even his private writing to be unabashedly Protestant (Holy Sonnet XIV is the locus classicus). While this would be unfair to my Calvinistic and Anglican friends who could surely claim him as their own before I could, I have to say that his meditations on Christ crucified show him to come quite close to the Lutheran Tradition:

"There now hangs that sacred Body upon the Crosse, rebaptized in his owne teares and sweat, and embalmed in his owne blood alive. There are those bowells of compassion, which are so conspicuous, so manifested, as that you may see them through his wounds. There those glorious eyes grew faint in their light: so as the Sun ashamed to survive them, departed with his light too. And then that Sonne of God, who was never from us, and yet had now come a new way unto us in assuming our nature, delivers that soule (which was never out of his Father's hand) by a new way, a voluntary emission of it into his Father's hands; For though to his God our Lord, belong'd these issues of death, so that considered in his owne contract, he must necessarily die, yet at no breach or battery, which they had made upon his sacred Body, issued his soule, but emisit, hee gave up the Ghost, and as God breathed a soule into the first Adam, so this second Adam breathed his soule into God, into the hands of God. There wee leave you in that blessed dependancy, to hang upon him that hangs upon the Crosse, there bath in his teares, there suck at his woundes, and lie downe in peace in his grave, till hee vouchsafe you a resurrection, and an ascension into that Kingdome, which hee hath purchas'd for you, with the inestimable price of his incorruptible blood." - John Donne

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Rufinus' Commentary on the Creed: The Apocrypha

It's funny because my working motto has been "Yea let God be true, but every man a liar" (Rom 3:4) when approaching the fathers. In other words, I've said, I want to respect the Tradition that has been passed down to me, but if it is the case that the fathers reject any doctrine I feel to be truly contained in the Scriptures then I will reject that fathers' teaching. But funnily enough, I've found more confirmation of Protestant beliefs in the fathers since I started reading them again.

I will not say what Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy says: namely, that the fathers teach our position alone. Such a case is necessary with the epistemic claims of both of those Traditions. However, Protestantism merely says, 'this is what the bible teaches' and in so much as the Church throughout the ages have confessed the bible, they have confessed this faith. For this reason, we only need to show how our doctrines are in the fathers, and need not prove that they are the only opinions in the fathers.

Regarding the issue of the canon, I found Rufinus' commentary on the Creed quite illuminating, and at one point I realized it was almost the exact same words as the 39 articles use, concerning the apocrypha. "And the other books (as Hierome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine."

"But it should be known that there are also other books which our fathers call not "Canonical" but "Ecclesiastical:" that is to say, Wisdom, called the Wisdom of Solomon, and another Wisdom, called the Wisdom of the Son of Syrach, which last-mentioned the Latins called by the general title Ecclesiasticus, designating not the author of the book, but the character of the writing. To the same class belong the Book of Tobit, and the Book of Judith, and the Books of the Maccabees. In the New Testament the little book which is called the Book of the Pastor of Hermas, [and that] which is called The Two Ways, or the Judgment of Peter; all of which they would have read in the Churches, but not appealed to for the confirmation of doctrine. The other writings they have named "Apocrypha." These they would not have read in the Churches.

These are the traditions which the Fathers have handed down to us, which, as I said, I have thought it opportune to set forth in this place, for the instruction of those who are being taught the first elements of the Church and of the Faith, that they may know from what fountains of the Word of God their draughts must be taken."-38

John Bunyan - Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (Excerpt)

"I was often much cast down, and afflicted in my mind therewith, yet could I not let go my sins: yea, I was also then so overcome with despair of life and heaven, that I should often wish, either that there had been no hell, or that I had been a devil; supposing they were only tormentors; that if it must needs be, that I went thither, I might be rather a tormentor, than be tormented myself."

I read that today and could immediately relate.

I find that amidst Lutherans, Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and Copts there is so much derision and mockery that go towards Baptists. While the anabaptist heresy is evil in many ways, there have been many great Baptists whom I wish to learn from, John Bunyan being one of them.

