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.
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”
“Kristor Promotes Ignorance”
“Kristor Elucidates the Darkness”
“Kristor Poses Evil Problems”
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.
I hope that your Paschal season continues to be joyful. For today, I offer a wonderful sermon on Pascha by Fr. Alexander Men, which he gave in A.D. 1989: “The Essential Meaning of the Paschal Feast.” Fr. Alexander would be murdered the following year; he never lived to see the fall of the Soviet Union. The second part:
The earthly life of Jesus Christ, His brief witness to the world, ended in failure, in the most profound defeat and overwhelming tragedy, because His disciples – as, indeed, everyone does – sought triumph over evil, they sought external victory, they thirsted for external power. They saw that power was hidden in the nature of their Teacher, that He could restrain the possessed, heal the sick, and pass unharmed through crowds trying to seize Him. And suddenly all this ended in the blink of an eye. It was as if they had all abandoned Him in the garden of Gethsemane the night He prayed concerning His cup.
What comes next was the most difficult for them, because He was treated like the least among criminals, disgracefully, with the clothes torn off Him. He who had been held in awe was now nailed onto a pillory alongside two bandits, with a mocking inscription hung above Him. After a short time He gave up the spirit. He gave up the spirit while praying for His executioners, repeating the words of a psalm. And then it was all over. And therewith Christianity came to an end.
Some people say: yes, of course, the disciples reverently preserved His memory, which learned people passed on. But these were not the sort of people to preserve memory and doctrine: they were simply artisans and fishermen, unlearned but kind people that were faithful to Him. After all, a complete catastrophe had just taken place before their very eyes, eliminating their hopes with one fatal blow. They said: “But we had thought He was the One Who would save Israel” from the oppressors – and to save, along with Israel, the entire world from evil. “But we had thought…” Such was their condition: fear, despair, and profound disappointment. They spent Saturday without going out – by Jewish law it was forbidden to travel far on the Sabbath. They locked themselves in, silently remaining in this stupor. I do not think they spoke about anything, but just sat there in silence. They were in mourning.
This was not simply the mourning for a deceased loved one: this was a lamentation for all their life dreams, all their hopes, all the wagers they had placed on this beautiful but misled man.
Some time later, early in the morning, before the sun had risen – by our reckoning this was the first day of the week, which we now call Sunday – Mary Magdalene came running to them. We know little about this woman. Legend has it that she had been a harlot. This is often used in novels and films, although in fact nothing is known about it – all this is fiction. The Gospels simply say that she had been ill, and that He had cast seven demons from her.
She entered, saying: “I have seen Him.” They had a single response: that the poor woman has gone mad from grief. But she relates that she had been at the tomb, that the stone had been rolled away, and that she had stood and wept. Other women had also seen that the tomb was empty, which meant that the authorities had simply extracted the body and hidden it somewhere so that people would not go to the grave to pray – a natural solution.
She said: “And then someone approached me from behind, saying something to me. I thought it was the gardener.” (There was a garden there, in which the tomb was located.) “I said: ‘Sir, if you have removed Him from here, then tell me where you have laid Him.’ He spoke a single word to me: ‘Mary.’ And I recognized Him: He Himself was standing before me! I rushed to touch Him, but He told me: ‘Do not touch Me. Do not touch me because I have not yet gone there.’” There were odd words: “When I go there, then you can touch Me.” (I will explain to you later what was going on here.)
It goes without saying that none of the disciples believed her. Indeed, what might a woman reduced to despair say? But then several more women came. They had gone to perform the final rite of anointing Him. In the East the custom exists of anointing the body of the deceased with precious ointment, which is very expensive. But inasmuch as Jesus had been buried quickly (it had to be done before the setting of the sun), they did not read all the prayers or properly anoint the body. Not having accomplished this, they wanted to finish it now.
So they went. They did not even know that the tomb had been guarded. They arrived: the enormous stone – which was round and flat, moving in a groove – had been rolled away. The tomb was empty, and a young man in white clothing was sitting there. He said: “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” They were terrified and frightened: something about this young man in white clothing provoked fear in them. They ran away, deciding not to say anything to anyone. They were afraid. What were they afraid of? Horror had struck them: it was as if they had touched some otherworldly, superhuman mystery.
On that same day, two disciples were walking to a village near Jerusalem, talking between themselves and lamenting their fate, lamenting His fate, and bemoaning all this misfortune. Evening arrived. Someone joined them, walking alongside them. In the twilight the stranger asked them: “What are you talking about? Why are you so sad?” They replied: “Are you a stranger here? Have you not heard that this was Jesus of Nazareth Who died? He was executed the day before yesterday, but we had thought that He was the Savior of Israel and the world.”
