Arimathea
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Religion
The human animal is the worshipping animal. Toward the divine, we have a need to pray, to sacrifice, to offer up, and to praise. From the spirit dances of primitive animism to the rational contemplation of philosophical paganism, from the ethical code of the rabbis to the theological vision of the scholastics, from the sprinkled blood (the origin of blessing) of temple cults to helping the poor in simple Christian charity, men need to relate the immanent and the transcendent -- they see their particular lives in time and space transfigured and transfused with meaning unbounded by human things. Religion is this aspect of human life where the everyday and worldly intersects with the ultimate and divine. Is this an accident of human evolution, or is it a racial neurosis brought upon us as conscious beings who live in the shadow of our own death? Is it a reflection of the divine order, where creatures naturally orient themselves toward their source? Has God revealed himself to us, as the Christians claim? In this realm, I shall try to delve into such questions as an Orthodox Christian who ever pesters God with "Why?"
Patristics
Wisdom of the Fathers
Friday, March 4, A.D. 2016
McGrew on Gospel Fictionalization Theory

Lydia McGrew has written some cogent thoughts about “gospel fictionalization” on What’s Wrong with the World: “A Gospel Fictionalization Theory Is No Help to the Gospel.” You may read McGrew’s follow-ups on her Extra Thoughts blog, too: “Discussion Continues Concerning Gospel Harmonization and Fictionalization” and “Seeing the Forest.” I was previously unaware that this new hermeneutic was a thing in evangelical Protestant circles. People scoff at slippery slopes, but how many bible jackets sponged with Schleiermacher Jelly does it take for Protestants to recognize Harnack Herps when it flares up? Run away! Flee the oncoming ruin!

More generously, I suspect that this interpretive approach by Michael Licona and friends results from a unmoored (i.e. Protestant) glimpse of what Origen termed the scriptures’ spiritual meaning (see Russell Ronald Reno’s “Origen and Spiritual Interpretation” for details). Yet, just as meat is unsuitable for infants, so higher biblical exegesis for orphans in the faith. Despite their intelligence and good intentions, these Protestant scholars have no wise guardian to monitor their diet. They fend for themselves on the mean streets of Carthage, where extra Ecclesiam nulla salus.

Speaking of R.R. Reno, this theology professor at Creighton University and editor of First Things did a delightful interview for America (a Jesuit magazine for the great unwashed out there), “‘He’s a Disruptor’: Interview with ‘First Things’ Editor R.R. Reno on Pope Francis’ U.S. Visit.” Nice title there, boys! Reno makes many interesting points, including this insightful closing:

I think it’s fitting that, in an interview with America magazine, I emphasize how important it is that this pope is a Jesuit. That, to me, is the hermeneutical key to this papacy and a testimony to the wisdom of the church for not electing a Jesuit in the past—perhaps also to God’s sense of humor for giving us a Jesuit in the present! But it’s also a testimony to the power of the charism of St. Ignatius that it so distinctively marks the men who are formed in the Society.

One can see in this pope clearly the distinctive character of a Jesuit charism. He is a Jesuit: It’s just unbelievable, for good and for ill. The Jesuit charism is a profound internalization. It’s not a rejection or distrust of the church’s outward forms, ritual life, or intellectual life. People often mistakenly see Jesuits as radical revisionists, and there are some Jesuits like that, but the charism is really an interiorized trust that enables one to let go of the outward forms to pursue the essential mission of the church.

To me, that’s why there’s never been a Jesuit pope, because the papacy is primarily an institution of preservation and transmission of the tradition. So this kind of purification and internalization, I think, is at odds with the papal office. You know, a typical Jesuit would ignore renovations of St. Peter’s because it’s not important to preserve a building, but instead to discern what God is doing with that building. But the purpose of the papacy is to preserve the outward forms so the whole world can enter into the church as a living body and institution with a set of laws and form of life, so that they can then embark on that journey of interiorization.

So Francis is exemplifying the end goal of the Christian life and the danger is that Jesuits often neglect the ordinary means by which people often enter into the Christian life. Jesuits are virtuosos who can neglect the need for basic instruction. You know, Francis is the 265th successor of St. Peter and he’ll do with this job what needs to be done, but I guarantee you there’s not going to be a Jesuit pope for a long time after this one.

Reading about Reno’s background, I see that this orthodox, patristically informed convert from Anglicanism taught theology at Jesuit Creighton—mirabile dictu—for twenty years. Incredible! From ample personal experience, I assure you that Jesuit theology departments are the last place that you would expect to find Catholic theology. Indeed, I have a humorous anecdote to share. During undergrad., my school’s philosophy department held a Fides et Ratio conference to discuss the relationship of faith and reason in academic life. During the planning phase, I asked our chairman whether the philosophy department had invited the theology faculty to the conference. The fellow, a brilliant man and a devout rabbinical Jew, shook his head, gave a sardonic smile, and said, “Those people have no fides and even less ratio.” The professor spoke truthfully.