I think Billy Graham should refer to himself as H.H. Rev. Dr. Mar Billy I Catholicos-Patriarch of all Baptists, claim spiritual descent from St. John the Baptist who had spiritual primacy even over St. Peter (Mt. 11:11), find 3 Old Catholic and/or PNCC bishops to ordain him, and then have ecumenical meetings in Rome on behalf of the 100 million odd Baptists around the world and be respected. (compare:, then suddenly Pope Benedict would be forced to kiss his ring, and have ecumenical meetings with him, expressing their partnership in the gospel and the unfortunate and unnecessary historic divisions between them, etc.

Monday, December 12, 2011

St. Athanasius Incomparably Better than Origen

"Thus each of these heresies, in respect of the peculiar impiety of its invention, has nothing in common with the Scriptures. And their advocates are aware of this, that the Scriptures are very much, or rather altogether, opposed to the doctrines of every one of them; but for the sake of deceiving the more simple sort ... they pretend like their 'father the devil John 8:44 ' to study and to quote the language of Scripture, in order that they may appear by their words to have a right belief, and so may persuade their wretched followers to believe what is contrary to the Scriptures. ... The Lord spoke concerning them, that 'there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, so that they shall deceive many Matthew 24:24.' ... Wherefore the faithful Christian and true disciple of the Gospel, having grace to discern spiritual things, and having built the house of his faith upon a rock, stands continually firm and secure from their deceits. But the simple person, as I said before, that is not thoroughly grounded in knowledge, such an one, considering only the words that are spoken and not perceiving their meaning, is immediately drawn away by their wiles. Wherefore it is good and needful for us to pray that we may receive the gift of discerning spirits, so that every one may know, according to the precept of John, whom he ought to reject, and whom to receive as friends and of the same faith. Now one might write at great length concerning these things, if one desired to go into details respecting them; for the impiety and perverseness of heresies will appear to be manifold and various, and the craft of the deceivers to be very terrible. But since holy Scripture is of all things most sufficient for us, therefore recommending to those who desire to know more of these matters, to read the Divine word, I now hasten to set before you that which most claims attention, and for the sake of which principally I have written these things." - St. Athanasius (#4 Here)

St. Athanasius is a little low-church for me here, I mean, he shouldn't have said that people should read the Scriptures and trust in their individual discernment by God's grace. He should've told them to read the dogmatic pronouncements of their bishops... because they're the successors of the apostles after all, carrying the apostles' orthodoxy and faith... except when they confess heresies like Arianism... at which point only the bishop of Rome is the successor of the apostles... unless he confesses monothelitism... in which case all his dogmatic pronouncements don't count as dogmatic pronouncements... I think that's how the logic goes...

Anyway, while St. Athanasius could suggest such a methodology to stop the Arians, I wish he'd written advice on how to deal with the Anabaptists... (until then, we'll just keep administering 3rd baptism I suppose).

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Alexander of Lycopolis

Was apparently not a fan of Philosophy. I'm starting to agree with the Orthodox on this, philosophy is not good. Or as Tertullian said: what has Athens to do with Jerusalem?

(although I'm cooking up a clever phenomenological philosophy of intersubjectivity that I plan to unleash on my thomistic opponents eventually)

Anyway, Alexander of Lycopolis, who NewAdvent informs me, was a Church Father, said:

"The philosophy of the Christians is termed simple. But it bestows very great attention to the formation of manners, enigmatically insinuating words of more certain truth respecting God... For Christians leaving to ethical students matters more toilsome and difficult, as, for instance, what is virtue, moral and intellectual; and to those who employ their time in forming hypotheses respecting morals, and the passions and affections, without marking out any element by which each virtue is to be attained, and heaping up, as it were, at random precepts less subtle— the common people, hearing these, even as we learn by experience, make great progress in modesty, and a character of piety is imprinted on their manners, quickening the moral disposition which from such usages is formed, and leading them by degrees to the desire of what is honourable and good.

