Saturday, May 12, 2018

"Through the Son": The Early Church on the Son's mediatory role in the Father's procession of the Holy Spirit


St. Gregory Thaumaturgus
We acknowledge that the Son and the Spirit are consubstantial with the Father, and that the substance of the Trinity is one — that is, that there is one divinity according to nature, the Father remaining unbegotten, and the Son being begotten of the Father in a true generation, and not in a formation by will, and the Spirit being sent forth eternally from the substance of the Father through the Son, with power to sanctify the whole creation.
(Gregory Thaumaturgus, Sectional confession of faith 17)
St. Gregory of Nyssa
If, however, if any one cavils at our argument, on the ground that by not admitting the difference of nature it leads to a mixture and confusion of the Persons, we shall make to such a charge this answer — that while we confess the invariable character of the nature, we do not deny the difference in respect of cause, and that which is caused, by which alone we apprehend that one Person is distinguished from another — by our belief, that is, that one is the Cause, and another is of the Cause; and again in that which is of the Cause we recognize another distinction. For one is directly from the first Cause, and another by that which is directly from the first Cause; so that the attribute of being Only-begotten abides without doubt in the Son, and the interposition of the Son, while it guards His attribute of being Only-begotten, does not shut out the Spirit from His relation by way of nature to the Father.
(Gregory of Nyssa, To Abablius “On Not Three Gods”)*
--- St. Nyssen refers here to the Three Persons of the Trinity: One is "the Cause" (the Father), Another is "[directly] of the Cause" (The Son), and Another yet is "by that which is directly from the first Cause. (the Spirit)" The Casuality, in and of itself, is still referred back to the Father -- yet He is called "first Cause", and the Son is said to be "directly from the first Cause." Gregory is still assertive that the Spirit is not "shut out" from the Father in His relation to Him, but acknowledges that the Son plays an eternal role in that relationship.
For the plea will not avail them in their self-defense, that He is delivered by our Lord to His disciples third in order, and that therefore He is estranged from our ideal of Deity. Where in each case activity in working good shows no diminution or variation whatever, how unreasonable it is to suppose the numerical order to be a sign of any diminution or essential variation! It is as if a man were to see a separate flame burning on three torches (and we will suppose that the third flame is caused by that of the first being transmitted to the middle, and then kindling the end torch ), and were to maintain that the heat in the first exceeded that of the others; that that next it showed a variation from it in the direction of the less; and that the third could not be called fire at all, though it burnt and shone just like fire, and did everything that fire does. But if there is really no hindrance to the third torch being fire, though it has been kindled from a previous flame, what is the philosophy of these men, who profanely think that they can slight the dignity of the Holy Spirit because He is named by the Divine lips after the Father and the Son?
(Gregory of Nyssa, On the Holy Spirit, Against the Macedonians 6)*
--- Here, Gregory vouches for the co-equality of persons signified the Divine Name (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) against those who infer, from the fact that those titles occur in sequence, their must be a degradation in dignity. Nyssen compares the Divine Nature shared by all three Persons to a Fire alight upon three Torches. Ablaze on all three torches is the same fire, signifying the oneness of Divine nature and being, but one of those torches supplies the other two with that flame. That first torch passes its fire to a second, which in turn passes that fire received from the first torch onto the third. One torch is originator of that flame, and it is the same flame among all three, but the third torch receives the first torches light via the second torch.

St. Hilary of Poitiers:
As in the revelation that Your Only-begotten was born of You before times eternal, when we cease to struggle with ambiguities of language and difficulties of thought, the one certainty of His birth remains; so I hold fast in my consciousness the truth that Your Holy Spirit is from You and through Him, although I cannot by my intellect comprehend it.
(Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity 12:56) *
Hilary compares the "revelation" of the Son's eternal origin with the "truth" of the Spirit, and if he is taking this comparison to its fullest extent, he might also be referring to the Spirit's eternal origin. A great mystery of the Christian faith is that the Sons was born eternally of the Father; another great mystery of the Faith is that the Spirit is "from [the Father] through [the Son.]

Elsewhere in this same work, Hilary explicitly uses the term "proceeds from Father and Son", and in rhetorical fashion asks whether to proceed from the Father and to receive from the Son "mean the same thing." He evidently sees that there is no difference in the Spirit "receiving of the Son" and "proceeding from the Father."