Posted by Joseph on Friday, March 4, Anno Domini 2016
PatristicsScriptureProtestantismRoman CatholicismCommentsPermalink
Friday, February 5, A.D. 2016
What Is Predestination?

On the Orthosphere, Alan Roebuck responded to my comment in his “Predestination Again” thread (see “Calvinism Again” for the comment that Roebuck addressed as well as a cornucopia of Calvin castigation). I finally wrote an obviously inadequate but hopefully insight-seeding response:

I do not know what to make of the instances of προορίζω in the New Testament. I am not a biblical scholar or a theologian, but I am confident that it cannot mean what Calvinists take it to mean. As others have noted, scripture has much to say about the nature of God, directly and through examples and images—especially that God is love and that he is good—that he “is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Now, you will say, undoubtedly, that your understanding of predestination coexists with such a nature of God, but I think that is forcing a square peg through a round hole—it does violence to our understanding of love and goodness. You may speak about human blindness, but I cannot accept any system that undermines the very foundations of human judgment. God is not a deceiver. You may point to the fall and human depravity, but such a path makes the ministry of the law, the prophets, and the apostles a big charade. God only delivers a message to beings that can understand it—and God is not a deceiver.

The word προορίζω only occurs a few times in the Bible—six according to a search that I just did (if the instrument worked correctly). It is a mistake to overturn the general and consistent message of the Gospel to make it fit into a theology defined by a few passages that became central to theological thinking only with Augustine in his anti-Pelagian activity. The doctrine was a fringe concern in the Christian world until the Reformation, and I think that is evidence that there is something suspicious about the controversy—and about Augustine’s resolution of it. Myself, I think that anyone acquainted with realist metaphysics (the understanding of the vast majority of [educated] Christians before the modern period) would not take Pelagianism seriously. For it is clear that human beings do not have being of their own power. They cannot do anything of their own power. Everything about us is derivative from the father of lights, the treasury of good things, him by whom the world was made. I attribute the Greeks’ lack of interest in the Pelagian dispute to this very fact—that the controversy seemed stupid to them. Augustine was philosophically trained enough to know better, and his line of attack sowed a poisonous seed that germinated a millennium later. [I should have noted that the Latin Christians in Augustine’s Africa were keen on rhetoric but not well formed in philosophy; only later did educated Western Christians acquire familiarity with ontology.]

You ask, “How can you say, on the one hand, that God causes all things (which would presumably include that some remain hard-hearted and are lost), but on the other hand, that a God who would refuse to turn sinful men toward him is ‘abominable and a demon and worthy of contempt?’ This seems inconsistent.” It is not inconsistent because causation of things does not include the inexplicable corruption of things—this state (or un-state) of evil that we casually affirm to be a thing by our manner of speech in order to convey what we mean really is nothing (of the sort or anything else). God doesn’t cause evil because evil is nothing. I suspect that a Platonist approach to metaphysics is required to make traditional Christian doctrine intelligible, and that is why the confusion of the Reformation did not occur until the spread of an alien understanding of the world (nominalism) had replaced the patristic one. [See “The Necessity of Knowledge,” “Square Circle,” “Nominalism, Nihilism, and the Will,” and “Whence the Will?” for more on this.]