Then He replied: “You are foolish; you have slow and hardened hearts. Even in the Bible, in Scripture, it says that the Savior, when He comes to the world, must suffer, die, and rise again.” He began to cite the words of the Old Testament prophets and the words of the Psalmist that speak of how the Redeemer, when come to the people, will endure suffering – great suffering, up to and including death.
Suddenly everything somehow became easier, calmer, and clearer for them. They reached their village. He was going to continue further, but they said to the Stranger: “Stay with us, be with us, and eat with us – for the day is already inclining toward evening.” He went with them into a room in the half-darkness. They lit the lamps and placed bread on the table.
He took and broke it, using the very same gesture of blessing that was so familiar to the disciples. They peered into those features – and suddenly the two of them were alone. There was bread on the table, breadcrumbs on the tablecloth – and the two disciples in the room.
They leapt up, saying: “Did not our hearts burn while He was speaking? It is He Who gave us this sign!” They rushed back from this village of Emmaus in the dark, running to Jerusalem. They knocked at the door of the disciples, who had locked themselves in for fear of agents and soldiers. When they opened the door, there were already no more tears, no more mourning. They all embraced, laughing and saying: “He appeared to Peter! The women have seen Him!”
They, too, related how they had recognized Him in the breaking of the bread, in this sacred act of bread-breaking. We call this the Eucharist; our Liturgy is at this table. We the faithful recognize His great presence through the breaking of bread.
Then they sat together, confused and anxious, but eternally joyful, still not understanding what had taken place. And suddenly they heard His voice: “Peace be unto you” – which means “salutations” or “greetings.” And He was standing among them. The doors had not been opened, and they had not heard a knock. His face changed continuously. This was an astonishing encounter, and there can be no talk of a “revived” body. The tomb was empty, but the Jesus Who appeared to them was different. He said to them: “I have been given all power in heaven and on earth.” He could be recognized, but He could also not be recognized. He could disappear as suddenly as He appeared.
But they had to go on living; they had to feed themselves by the work of their own hands.
The majority were fishermen. They went to the Sea of Galilee, cast their net, brought it up empty, and then cast it again. It was early in the morning; the sun had not risen, but the surface of the sea had already begun to turn silver. As they approached the shore someone was standing in the distance. He shouted: “Do you have anything to eat there?” It often happened that people came and bought fresh fish from the fishermen on board. They replied: “No, we fished all night, but did not catch anything.” And suddenly they remembered.
John was the youngest of them; he may not have been even twenty. He remembered that when the Lord Jesus had called them, the same thing had happened: Peter had worked all night without catching anything, but after Jesus spoke he cast again, and his nets were filled. When he was thinking about this, a cry was heard from the shore: “Cast to the right side!” They cast the nets as if asleep, but suddenly felt how it had begun to strain. They struck the oars and began moving towards the shore. The young John cast himself before Peter and whispered: “It is He, the Teacher.”
Peter was not the sort of person to reason and discuss: he disrobed immediately – they were half-naked on the boat – and began to swim to shore. When he reached the shore, a man with barely recognizable features was standing there. A fire was burning, and there was grilled fish on spits and bread – the meal was ready. “Come,” said He Who was both so familiar and simultaneously unfamiliar, “come, sit down, and eat!” They dried themselves off in silence one by one – they had come out of the water – and sat around the fire, silently passing around the bread and fish.
Suddenly everyone felt that this was as it had been before: He was among them. They hid their faces, lowered their eyes to the ground, and concealed themselves with their veils. No one dared ask: Who are You? But these simple hearts all suddenly felt that this was an Encounter, this was a Visitation.
Then He arose and, taking Simon Peter by the hand, took him aside, while the young John crept behind him. Peter heard:
“Simon, Simon, son of Jonas, do you love Me?”
“Yes, my Lord, I love You,” he said.
He then heard the voice that was infinitely familiar to him: “Then feed My sheep.”
Then He asked him again: “Simon, son of Jonas, do you love Me?”
“Yes, Lord, I love You.”
“Feed My lambs.”
And a third time: “Simon, do you love Me?”
Simon suddenly remembered how he had denied Him three times out of fear, saying he did not know this Man; how, not in order to betray Him but out of cowardice, he had denied Him three times. Grieved and sorrowful, he said:
“You know everything. You know that I love You.” Then he again heard the voice:
“Feed My sheep. Follow Me. When you were young, you went wherever you wanted. When you are old, they will bind your hands and lead you where you do not want to go. Follow Me.” Follow Me along the path of the Cross – such was the meaning.