But this being divided into many questions by the number of those who come after, there arise many, just as is the case with those who are devoted to dialectics, some more skilful than others, and, so to speak, more sagacious in handling nice and subtle questions; so that now they come forward as parents and originators of sects and heresies. And by these the formation of morals is hindered and rendered obscure; for those do not attain unto certain verity of discourse who wish to become the heads of the sects, and the common people is to a greater degree excited to strife and contention. And there being no rule nor law by which a solution may be obtained of the things which are called in question, but, as in other matters, this ambitious rivalry running out into excess, there is nothing to which it does not cause damage and injury.

the deception caused by discourse of this sort has drawn over to itself some of those who have pursued the study of philosophy with me..."

Not exactly an Augustinian word-smith this Alexander. Nonetheless the general sense seems to be:

1. Christianity is a simplistic philosophy dealing with God not virtue (Theology is probably a better term)
2. Heretics use philosophy, and it has led people away from the truth.
3. Heretical philosophy can be discerned experientially / by seeing it lead to immoral lifestyles.

How I treat the Church Fathers and non-conciliar traditions

If a tradition is not Tradition, for instance, the view of a single church father, I treat it as the RCC treats private revelation. Just substitute the words "private revelation" for "tradition"

"Private revelation … can be a genuine help in understanding the Gospel and living it better at a particular moment in time; therefore it should not be disregarded. It is a help which is offered, but which one is not obliged to use … The criterion for the truth and value of a private revelation is therefore its orientation to Christ himself. When it leads us away from him, when it becomes independent of him or even presents itself as another and better plan of salvation, more important than the Gospel, then it certainly does not come from the Holy Spirit." ( Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Theological Commentary on the Message of Fatima , 26 June, 2000 ).

Humorous Polemicism

God is currently teaching me how to lose arguments which is fitting for one such as I who is trying to become less and less dependant on human reasoning.

The thing that gets to me is that I like to joke about things, I like to admit where my case is hopelessly weak and enjoy it when others do the same. For instance, I remember once having a humorous conversation with a professor I had when I was Roman Catholic. He was Reformed, and we were discussing the problems of the Reformation. He joked that if I was willing to get rid of papal infallibility, he'd toss sola scriptura, and all of us could become Orthodox.

I didn't lunge at him and start attacking his views of sola scripture, I laughed, because there was a lot of truth in what he said.

It might be a history-person thing, Pelikan did it a lot in his writings, where to challenge a philsophical or theological point, you throw out a humorous anecdotal point to counter your opponent, not to 'prove' your case, but to lighten the mood.

It's like when Devin jokingly mentioned Martin Luther's views on James when I was defending his piety towards sacred scripture. It didn't completely level my views, but it was humorous, made me think, and realize the situation wasn't as simple as I'd portryed it.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Perhaps Origen isn't so bad...

Origen makes a good point that the gold (philosophy) plundered from the Egyptians made both the ark and the golden calf. So we ought to be very careful with philosophy.

"These are they who, from their Greek studies, produce heretical notions, and set them up, like the golden calf, in Bethel, which signifies "God's house." In these words also there seems to me an indication that they have set up their own imaginations in the Scriptures, where the word of God dwells, which is called in a figure Bethel... Do you then, my son, diligently apply yourself to the reading of the sacred Scriptures. Apply yourself, I say. For we who read the things of God need much application, lest we should say or think anything too rashly about them. And applying yourself thus to the study of the things of God, with faithful prejudgments such as are well pleasing to God, knock at its locked door, and it will be opened to you by the porter, of whom Jesus says, "To him the porter opens." And applying yourself thus to the divine study, seek aright, and with unwavering trust in God, the meaning of the holy Scriptures, which so many have missed. Be not satisfied with knocking and seeking; for prayer is of all things indispensable to the knowledge of the things of God." -Origen's Letter to Gregory

It's interesting that he conflated God's house with the Scriptures, though I won't read too much into that. More than any specific phrases, I'm amazed to see once more how tied to the scriptures the fathers were. Every other sentence is a bible verse.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

O Sweet Exchange!