You mention the first chapter of Ephesians. Like I said, I don’t know what προορίζω really means. It doesn’t appear to be a common word (according to Perseus, at least), and even in the New Testament, it appears only a handful of times in Paul’s letters and in Luke’s Acts. It literally means to pre-establish or mark beforehand limits or boundaries (horizons is a related term). There are many ways that one could interpret the passages with it—the standard Calvinist way, or the Arminians’ Calvinist rejoinder method, wherein God foresees men’s action and then sets up the world accordingly. I found it interesting to see that Augustine argued against that very interpretation in his On the Predestination of the Saints. His point is that God’s grace would not be grace if it were doled out on account of human worth. For him, it seems, any question of justice or merit confuses the fundamental truth that God’s grace is totally a gift. That is a good argument, but I don’t think that we have to resort to the Calvinist or this anti-Calvinist interpretation. Perhaps, God’s predestination—God’s setting of markers done outside of time from all eternity—is simply God’s assignment of roles and natures. This might be general—our general human purpose—as well as individual—in how we fit into the providential unrolling of history. I am very uncomfortable in dealing with the later; I have no idea how providence works, and yet it seems that God does work intimately through the messiness of history. God certainly knows all possible worlds—all the roads not taken and the trillions upon trillions of contingent possibilities for our cosmos. Maybe, he threads the loom to maximize goodness based on what free creatures do (per Leibniz). Maybe, he assigns definite roles regardless of our actions, and it is up to us to play (with grace given to all) the part assigned to us, but we, for no reason (that disgusting quality of evil), fall short of the ideal performance. A simple reading of several biblical narratives makes it seem that God has assigned some pretty dreadful parts to certain individuals (pharaoh, Judas), which lends credibility to Calvin’s evil puppet-master interpretation of scripture. On the other hand, maybe God’s providence is simply the skill of the master lemonade-maker, who creates sweetness from that which is bitter—men’s folly isn’t God’s will, but it is co-opted by God for the greater good. Maybe, some men get bad parts (there has to be an Iago in Othello), and God’s ultimate judgment will take that into consideration, just as the critic grades a performance with an eye to the material and what is possible given the constraints of the role. Maybe predestination is simply a way of speaking of God’s grand salvific formula—the elect are the chosen people . . . chosen as instruments to enact the Gospel Plan—that wonderful military operation wherein the Lord stages a counter-offensive to regain lost territory. Abraham, the Hebrews, the apostles, the preachers and converted of the Great Commission, the Christians of our day who strive to live in hope and in the light of the Resurrection . . . maybe this is the meaning of predestination—that the pilgrimage routes to the New Jerusalem, the path of the righteous, or the ingenious recipe of the master lemonade-maker is what is marked out from the foundation of the world. There is much ambiguity in the scriptures. Many are called but few are chosen—perhaps the chosen are simply the ones who answer the call. I don’t know. I only know that God is good, and that we must reject Calvin’s laying evil at God’s feet.

As a related topic, Kristor and I had a lengthy discussion on the “origin” of evil some years ago. You may be interested in reading the discussion, along with the comments:

“Orthodoxy and Evolution”
“Kristor on the Fall”
“Evil Christians”
“Unde Malum”
“Kristor Promotes Ignorance”
“Kristor Elucidates the Darkness”
“Before Choice”
“Kristor Poses Evil Problems”

Posted by Joseph on Friday, February 5, Anno Domini 2016
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Thursday, June 18, A.D. 2015
Bonald Surveys Lossky

I hope that you are enjoying the summer, even in these dismal times.

On the Orthosphere, Bonald continues his survey of Christian confessions by summarizing his reading of The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church by Vladimir Lossky. A reader posted a lengthy comment, and I responded with the following:

That is a lot. Well, let me add this note for those interested: “St. Maximus on the filioque” (a brief post by Peter Gilbert about Maximus’ letter concerning the controversy). Gilbert’s explanatory notes are helpful, and they show—once again (and for the billionth time)—why patristic texts serve as ambiguous testimony in these disputes. All of this has been hashed and rehashed for centuries. CP researched the issues and decided one way. Others have done the same research and differed in their judgment (myself included). Given the muddied waters, I wonder whether most (all?) of the folks who enter into these treacherous rivers allow other considerations to drive their wayfaring. Take, for instance, the issue of the Bishop of Rome’s authority in the early centuries. As I once blogged,

I have “been there and done that” with endless arguments over papal claims, replete with innumerable patristic references, scriptural commentary, conciliar minutes, and canon law case precedents in cross-diocesan judicial appeals. My basic opinion, sufficient for the present purpose, is that one can build a case for papal supremacy by employing extraordinary circumstances as normative ones. During all the Christological controversies, some bishops played ruthless politics for the sake of the faith while others did so for personal power. A pious bishop in exile often sought assistance wherever he could, and canonically questionable actions were taken and justified by the higher goal of defending the faith from heresy. Rome was usually a haven of sanity during these disputes; early Western Christians were not as a theologically interested, philosophically educated, or politically connected as their Greek brethren in the East. Hence, the Roman Church was blessedly boring while the major theological controversies raged across the Empire. It was often necessary, then, for orthodox hierarchs to seek Rome’s interference in ways that defied common practice. Papal supremacists see their justification therein. The will needs very little evidence to claim the inviolable correctness of its desires . . .

Nonetheless, the normal position of ecumenical Church government was decentralized and conciliar. Such is the Orthodox ideal to this day, though it has taken many forms, with the autocephalous system’s being the current organization. At any rate, the subject has become a moot point. Rome largely abandoned its orthodoxy centuries ago, and whatever primacy the bishop of Rome should have had has become an anachronism. Petrine fundamentalism aside, the Churches’ deference to Rome rested as much on the Roman Christian community’s sobriety and fidelity as on Rome’s status as the old capital, on its being a major center of power, communication, commerce, transportation, and ideas, and on its giving the world countless martyrs, especially Saints Peter and Paul. When Rome forsook its faith, it forfeited its special honor.