“And what about him?” asked Simon about his younger brother, John, who was walking behind them.
“Do not give thought to him. If I so desire, he will be here on earth until I come. You follow Me!”
Then it was the hills of Galilee once again. Everywhere there are places where He had been. He recognized every hill. You all know well just how dear places where we met with someone we love become to us. They arrived at Galilee, walking along the valleys, among fig trees, chestnut trees, and cypresses, saying: “Here He was with us, and here He said such-and-such, and on this shore He performed such-and-such a miracle.” Once they saw Him standing on a mount, and He spoke solemn words, special words, that seemed to resound through the entire world, and which have continued to echo throughout the centuries: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and teach all the nations.” Namely: has been given.
This means that as long as He was bearing His Cross on earth, He did not have such power. He was prone to illness, human infirmity, and even death. But now He says: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and teach all the nations, Baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to perform everything I have commanded you; and I will be with you always until the end of the ages.”
Baptism means being united into one in the spiritual community that today we call the Church. That is what Baptism is. “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Of the One God, Who appeared to us as the Creator of the world; and of Him Who was revealed as Divine Love in this world to which He came; and of the Spirit of God, Who lived, lives, and will live in mankind, in His community: the Church of Christ.
“Go and teach all nations.” The history of the Church began at this moment two thousand years ago, from a small beginning, from a small brook.
What does the Resurrection mean? The victory of Truth. As the great Russian philosopher, Vladimir Solovyov, put it: If Pilate, the high priests, and all the dark forces had turned out to be right, then life would be meaningless, for in that case evil would have defeated and shattered the most beautiful, the most pure, the sinless God-Man. But, as the New Testament tells us, death could not contain Him. Our spirit is powerless to halt the process of death and decay, but pure and deified spirit is capable of accomplishing the victory over the decaying forces of matter.
This is the origin of that miraculous historical event: yesterday they were a handful of frightened fishermen, but today they enter the public square and shout: “Christ is Risen!” This is what they tell people, these very same ones who yesterday were afraid even to whisper about Him. Historians know this; the history of the world knows this. No one saw the mystery that was accomplished in the tomb. And there is no need to try to imagine it. But we must face the fact that an explosion burst out of this small kernel.
Many of you have likely heard that, according to modern theory, the universe came about from a small nucleus – and then there was an explosion, the Big Bang. Then the universe began to unfold. So it was with Christianity: a seed once sown explodes, Christ gives rise to the Church, and now for two thousand years these ecclesial galaxies have scattered in different directions.
This also means that He has remained with us. This is the most important thing. For example, the Church’s hymnody, architecture, traditions, books, and customs are, of course, as precious to me now as they were in my childhood. But all this would have only passing significance – no more important than the traditions of the ancient Indians or Egyptians, or of any other people or time – had I not felt that He indeed has remained, had I not heard His voice within, a distinct voice, more distinct than any human voice.
This is the mystery of history, the mystery of the earth: He has remained. The greatest moving force in history has remained intimately and profoundly in the world. “I will be with you always, until the end of the ages.” He rose in order to be present everywhere in our lives. Everyone can find Him today, too. He is not a historical figure about whom one can either remember or forget. Yes, He lived two thousand years ago. Yes, in ten years we will celebrate the two thousand year anniversary of His birth. But He not simply was, but is. This is the whole mystery of Christianity, the key to its power.
There have been many great scholars these past twenty centuries. Many minds have appeared in the spheres of philosophy and politics. On the island of St. Helena, Napoleon said that he had wanted to start a new religion in the world. But he added: alas, with my regiments and armies I could not accomplish what Jesus Christ accomplished, Who without an army taught us to love Him for centuries.
Christ has always conquered without bloodshed. When violence has been done in His name, when attempts have been made to impose the Gospel by force of arms or through coercion – then the spirit of Christ has been perverted. Why, you might think, in the history of the Christian churches have there been so many tragic pages? Why have they so often endured calamitous and grievous defeats? Was it only because there were forces of political evil or some other such forces? By no means was it only because of this.
It all started with us Christians. When we deviated from Him, therein lay the germ of future catastrophe. When today, with sorrow and pain of heart, I look at ruined churches or photographs of churches that have not survived, I appreciate that this is the work of barbarians, of cultured savages, so to speak; this is the work of totalitarianism, violence, intolerance, and black hatred. But I see the main root in something else.
A holy thing remains solid and inviolable only so long as the people gathered around it do not lose spirit. The Lord Jesus told those of His disciples who wanted to call down fire from heaven to punish sinners: “You do not know of what spirit you are.” These are words that could be addressed to our brothers: you do not know of what spirit you are. This is all very important.