St. Athanasius of Alexandria:
Not then as the Son in the Father, so also we become in the Father; for the Son does not merely partake the Spirit, that therefore He too may be in the Father; nor does He receive the Spirit, but rather He supplies It Himself to all; and the Spirit does not unite the Word to the Father , but rather the Spirit receives from the Word.
(Athanasius, Four Discourses Against the Arians III:25:26)
If then, as you say, 'the Son is from nothing,' and 'was not before His generation,' He, of course, as well as others, must be called Son and God and Wisdom only by participation; for thus all other creatures consist, and by sanctification are glorified. You have to tell us then, of what He is partaker. All other things partake of the Spirit, but He, according to you, of what is He partaker? Of the Spirit? Nay, rather the Spirit Himself takes from the Son, as He Himself says; and it is not reasonable to say that the latter is sanctified by the former. Therefore it is the Father that He partakes; for this only remains to say. (Athanasius, ibid I:5:15) *
The Arians apparently acknowledged that all created things, by virtue of the creatureliness, partake of God's Holy Spirit. Athanasius, in taking Arian christology to task, essentially presses them with the  question that naturally arises from their theology: if the Logos is a creature, shouldn't it then partake of the Spirit as well? Athanasius then immediately presents the corrective theology, and bases its truth upon Christ's own words: "Nay, rather the Spirit Himself takes from the Son, as He Himself says", and juxtaposes this with the fact that "it is the Father [of which] He partakes."

St. Didymus the Blind
For it is not the case that the Father announces to the Son his will as though the Son, who is Wisdom and Truth, were ignorant, since everything which [the Father] speaks he possesses in wisdom and in substance, as he is wise and truly subsisting. For the Father, therefore, to speak, and for the Son to hear, or, vice versa, for the Son to speak to the Father, signifies the identity of nature and of volition that is in the Father and the Son. And also the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Truth and the Spirit of Wisdom, cannot hear the Son speaking things which he does not already know, since he himself is that which is put forth from the Son…The Lord’s words that follow confirm this opinion, when he says, “He (i.e., the Paraclete) shall glorify me, for he shall receive of mine” (Jn 16:14). Once more, this term, “to receive,” must be understood in a manner befitting the divine nature… For just as the Son, in giving, is not deprived of those things which he bestows, and does not confer upon others to his own loss, so likewise the Spirit does not receive what he did not have before…For neither is the Son anything apart from those things which are given to him by the Father, nor is there any other substance belonging to the Holy Spirit besides that which is given to him by the Son. (Didymus the Blind, de Spiritu Sancto 36-37) 
Servian of Gabala
To God the Father, the Unbegotten, and to the Only-begotten Son, begotten from him, and to the Holy Spirit who proceeds from their essence, to the Three in One substance, be all glory, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen. (Servian of Gabala, Sermon on the Epiphany, c. 390)

St. Epiphanios of Salamis
And we believe in the Holy Ghost, who spake in the Law, and preached in the Prophets, and descended at Jordan, and spake in the Apostles, and indwells the Saints. And thus we believe in him, that he is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, the perfect Spirit, the Spirit the Comforter, uncreate, who proceedeth from the Father, receiving of the Son, and believed on.
(Creed of St. Epiphanius)

St. Ambrose of Milan
The Holy Spirit also, when He proceeds from the Father and the Son, is not separated from the Father nor separated from the Son. For how could He be separated from the Father Who is the Spirit of His mouth? Which is certainly both a proof of His eternity, and expresses the Unity of this Godhead.
(Ambrose of Milan, On the Holy Spirit 1:11:120)
According to St. Ambrose, the reality of the Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son, is a proof of His eternality and of the unity of the Godhead.  
Learn now that as the Father is the Fount of Life, so, too, many have stated that the Son is signified as the Fount of Life; so that, he says, with You, Almighty God, Your Son is the Fount of Life. That is the Fount of the Holy Spirit, for the Spirit is Life, as the Lord says: The words which I speak unto you are Spirit and Life, (John 6:64) for where the Spirit is, there also is Life; and where Life is, is also the Holy Spirit. (Ambrose of Milan, On the Holy Spirit 1:15:172)

St. Maximus the Confessor
“For just as the Holy Spirit exists, by nature, according to substance, as belonging to the Father, so also does he, according to substance, belong to the Son, in that, in an ineffable way, he proceeds substantially from the Father through the begotten Son.” (St. Maximus the Confessor, Question 63 to Thalassius)
“Just as Mind is the cause of the Word, so also it is [cause] of the Spirit, but by means of the Word [δι μέσου δ το λόγου]. And just as we are unable to say that a word is ‘of the voice,’ so also neither can we say that the Word is ‘of the Spirit.’”
(St. Maximus the Confessor, Quaestiones et dubia, I, 34)