The second point that I hold firmly to be true undoubtedly sways the way I read the ancient controversies and their texts. If one particular interpretation behind the Council of Sardica leads to clown masses and the pope’s authority to declare anthropogenic global warming, I know what I am deciding!

CP criticizes the Orthodox for becoming reactive toward Latin theology, and I believe that he is correct. Roman doctrine and the Orthodox rejection of it have strongly influenced Orthodox theological thinking for centuries, and this is both understandable and unhealthy—in the same way that reaction toward “Enlightenment” thought has largely determined the thinking among those who reject it ever since. Moreover, when the Orthodox see the consequences of Latin tendencies, they begin to question even ancient Latin elements that may have led to the Reformation, Trent, and the first and second Vatican councils. That seems reasonable to me.

At some point (and perhaps always), the Greeks and the Latins began to speak past each other when they focused on certain theological and philosophical issues. Many readers here are familiar with the Christological controversies that led to and resulted from Chalcedon and with contemporary attempts by many in and among Rome, the Orthodox, and the Non-Chalcedonians to excuse it all as a big, sad misunderstanding. I wonder whether these softies are right—and whether perhaps the same dynamic is at work with many East-West controversies, like CP’s example of the Palamite issue. For certain, when we approach the inner life of the Trinity—when we begin to conceive of divinity—we are well beyond a safe harbor. Everything that we think—every idea, every mental tool—applies to creation. When we apply such to God, we should be very careful—and humble. CP calls Gregory’s distinction of the divine energies an outrageous innovation—just as the Orthodox might call the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception an outrageous innovation. Both doctrines developed from prior, ancient commitments that played themselves out philosophically within their respective community’s theological-philosophical system.

P.S.) See Gilbert’s delightful recent post, “Don’t Curse Plato.”

Update courtesy of my brother:

Well, it appears that Laudato Si may be less objectionable than the hype led us to believe: “Top Ten Takeaways from ‘Laudato Si’” (Warning for the uninitiated: Jesuit journalism! . . . which reminds me of an old joke that we students used to share—Si cum Jesuitis, non cum Jesu itis!)

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, June 18, Anno Domini 2015
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Monday, March 30, A.D. 2015
Fountain of Immortality

I wish Western Christians a blessed Holy Week and my fellow Orthodox a fruitful continuation of Lent.

Laura Wood of The Thinking Housewife wrote a tribute to Lawrence Auster yesterday on the second anniversary of his passing: “May Perpetual Light Shine on Lawrence Auster.” Keep him in your prayers.

I miss the privilege of daily visiting Auster’s site and of reading his words. He was truly a one-off genius. When I wrote about my first encounter with Auster in “Auster’s A View from the Right,” I noted that, contrary to reports of his being humorless, I found Auster quite funny. Laura Wood reminded her readers of that quality this past year when she quoted Auster’s comment about studies (“Live by Studies, Die by Studies”):

The Muslim says, “If Allah wills it.” The Christian says, “In Jesus’ name.” The liberal says, “Studies have shown.” These are the sacred words that establish the authoritative truth of whatever ruinous mischief the liberal is about to propose.

“Studies” are one of the principal means by which the liberal regime maintains and extends its power.

Years ago I attended a conference of Swiss academic types in New York City. Their subject was Swiss immigration and multiculturalism policies. They maintained that multiculturalism and diversity was the way for Switzerland to go, because “studies” showed that it worked. Though I was just the guest of a guest at this event, I interposed: “So Switzerland has existed as a successful society for seven hundred years, and you want to change it radically—on the basis of “studies“? They didn’t get my point. Humorlessly they maintained that their studies were the best authority.

Auster’s death was bitter for us, but perhaps his passing was an act of providential mercy. Auster lamented the state of his country, of Christian institutions, and of the West in general. The decay has become ever more apparent since Auster’s death, though he foresaw such clearly and with heavy heart. May he find rest in the Kingdom of God.

As an offering in memory of Auster, I present a video from the Eastern American Diocese of R.O.C.O.R. about the divine litugy:

Requiescat in pace, servant of God, Lawrence Auster.

Posted by Joseph on Monday, March 30, Anno Domini 2015
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Thursday, August 28, A.D. 2014
Vestimentum Domini

I wish you a blessed feast of the Dormition today!

On the occasion of the feast, I offer Kristor’s heavenly musings on the Orthosphere yesterday: “Creatura : Creator :: Map : Territory.” It is worth your time.

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, August 28, Anno Domini 2014
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Friday, May 16, A.D. 2014
Oldest Marian Hymn

ܡܫܝܚܐ ܩܡ

Yesterday, I received two links to fascinating Marian articles that may interest you:

“The oldest hymn to the Theotokos”

The Wikipedia entry on Mary Untier of Knots

I hope that you have a lovely May weekend. May—it’s the best month, and therefore it is wholly suitable to be the month for Regina Cæli.