There is nothing accidental in history; there is nothing accidental in life. We reap what we sow. If today we weep over ruined churches, then we should weep no less for the past sins and mistakes of Christians, our spiritual and bodily ancestors. Something had obviously gone wrong, that such tribulation might occur. It could not have occurred on its own. Because He has remained, and He continues to preside.
He said: “Now is the judgment of this world.” At the very moment of His coming, when His gaze penetrated into people’s souls, then began the judgment of each person’s conscience and fate. And this judgment continues today. This judgment is purifying. This judgment raises us up from the level of animals; it raises us up from the level of everyday dullness; and it raises us up to the level of spirituality, insight, and the fulfillment of our divine ideal in this earthly life.
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.
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.
Happy feast day of Saints Nina and Sava, especially to the Georgians and Serbians out there!
I recently followed a recommendation by John C. Wright to read Matt Walsh’s page. Wright is, as usual, right; Walsh’s writings are quite sensible and entertaining. I particularly enjoyed his post “Why do you Christians always throw the Bible in my face?” A sample:
In any case, Christians are always shoving their religion in people’s faces. Everything they say, every position they hold, every thought they express — it’s all RELIGION. Even if they don’t explicitly say, “I think this because of my religion,” we all know the score. If it comes from RELIGION, as a secularist, I must hate it. If it’s been heavily influenced or transformed by RELIGION or RELIGIOUS people, I must hate it. That’s why I’m not a big fan of art, architecture, democracy, science, medicine, philosophy, astronomy, the university system, the abolition of slavery, America, Natural Law, Natural Rights, mathematics, the justice system, literature, music, and civilization.
Devious. Devious Christians. It’s like they have this secret plot and they use all of these methods to subversively give glory to their fake sky wizard. That’s a good line, isn’t it? I take this idea of God; the uncaused cause, the first mover, the Creator, the Absolute, the Answer to the riddle that no quantum physicist has ever been able to solve, and I equate it to a “wizard.” As if belief in dimensions of existence that transcend our physical plane can somehow be fairly compared to belief in magical Disney creatures. It’s an effective tactic, isn’t it? Aquinas, DaVinci, Shakespeare, Washington — most of the intellectual giants and great leaders in the past two thousand years have been guided by this conviction, but I can utterly dismiss it with one sarcastic and belittling phrase. There are thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of pages of Christian apologetics written by some of the smartest men and women to ever walk the face of the Earth, yet I can chalk it all up to something as absurd as the Tooth Fairy. And you know what? I can do that without even reading ANY of those pages! You know why? Because I’m a critical thinker, my friend.
A critical thinker — I think about criticizing things. And then I do, without understanding the depth, enormity and beauty of that which I mock.
Walsh goes on to do a contemporary version of C.S. Lewis’ great point about Jesus’ being a madman, a con man, or the Son of God.
Today is the forty-first anniversary of Roe versus Wade. Remember the marchers—and remember their cause.
We have in the Old Testament a dramatic depiction of individual and collective obedience, rebellion, repentance, and redemption. The script is there for all to see, and yet we so often ignore the story, thinking that we are living in another tale with a different plot—and with a different author. However, it is the same adventure, too often a misadventure, and we would be wise to learn from the Hebrews’ hard lessons. Here in the twenty-sixth chapter of Leviticus is the Lord’s rather explicit summary of his covenant with Israel. It is not subtle; there are no asterisks or small printed disclosures. It is legislation along with the plain consequences of how man responds to the rules. We should take heed.
Ye shall make you no idols nor graven image, neither rear you up a standing image, neither shall ye set up any image of stone in your land, to bow down unto it: for I am the Lord your God.
Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord.
If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them;
Then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit.
And your threshing shall reach unto the vintage, and the vintage shall reach unto the sowing time: and ye shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely.
And I will give peace in the land, and ye shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid: and I will rid evil beasts out of the land, neither shall the sword go through your land.
And ye shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword.
And five of you shall chase an hundred, and an hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight: and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword.
For I will have respect unto you, and make you fruitful, and multiply you, and establish my covenant with you.
And ye shall eat old store, and bring forth the old because of the new.
And I set my tabernacle among you: and my soul shall not abhor you.
And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people.
I am the Lord your God, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, that ye should not be their bondmen; and I have broken the bands of your yoke, and made you go upright.
But if ye will not hearken unto me, and will not do all these commandments;
And if ye shall despise my statutes, or if your soul abhor my judgments, so that ye will not do all my commandments, but that ye break my covenant:
I also will do this unto you; I will even appoint over you terror, consumption, and the burning ague, that shall consume the eyes, and cause sorrow of heart: and ye shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it.