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Disciplina Arcani / The Discipline of the Secret

"Give not that which is holy to dogs; neither cast your pearls before swine; lest perhaps they trample them under their feet, and turning upon you, they tear you"
Matthew 7:6
"I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready"
1 Corinthians 3:2
"I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or the hinds of the field, that you stir not up nor awaken love until it please."
Song of Songs 2:7

We now live in an age where not only do we have physical libraries filled with books on a vast array of subjects, but one in which the internet is a definitive asset. It's aptly called "the information age." We can google almost any subject and find all sorts of facts and opinions from any given source. As a Christian, if you don't happen to have access to a physical bible, you can have an app for it, and find any verse you want. We have catechisms, commentaries, and readily available to us at that. So available, in fact, that you need not even have faith to have a working (albeit, only intellectual) knowledge of what concerns Christianity.

In the early days of the church, however, the content of revelation was much more out of reach and more scantily accessed. There existed what was posthumously referred to as a disciplina arcani -- a "discipline of the secret." You had to be a catechumen (an inquirer and student preparing to be received into the Church through holy baptism) to know such things as the standard prayer of Christians (the Lord's Prayer.) and other excerpts from Scripture. Further, you had to actually be a member of the Church to not only partake of the Eucharist, but to even know what the Eucharist is and how it is celebrated. Only the baptized were present for the holy sacrifice of the Mass, and outsiders normally had no working knowledge of the faith. It was very exclusivist, to say the least, and borderline cultish, to say the most.

The first direct witness to a closed and discrete worship within Christian orthodoxy is Tertullian in approximately A.D. 200. In  his Apology, where he is addressing falsehoods and misunderstandings of which Christians are accused, he rhetorically asks: "And whence have they their knowledge, when it is also a universal custom in religious initiations to keep the profane aloof, and to beware of witnesses[?]" (Apology vii) He calls is a universal custom, indicating that all the churches did this. It was a catholic practice.

A considerably later but much more elaborate reference to the disciplina arcana is provided by St. Basil the Great, from his AD 375 treatise de Spiritu Sancto (On the Holy Spirit)
"Of the beliefs and practices whether generally accepted or publicly enjoined which are preserved in the Church some we possess derived from written teaching; others we have received delivered to us "in a mystery" by the tradition of the apostles; and both of these in relation to true religion have the same force... Dogma and Kerugma are two distinct things; the former is observed in silence; the latter is proclaimed to all the world."
The practice was taken with utmost seriousness; there was a conviction held by the early church that there were some portions of the holy faith that were so high and so lofty that it would render them a disservice to be shared and made public to the outside world. St. Cyril of Jerusalem's catechetical lectures (c. 350), which in its opening discourse charges those about to be baptized into the Church:
"When, therefore, the Lecture is delivered, if a Catechumen ask you what the teachers have said, tell nothing to him that is without. For we deliver to you a mystery, and a hope of the life to come. Guard the mystery for Him who gives the reward... You were once yourself a Catechumen, and I described not what lay before you. When by experience you have learned how high are the matters of our teaching, then you will know that the Catechumens are not worthy to hear them." (Catechical Lectures prologue, par 12) 
For what reasons could this discipline of the secret been employed? It's good to remember that early Christianity was surrounded by a vastly pagan culture, and such an environment presents all sorts of problems. John Henry Newman, in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, gives two reasons and states them as such:
[1] On account of the pagan culture's rampant superstition, there was a desire to see that Christian beliefs and practices were not misunderstood on its account. The sacrifices offered by Christians were not offered to some choice deity in order to ward off divine wrath or bad luck. If this was the function of sacrifices as pagans understood it, it would be simply easier to say that the Christians had no sacrifices --- though undoubtedly, the holy sacrifice was the central aspect of their Christian worship.

[2] There is a great amount of mystery and depth to the holy faith, and to whom much is given, much is required. It makes sense to keep much of the Christian religion on the down-low, so that those who do receive it are not overwhelmed through learning it in its entirety. Obviously, portions of the faith (most especially, the Gospel) are readily announced to outsiders. Nevertheless, it is important that those who first come to the faith be fed with milk before they can eat solid food.
According to this elaboration, the practice was thus instituted with two groups of people in mind: the gentiles, and the catechumens. Concerning the former, people were so immersed in the pagan culture that Christians did not openly share many of their doctrines because they would rife with potential misunderstanding.