Posted by Joseph on Friday, May 16, Anno Domini 2014
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Friday, March 28, A.D. 2014
Lossky on the Resurrection

I hope that the lenten season continues to benefit you. I would like to share a profound passage from Vladimir Lossky’s Orthodox Theology: An Introduction that I read in the recent parish newsletter:

The Father accepts the Son’s sacrifice “by economy”: “man had to be sanctified by God’s humanity.” (St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 45, On the Holy Pascha). Kenosis culminates and ends with Christ’s death, to sanctify the entire human condition, including death. “Cur Deus homo?” Not only because of our sins but for our sanctification, to introduce all the moments of our fallen life into that true life which never knows death. By Christ’s Resurrection, the fullness of life is inserted into the dry tree of humanity.

Christ’s work therefore presents a physical, even biological, reality. On the Cross, death is swallowed up in life. In Christ, death enters into divinity and there exhausts itself, for “it does not find a place there.” Redemption thus signifies a struggle of life against death, and the triumph of life. Christ’s humanity constitutes the first fruits of a new creation. Through it a force for life is introduced into the cosmos to resurrect and transfigure it in the final destruction of death. Since the Incarnation and the Resurrection, death is enervated, is no longer absolute. Everything converges towards the apokatastasis ton panton – that is to say towards the complete restoration of all that is destroyed by death, towards the embracing of the whole cosmos by the glory of God, become all in all things, without excluding from this fullness the freedom of each person before that full consciousness of his wretchedness which the light divine will communicate to him.

And so we must complete the legal image of redemption by a sacrificial image. Redemption is also the sacrifice where Christ, following the Epistle to the Hebrews, appears as the eternal sacrifice, “the High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek” Who finishes in heaven what He began on earth. Death on the Cross is the Passover of the New Alliance, fulfilling in one reality all that is symbolized by the Hebrew Passover. For freedom from death and the introduction of human nature into God’s Kingdom realize the only true Exodus. This sacrifice, this surrender of will itself to which Adam could not consent, certainly represents an expiation. But above all, it represents a sacrament, sacrament par excellence, the free gift to God, by Christ in His humanity, of the first fruits of creation, the fulfillment of that immense sacramental action, devolving first upon Adam, which the new humanity must complete, the offering of the cosmos as receptacle of grace. The Resurrection operates a change in fallen nature, opens a prodigious possibility: the possibility of sanctifying death itself. Henceforth, death is no longer an impasse, but a door to the Kingdom. Grace is given back to us, and if we carry it as clay vessels, or receptacles still mortal, our fragility will now take on a power which vanquishes death. The peaceful assurance of martyrs, insensible not only to fear but to physical pain itself, proves that an effective awareness of the Resurrection is henceforth possible to the Christian.

St. Gregory of Nyssa has well emphasized this sacramental character of the Passion. Christ, he said, did not wait to be forced by Judas’ betrayal, the wickedness of the priests, or the people’s lack of awareness: “He anticipated this will of evil, and before being forced, gave Himself freely on the eve of the Passion, Holy Thursday, by giving His flesh and blood.” It is the sacrifice of the immolated lamb before the beginning of the world that is so freely fulfilled here. The true Passion begins on Holy Thursday, but in total freedom.

Soon after came Gethsemane, then the Cross. Death on the Cross is that of a divine person: submitted to by the humanness of Christ, it is consciously suffered by His eternal hypostasis. And the separation of body and soul, the fundamental aspect of death, also breaks in upon the God-man. The soul that descends to Hell remains “enhypostasized” in the Word, and also the body hanging on the Cross. Similarly, the human person remains equally present in His body, recaptured by the elements, as in His soul. That is why we venerate the relics of the saints. But even more so is this true in the case of Christ, for divinity remains attached both to the body which slumbers the “pure sleep” of Holy Saturday in the sepulchre, and to the victorious soul which batters down the doors of Hell. How, indeed, could death destroy this person who suffers it in all its tragic estrangement, since this person is divine? That is why the Resurrection is already present in the death of Christ. Life springs from the tomb; it is manifested by death, in the very death of Christ. Human nature triumphs over an anti-natural condition. For it is, in its entirety, gathered up in Christ, “recapitulated” by Him, to adopt the expression of St. Irenaeus; Christ is the Head of the Church, that is to say of the new humanity in whose heart no sin, no adverse power can henceforth finally separate man from grace. In Christ, a man’s life can always begin afresh, however burdened with sin. A man can always surrender his life to Christ, so that He may restore it to him, liberated and whole. And this work of Christ is valid for the entire assemblage of humanity, even beyond the visible limits of the Church. All faith in the triumph of life over death, every presentiment of the Resurrection, are implicit belief in Christ, for only the power of Christ raises, and will raise, the dead. Since the victory of Christ over death, the Resurrection has become universal law for creation; and not only for humanity, but for the beasts, the plants and the stones, for the whole cosmos in which each one of us is the head. We are baptized in the death of Christ, shrouded in water to rise again with Him. And for the soul lustrated in the baptismal waters of tears, and ablaze with the fire of the Holy Spirit, the Resurrection is not only hope, but present reality. The parousia begins in the souls of the saints, and St. Simeon the New Theologian can write: “For those who became children of the light and sons of the day to come, for those who always walk in the light, the Day of the Lord will never come, for they are already with God and in God.” An infinite ocean of light flows from the risen body of the Lord.