"In His mercy He took up the burden of our sins. He Himself gave up His own Son as a ransom for us-- the Holy One for the unjust, the innocent for the guilty, the righteous one for the unrighteous, the incorruptible for the corruptible, the immortal for the mortal. For what else could cover our sins except for His righteousness? In whom we, lawless and impious as we were, be made righteous except in the Son of God alone? O sweet exchange! O unfathomable work of God! O blessings beyond all expectation! The sinfulness of many is hidden in the Righteous One. While the righteousness of the One justifies the many that are sinners." - Letter to Diognetus.

So far I don't like Origen...

" Then came Peter and said unto Him, Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him?" Matthew 18:21

"there is no forgiveness, not even to a brother, who has sinned beyond the seven and seventy times." - Origen's Commentary on Matthew (5)

I must respectfully facepalm and say unto Origen: 'epic fail'.

The Use & Abuse of the Church Fathers: St. Ambrose

When trying to argue about a 'side' in either the Great Schism (1054 - Between the East and the West) or in the Reformation, the use of the fathers can be downright abuse.

I found a perfect example this morning.

The Text Itself

Here's a portion of Saint Ambrose of Milan's "The Sacrament of the Incarnation of Our Lord"

"when he [Peter] heard But who do you say I am,' immediately, not unmindful of his station, exercised his primacy, that is, the primacy of confession, not of honor; the primacy of belief, not of rank... [those] who said that Christ was either Elias, or Jeremias... that voice had filth, that voice had perplexities... let our voice resound that Christ is the Son of God. My words are pure, in which expressed impiety has left no perplexities.' This, then, is Peter, who has replied for the rest of the Apostles rather, before the rest of men. And so he is called the foundation, because he knows how to preserve not only his own but the common foundation Christ agreed with him the Father revealed it to him. For he who speaks of the true generation of the Father, received it from the Father, did not receive it from the flesh. Faith, then, is the foundation of the Church, for it was not said of Peter's flesh, but of his faith, that 'the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.' But his confession of faith conquered hell. And this confession did not shut out one heresy, for, since the Church like a good ship is often buffeted by many waves, the foundation of the Church should prevail against all heresies. The day will fail me sooner than the names of heretics and the different sects, yet against all is this general faith - that Christ is the Son of God, and eternal from the Father, and born of the Virgin Mary..." - 32-35

How it is used

Now if you're browsing "Catholic Answers" forums or reading the new Scott Hahn book, you may see quotations from this passage like: "[Peter] heard But who do you say I am,' immediately, not unmindful of his station, exercised his primacy, that is, the primacy of confession... the primacy of belief" or perhaps when attacking Anglicans and Orthodox, you'll see: "Peter... has replied for the rest of the Apostles"

Then when you're browsing Lutheran or Reformed websites, you'll see James White throw out: "Faith, then, is the foundation of the Church, for it was not said of Peter's flesh, but of his faith, that 'the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.' But his confession of faith..." without any mention to that primacy talk earlier.

What it is actually saying:

Now the whole point of the text was to refute the Arian heresy which denied the deity of Christ, as well as the long list of other heresies down to the Monophysites, who all in some sense denied that Christ was both God and Man completely. The reason St. Ambrose wrote this, was to get that point across, not to discuss episcopal squables or establish an ecclesiology.

In the end, a Baptist can read this and add a hearty amen, just as much as a Roman Catholic can, because they both confess that Jesus is True God and True Man.

Or as the Simpsons constantly encourages us: can't we all just go beat up some Unitarians?

Do we really care what the fathers say?