The reason for implementing the practice among the latter group, the catechumens was still partially informed by this same concern, but there was also the concern that they ought to be given the basics of the faith, so that they might start their progress in the Christian life from there and transcend to the more.

In both cases, the early church saw as its duty to guard the more intimate inner workings of its orthodoxy and orthopraxis. For another quote from St. Basil's treatise,
"Does not this come from that unpublished and secret teaching which our fathers guarded in a silence out of the reach of curious meddling and inquisitive investigation? Well had they learned the lesson that the awful dignity of the mysteries is best preserved by silence. ... In the same manner the Apostles and Fathers who laid down laws for the Church from the beginning thus guarded the awful dignity of the mysteries in secrecy and silence, for what is bruited abroad random among the common folk is no mystery at all. This is the reason for our tradition of unwritten precepts and practices, that the knowledge of our dogmas may not become neglected and contemned by the multitude through familiarity."
Basil's answer for the practice's existence was the understanding that many of the truths of Christianity were so sacred, they could not be adequately appreciated, honored, revered if just anybody knew about them. Secrecy was a method of esteeming what is worthy of esteem.

A third reason can potentially be deduced, which is only applicable before the final legalization of Christianity within the Roman empire: persecution. Uniquely and overtly Christian teaching would have betrayed the identity to those forces who would have done the Christians harm. For example, St. Irenaeus of Lyon (d. 200) records in one of his writings that the servants of two Christians told pagan authorities of a conversation they heard their masters speaking which involved "eating flesh and blood", and this led to the arrest of the said Christians and their torture. Normally, the Eucharist was of a very secretive character.

The Eucharist & the other Sacraments:

This disciplina arcani was especially pertinent to the Sacramental mysteries, such as Chrismation and the Eucharist (as evidenced from the epitaph above, which Eucharistically speaks of "feasting on the sweet foodof the fish" and "holding the fish in your hands.")

This is evident in what potentially the very earliest of extra-Biblical texts, the Didache (c. A.D. 50-130), where it expresses quite clearly, connecting the reception of the Lord's supper with the Lord's admonition against "casting pearls before swine."
Do not let anyone eat or drink of your eucharist except those who have been baptized in the name of the Lord. For the statement of the Lord applies here also: Do not give to dogs what is holy.
Further, the Didache (and other early Christian writings after it) is actually paraphrasing a verse from the book of Exodus "no foreigner shall eat of [the Passover] but any slave who has been purchased may eat of it after he has been circumcised." (Ex. 12:43-44) Just as only the circumcised could eat of the Passover, so too, only the baptized may partake in the Eucharist. Also inferred from the book of Exodus "It shall be eaten in one house" (Ex. 12:46) was the understanding that there was only one rightful assembly in which to celebrate the Eucharist -- there was only one true Church where it could be held, and the communions of heretics and schismatics were unlawful.

Justin Martyr (100-165) says likewise: "And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined." (First Apology 66)

The exclusivity set of the Passover set forth in the book of Exodus informed the early Christians of the Eucharist's exclusivity. Yet, that of the Christians also exceeded and went beyond; for them, it was not only a matter of who partook of the Eucharist, but also of who really knew of what the Eucharist truly was.

For example, St. Ambrose of Milan (337-397) says in his sacramental treatise, On the Mysteries (1:2), "if we had thought it well to teach before baptism to those who were not yet initiated, we should be considered rather to have betrayed than to have portrayed the Mysteries." He thus illustrates their revered stance of secrecy, in believing that having revealed them before the proper time would be scandalous. It would betray this new spiritual Passover meal to have it explained to those who have not received the new spiritual circumcision of baptism.

St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) also touches on the ignorance of the catechumens concerning the sacramental grace awaiting them. As can be inferred, the mystery of the Lord's supper was kept a secret from those not yet baptized:
Give good heed, my beloved, and understand. If we say to a catechumen, "Do you believe in Christ?" he answers, "I believe", and signs himself; already he bears the cross of Christ on his forehead, and is not ashamed of the cross of his Lord. Behold, he has believed in His name. Let us ask him, "Do you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink the blood of the Son of man?" He knows not what we say, because Jesus has not trusted Himself to him.
(Tractates on John 11:3)
A very dynamic example can be utilized as well. There was scandal which occured in Constantinople during the episcopate of St. John Chrysostom (early 5th century) in which a row of irreverence took place during liturgy, and an accident surrounding the consecrated elements had occurred. Chrysostom's biographer Palladius speaks of the affair with some ambiguity, saying "They overturned the symbols." Contrast this language with how bluntly John Chrysostom himself described the occurrence in his letter to Pope St. Innocent I: "They spilled the blood of Christ."