Very timely—as it always must be. As I mentioned earlier in the week, tomorrow is the first anniversary of Lawrence Auster’s death. Please remember to pray for him.

זכרונו לברכה

Posted by Joseph on Friday, March 28, Anno Domini 2014
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Tuesday, February 4, A.D. 2014
Paul and Constantine

Last week, I received the following thoughts by James M. Kushiner from the Fellowship of St. James:

Paul, Jesus & Kings

Following up on last week’s comments about Constantine, at the risk of seeming overly preoccupied with this controversial figure, I offer some comments (with questions) on Holy Scripture as it pertains to the matter of a “Christian king.” I begin with a few references to kings in the New Testament:

1. “You will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be a time for you to bear testimony.” (Jesus to his disciples, Luke 21:12b-13) The witnesses of the gospel will go all the way to the top, so to speak.

2. “Go, for [Saul] is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel.” (Jesus to Ananias, Acts 9:15) Jesus explicitly says Saul will be witnessing to kings as “a chosen instrument of mine.”

3. “At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun shining round me… And the Lord said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” (Saul, now Paul, in his defense before King Agrippa, Acts 26:13,15) Here, Paul is, in fact, witnessing before a king, as Jesus said he would.

4. “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time you think to make me a Christian!” And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that ... you ... might become such as I am-except for these chains.” (Acts 26:27-29) Paul witnesses to Agrippa with the intent of converting him to Jesus Christ. (What would have happened had Agrippa converted?)

5. And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man [Paul] could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.” (Acts 26:32) Was Paul’s earlier appeal, then, rash and ill-advised? Did he see the opportunity to bring his case before the Emperor and jump at it? Did Paul hope to convert Caesar himself?

6. “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life…..” (1 Timothy 2:1-2) Paul urges Timothy about intentional prayer for kings (why does he use four words to describe our efforts?).

It is no stretch to say that Paul would have rejoiced at the conversion of the Emperor. So why not Constantine? My point is that Christians, following the New Testament teachings, would have welcomed royal sympathy and certainly even conversion to Christianity. (“Trust, but verify”?) They were taught to pray for a “peaceable life,” which I assume would entail the end of state persecution. Constantine ended it.

But the temptation to either blame Constantine for a supposed “demise” of Christianity or to over-exalt him for what others regard as successes may be rooted in a false notion. That is, placing all our hope or blame on one person. That goes for modern as well as ancient times. While we would be foolish not realize the harm that one man can do to the church or to a nation (Stalin? Hitler?), the bedrock upon which Christians must stand is the confession that Jesus is Lord no matter what, and to accept whatever consequences attend to that witness according to the times in which we live, even persecution.

Further, bearing witness before kings requires being willing to speak to all kings, pagan and Christian alike, as Ambrose rebuked the Emperor Theodosius for the massacre at Thessalonica and as Patrick rebuked Coroticus for his crime. The strength of the church always depends on the strength of its members (see the Letters to the Seven Churches in Revelation), and its strength is not in worldly measures of “success” or even societal “influence,” but in the power of holiness and faithful endurance. So we pray for our rulers, in season and out of season. The Lord will separate the Wheat and the Tares in the End.

Unlike secularized modern Protestants, we Orthodox do not fret over Constantine. After all, we venerate him as a saint, and we see a just cooperation between the throne and the altar toward the common good as the ideal human political arrangement. Unfortunately, Constantine’s story teaches us a sad truth, too, which was lamented long before the advent of Christian empire: that even good kings sometimes have crappy children.

Posted by Joseph on Tuesday, February 4, Anno Domini 2014
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Friday, July 26, A.D. 2013
The Only Friend of Man

I finish this week’s Doxaconapalooza with the kontakia of Romanos the Melode for Saint Elijah. Before Metropolitan Savas read selections from the work, he noted that kontakia used to be lengthy hymnographical sermons, though we rarely use them anymore except for a few akathists. In general, the kontakia were abbreviated, and we only hear one stanza of a much larger original work. I found a translation of the kontakia on a document repository site. The bottom of the page goes into further historical detail about the development of kontakia and about Romanos the Melode. Here is a more consistently formatted copy of the selection:

Elijah, of great renown, prophet with foresight of he great works of our God,
thou who didst with thy word old back the rain clouds,
Intercede for us before
The only Friend of man.