I'll add this final warning to those who wish to turn the fathers into 11th or 16th century polemicists.We need to look at their writings honestly and carefully, admitting that in some ways we all stand in utter contradiction to the fathers. Perhaps even admitting that where they agreed, they were either wrong or at least, not totally right.

For instance, it is a widely known fact that the consensus of the fathers for some five hundred years, universally condemned musical instruments in worship, and claimed that this was a pagan practice.

Who follows such a belief?

And let's just say that we agree with the fathers and say: musical instruments are evil, or shouldn't be used in worship. What about David? For Holy Writ admonishes: "Praise the LORD with harp: sing unto him with the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings." (Ps. 33:2)

Who is to be believed?

Even if we say the fathers, what would they say?

"I do not wish that credence be given us; let the Scripture be quoted. Not of myself do I say: ‘In the beginning was the Word,’ but I hear it; I do not feign but I read what we all read" - St. Ambrose of Milan (The Sacrament of the Incarnation of the Lord)

But the question this post should leave you with is of course: Did he take that out of context?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Saturday, December 3, 2011

St. Gregory of Nyssa on Scripture

"Just as at the sea those who are carried away from the direction of the harbor bring themselves back on course by a clear sign, on seeing a tall beacon light or some mountain peak coming into view, so Scripture may guide those adrift on the sea of life back into the harbor of the divine will" - St. Gregory of Nyssa

Anselmian Substitutionary Atonement in the Church of the East?

"Jesus Christ walked in the flesh thirty-three years on the earth, O King. In the thirtieth year he repaid to God all the debt that the human kind and angels owed to Him. It was a debt that no man and no angel was able to pay, because there has never been a created being that was free from sin, except the Man with whom God clothed Himself and became one with Him in a wonderful unity." - Catholicos Timothy I, Patriarch of the Church of the East (here)

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Sign of the Cross

I came across this article by a Roman Catholic priest.

Apparently all Christians, even in the West, made the sign of the cross the (now) Orthodox way. As you can usually guess with Catholic-Orthodox history, this changed when Pope Innocent III decided to change things and have Western Christians go left to right shoulder. It makes more sense now that he ordered the crusade which sacked Constantinople in 1204 as well.

I was curious why my Lutheran pastor crossed himself 'the Orthodox way', and now I see why. I too will join the Orthodox in making the signum crucis right to left.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Church of the East ; Philip Jenkins ; Cornelius

No one has been sent to us Orientals by the Pope. The holy apostles aforesaid taught us and we still hold today what they handed down to us. -Rabban Bar Sauma c. 1290

I read way too much of this book tonight, instead of doing my homework.

It's funny because the more I read about Orthodoxy both Eastern and Oriental, and the more Confessional Anglicans and Lutherans I read, the more I am overwhelmed by the fact that we all confess the same traditional faith. Where we diverge is obviously important, but the fact that we all agree on the Trinity, largely the first 7 ecumenical councils, and to differing degrees, the Old and New Testament, there's actually a lot in common by way of heritage.

And it's also funny because at the same time, I'm amazed at how absent Christ can be in faiths that bear his name. Suddenly one's identity becomes based on who is the true catholicos, or who is the real head of the church. In reality, I think we should be looking to the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour. As a Protestant Christian I also think the bishops of the world should stop claiming to be "more bishop-y than other bishops" (to quote my old Reformed professor of religious philosophy). If a bishop or a pastor is a shepherd, this should always be remembered to be at best a visible analogy or sign of Christ who is the True head of the Church, the real universal shepherd.

You can have all the unified ecclesiastical bodies in the world and yet lose your soul.

I'm struck by the story of Cornelius in Acts 10, who was an unbaptized gentile that prayed. And yet when St. Peter arrives at his door, he exclaims so beautifully:

"So Peter opened his mouth and said: "Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ ( he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."

While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, "Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days."

This is my new ecclesiology.

(John Woo is a Chinese-American Lutheran, just threw him in here to show an 'eastern Christian')