And I will set my face against you, and ye shall be slain before your enemies: they that hate you shall reign over you; and ye shall flee when none pursueth you.
And if ye will not yet for all this hearken unto me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins.
And I will break the pride of your power; and I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass:
And your strength shall be spent in vain: for your land shall not yield her increase, neither shall the trees of the land yield their fruits.
And if ye walk contrary unto me, and will not hearken unto me; I will bring seven times more plagues upon you according to your sins.
I will also send wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your children, and destroy your cattle, and make you few in number; and your high ways shall be desolate.
And if ye will not be reformed by me by these things, but will walk contrary unto me;
Then will I also walk contrary unto you, and will punish you yet seven times for your sins.
And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall avenge the quarrel of my covenant: and when ye are gathered together within your cities, I will send the pestilence among you; and ye shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy.
And when I have broken the staff of your bread, ten women shall bake your bread in one oven, and they shall deliver you your bread again by weight: and ye shall eat, and not be satisfied.
And if ye will not for all this hearken unto me, but walk contrary unto me;
Then I will walk contrary unto you also in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins.
And ye shall eat the flesh of your sons, and the flesh of your daughters shall ye eat.
And I will destroy your high places, and cut down your images, and cast your carcases upon the carcases of your idols, and my soul shall abhor you.
And I will make your cities waste, and bring your sanctuaries unto desolation, and I will not smell the savour of your sweet odours.
And I will bring the land into desolation: and your enemies which dwell therein shall be astonished at it.
And I will scatter you among the heathen, and will draw out a sword after you: and your land shall be desolate, and your cities waste.
Then shall the land enjoy her sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate, and ye be in your enemies’ land; even then shall the land rest, and enjoy her sabbaths.
As long as it lieth desolate it shall rest; because it did not rest in your sabbaths, when ye dwelt upon it.
And upon them that are left alive of you I will send a faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies; and the sound of a shaken leaf shall chase them; and they shall flee, as fleeing from a sword; and they shall fall when none pursueth.
And they shall fall one upon another, as it were before a sword, when none pursueth: and ye shall have no power to stand before your enemies.
And ye shall perish among the heathen, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up.
And they that are left of you shall pine away in their iniquity in your enemies’ lands; and also in the iniquities of their fathers shall they pine away with them.
If they shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers, with their trespass which they trespassed against me, and that also they have walked contrary unto me;
And that I also have walked contrary unto them, and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity:
Then will I remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land.
The land also shall be left of them, and shall enjoy her sabbaths, while she lieth desolate without them: and they shall accept of the punishment of their iniquity: because, even because they despised my judgments, and because their soul abhorred my statutes.
And yet for all that, when they be in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break my covenant with them: for I am the Lord their God.
But I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the heathen, that I might be their God: I am the Lord.
These are the statutes and judgments and laws, which the Lord made between him and the children of Israel in mount Sinai by the hand of Moses.
Lord, have mercy.
A blessed Christmas Eve to those who follow the old calendar and a happy Epiphany to the new calendarists!
A few weeks ago on the feast of Saint Hilarion (Troitsky) of Vereya, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow delivered a sermon on the epistle reading from Galatians at the Stretensky Monastery: “Living in the Spirit.” May it be edifying for you.
Let us ask Saint Hilarion to pray to the Lord that we may always walk in the Spirit.
Today is the feast day of Saint Joseph of Arimathea on the new calendar. We old schoolers will celebrate it in thirteen days, but I thought that it would be appropriate to post something edifying to the soul today nonetheless.
A few weeks ago, I received the July newsletter of the Hermitage of the Holy Cross in West Virginia. The newsletter recounts recent events at the monastery, and it features photographs from a few of the monks’ recent pilgrimage to Russia. I forwarded it to my brother Aaron, as we were able to visit some places shown. The newsletter also contains a segment from The Brothers Karamazov along with a link to commentary by Fr. Stephen Freeman, who keeps the Glory to God for All Things blog.
The Brothers Karamazov is my favorite novel, and Fr. Stephen is perhaps my favorite religious blogger. I recommend the post. It deals with an aspect of Christianity that has long troubled me—our religion’s apparent disregard for justice. Last week, I posted Saint Romanos the Melode’s hymn for the feast of Saint Elijah, wherein the great prophet has no patience for human wickedness but the Lord, “the only friend of man,” shows endless mercy. Fr. Stephen’s analysis does not resolve the problem for me, but it illumines a promising path that I should probably explore.