When he saw the great lawlessness of man
and the great love of God for man,
The prophet Elijah was provoked and angered
And cast pitiless words at the God of great pity, saying:
“Make Thy anger felt against those who now disregard Thee, most just Judge.”
But in no way d he change the heart of the good Lord for the chastisement
Of those who had scorned Him; for always He awaits
the repentance of all men,
The only Friend of man.

Then when the prophet saw that all the earth was in a state of lawlessness
And that th Exalted One was not angered but even allowed it,
He was moved anger, and he declared to the Merciful One:
“I shall take control over and punish the impiety
of those who scorn Thee.
They have all despised Thy great long-suffering;
and they have not considered
Thee as All-Merciful Father.
But Thou, the Lover of children dost take pity on Thy sons,
Thou, the only Friend of man.

“Now, I shall judge in favor of the Creator;
I shall completely wipe the impious from off the earth,
And I shall decree their punishment; but I fear His divine kindness,
For the Lover of man is troubled by a few tears.
What, then, can I think up in the face of such goodness?
And how shall I counteract His mercy ?
Perhaps in strengthening my decree with an oath, so that, shamed at it,
the Just One will cancel
My harsh sentence, and in so doing confirm my judgment
that He as the All-Powerful One
Is the Friend of man.

The oath preceded the judgment and was a preamble of the decision
But if you wish, let us hurry to the Bible and let us read its words.
For the prophet said in his anger, as is written:
“By the life of the Lord, neither dew nor rain shall fall except at my word.”
But at once the King answered Elijah:
“1f I see repentance and tears flowing freely, it will be impossible for me
not to supply my mercy to men.
I am the only Friend of man.

The prophet at once spoke up and put forward the rightness of his oath:
“I have sworn by Thee,” he said, “the God of all, the most holy Lord,
that rain will not be given except by my command.
Whenever I see that the people have repented, I shall entreat
It is not, then, in Thy power,
O most just Judge, to do away with the punishment
Resulting from the oath that I have made.
Guard and seal it as Thou dost restrict Thy tender care,
O only Friend of man.”

Famine besieged the land, and the inhabitants were brought to ruin,
Groaning and raising their hands in supplication to the All-Merciful.
The Master was distressed by a dilemma:
On the one hand, He wished to open His heart to the suppliants
and to hasten His compassion,
But, on the other hand, He respected the oath of the prophet.
He did not give rain, but
He devised a pretext that would restrain and distress the spirit of the prophet,
He, the only Friend of man.

The Master, seeing that the Thesbite was roused to anger by his own people,
Thought it right that the just man should share the punishment
of hunger along with the others
In order that, when he was pressed by hunger, he would decide
In line with his oath on humanitarian considerations,
to put an end to the punishment.
For it is in truth a fearful thing, the inexorable demands of the stomach!
And He supports through nourishment in His divine wisdom
every living thing—man and beast.’
He is the only Friend of man.

The Compassionate One, who wished to save the earth,
At once answered Elijah: “Now hearken carefully to my words, and heed what I say.
I am suffering, and I hasten to find a release of the punishment.
I struggle to give nourishment to all who are famished, for I am indeed merciful.
When I see the flood of tears, like a father I am moved;
I feel pity for those consumed
By hunger and anguish, for I wish to save sinners through their repentance—
I, the only Friend of man.

“Hear me carefully, prophet, for I am very much in earnest about what you know:
All men have in me a decree of mercy,
And in it I agreed that I did not want to see the death
Of those who had made mistakes; but rather I wished their life.
Do not then, expose me as making false promises to them, but welcome my plea.
I offer my mediation to you, for only the tears of the widow have disturbed you,
but I feel for all men, I the only Friend of man.”

Elijah made his mind, heart, and ears submissive to the words of the Most High,
And he also brought his spirit under subjection and displayed it in these words:
He said, “Let Thy will be done, O Lord.
Give rain and life to the one who is dead, and vivify all creation.
God is life and resurrection and redemption;
grant Thy Grace to man and beast,
for Thou alone art able to save the world from death,
Thou, the only Friend of man.

At once, the clouds, at the order of the Creator,
Pregnant with water, passed over the air, sending down rain in streams.
The earth rejoiced and praised the Lord,
and the woman received her resurrected child.
He rejoiced with all the others, and the earth shouted with joy
To the only Friend of man.

Then, after a certain amount of time had passed, Elijah saw man’s sin,
And he took thought as to how an even harsher punishment might be inflicted.
The Merciful One, observing this, said to the prophet:
“I know the zeal that you have for righteousness,
and I know your intention,
But I feel for the sinners whenever they suffer beyond all measure.
But you, as blameless, grow angry,
And you are not able to endure it.
But I cannot endure that anyone be destroyed;
I am the only Friend of man.”

But after this, the Master, seeing that Elijah was harsh toward men
And that he was disturbed about the race of man,
separated him from their earth, saying:
“Be set apart from the dwelling of men.
But I, as One who pities, shall descend to men and become man.
Depart, then, from the earth, since you are not able to endure the sins of men,
While I, a heavenly creature, shall be with the sinners,
and save them from their sins,
I, the only Friend of man.

“If, as I have said, prophet, you are unable to live with men who have sinned,
Then, come, and with me inhabit the domain of my friends;
there is no sin there.
But I shall descend, since I am able to take
On my shoulders the lost and to cry to the fallen:
‘All you who are sinners, come, hurry to me and find rest, for I have come,
Not to punish those whom I created, but to snatch sinners from impiety.’
I, the only Friend of man.”

And so, Elijah, sent off to Heaven,
appeared as the prototype of the future,
For the Thesbite was translated in a chariot of fire, as it is written.
Christ ascended in clouds among the powerful.
But Elijah sent down his mantel from on high to Elisha,
while Christ sent to the apostles His Holy Spirit whom we have all
When we received baptism.
Through it we are sanctified,
as He taught all of us,
He who is the only Friend of man.

Posted by Joseph on Friday, July 26, Anno Domini 2013
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Friday, June 21, A.D. 2013
Giving the Holy Spirit

This coming Sunday, I wish my Orthodox readers a blessed feast of Pentecost.

As I have mentioned before in “What Could We Salvage in the West?,” I find the Roman liturgical color for Pentecost—red—superior to the Russian Church’s color of green. I know that the Spirit renews the world, and green is an appropriate color, but fire red is hot! It differs from the maroon red that we use in the feasts of the Lord, and we need not abandon the significance of that tradition. As my personal attempt at low level parochial syncretism, I always wear bright red to the Pentecostal liturgy.

Several weeks ago, I was not able to attend the divine liturgy at my parish due to work, and the Orthodox generally do not have evening liturgies except for certain special occasions. So, when I have to miss my Sunday obligation, my penance is the Roman mass. I attend mass on Sunday evenings as the next best option. Apparently, that practice upsets both the Orthodox and the Latins, but it is what I do. Anyway, by chance, I happened to be wearing a green shirt when the Roman priest entered in his fiery vestments. I then realized that it was Pentecost in the Roman Church, and I was wearing green. Life is funny, and the Lord has a sense of humor.

The readings for that Sunday were the second chapter of Acts that recounts Pentecost, Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians wherein he writes that no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the gospel of John when Jesus breathes upon his disciples and gives them the Holy Spirit:

Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.
And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the LORD.
Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.
And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:
Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

I quoted that same passage in “The Birth of the Church” a few years ago when I challenged the common practice of calling Pentecost the beginning of the Church. Listening to the readings, I had similar thoughts about what the various “givings” of the Holy Spirit mean. The post from a few years ago involved that idea, but I had never before really questioned the differences explicitly. The Holy Spirit inspired the prophets long before Jesus met his disciples on Pascha, and then Jesus breathed the Spirit upon those disciples weeks before Pentecost. What are the specific differences in these givings and receivings?

After I had a few conversations about the topic with friends, our uninformed consensus was that the prophetic and apostolic inspirations before Pentecost were temporary and connected to a particular moment and task to be done. Moreover, the Holy Spirit is active in the creation and sustenance of reality; man has an experience of him just by being. To the extent that the mind perceives truth at all appears to have something to do with the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of Truth as we say in one of our most common prayers,

O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things, Treasury of good things and Giver of life: Come and dwell in us, and cleanse us of all impurity, and save our souls, O Good One.

I remember reading Dulles’ distinction between revelation from above (in prophesy and scripture) and revelation from below (through nature and reason), and yet all such revelation proceeds from God. The Holy Spirit appears to have a special operational function in that revealing and in our seeing and understanding. It therefore is fitting for the Spirit to prepare the prophets to receive their special revelation, just as it makes sense that Jesus sends the Spirit to the apostles to prepare them to experience and to understand the most significant revelation of all on that first day of the week. In contrast, the giving of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost is not limited to a particular moment or mission but is rather a permanent feature of the Christian community to support the body of Christ in the life that God calls us to lead.

Posted by Joseph on Friday, June 21, Anno Domini 2013
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