What happened to the disciplina arcani?

As Roman society became more and more Christianized, the practice gradually fell out of use, as the population of heathens within its borders decreased, and thus less and less within the empire became susceptible to misunderstanding.

However, certain remnants of the practice are still in existence within the Apostolic churches (Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, and the Church of the East.) To this day, the original practice of the discipline is implicitly reflected in the Divine Liturgies of the Church. One very obvious fact is that these churches, for the most part, practice closed communion -- that is, members of other churches cannot partake of the Eucharist.

Proskomidia. In the Byzantine Rite, the Eucharist is still
consecrated behind a wall with doors and  aveil, known as an
The Mass is divided into two sections: the Liturgy of the Word, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The former names of these two respective halves were originally referred to as the Liturgy of the Catechumens and the Liturgy of the Faithful. The Catechumens were originally allowed to attend the reading of Sacred Scripture and hear their exposition by the pastor, but they were not allowed to attend and partake in the Eucharistic sacrifice, which was reserved only to the baptized.

In the Byzantine Rite, the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom still includes the function where, after the sermon is given, the catechumens step forward to receive a blessing from the presbyter. And after their blessing is received, still uttered are these words:

"Depart, you catechumens!
All catechumens, depart!
Let no catechumen remain!"

So, with the discipline having long since been relaxed, it makes sense that some peculiarities to the beliefs and practices of the Apostolic churches (Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Assyrian Church of the East) aren't explicitly in Scripture (even though they are there implicitly, veiled in the language itself), as it all dates back to a formerly guarded portion of the Revelation, which contained things so sacred that it was deemed to be an injustice for the whole of an unevangelized world to have familiarity of them.

The Ichthys. Ancient Christians would make half of this
symbol on the ground, for another to complete
the other half and thus reveal that they were of the same faith.
This symbol itself is a relic of the disciplina arcani.
This secrecy of the faith also shows forth in a symbol which is very common today: the ICHYTHUS. Aside from having the biblical connections, the early Christians' use of the fish also had an involvement with this practice.
According to one ancient story, when a Christian met a stranger in the road, the Christian sometimes drew one arc of the simple fish outline in the dirt. If the stranger drew the other arc, both believers knew they were in good company. Current bumper-sticker and business-card uses of the fish hearken back to this practice.
— Christianity Today, Elesha Coffman, "Ask The Expert
While Christians were being persecuted, rather than speaking openly about their sometimes ill-tolerated religion, they would refer to the Savior and his teachings as "the fish." As one epitaph by a certain Pectorius of Autun reads:
"Divine race of the heavenly fish preserve a pure heart having received among mortals the immortal source of Divine waters. Refresh, O friend, thy soul with the everflowing waters of treasure-bestowing wisdom. Receive the sweet food of the Saviour of the Saints, eat with delight holding the fish in thy hands. Nourish (thine) with the fish, I pray, Master and Saviour; Sweetly may mother slumber, I beseech thee, Light of the Dead. Ascandios father, beloved of my heart with sweet mother and my brothers in the peace of the fish, remember Pectorius"

What can we learn from the practice today?

The core value, virtue and principle behind the disciplina arcani was the notion of stewardship, practiced with reverence and modesty. "To whom much is given, much is expected." (Lk. 12:48) For the sake of handling such sacred things as carefully as is able, ancient Christians approached catechesis very incrementally, so as not to rise up love before its time. (cf. Songs 2:7)

Being aware that we are stewards of what is holy is always a good thing to keep in mind, and this should inform us to truly contemplate and think about how we share the faith. This doesn't mean we shouldn't share the Gospel with our neighbors, or that we should practice our faith with a spirit of elitism. It is not like we should bury our talent, or hide our light under a bushel. But what it does mean is this: when we do share our faith, we should be reverent of what we're sharing, and that we should practice discretion informed by the circumstances in which we share it (who, where, when, how). This can be oriented in two ways:

Firstly, we should be conscientious of how we live our lives, cautious not to give scandal. We should not seek to make these words of judgment our own: God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you. (Rm 2:24) Dr. Taylor Marshall's own advice to Catholic apologists is to "not have spiritual bad breath" -- be firmly rooted spiritually yourself before admonishing your brother, be humble and not triumphalistic. Don't pick fights, especially not on deaf ears.

Secondly, for ourselves: not speaking frivolously of sacred truths helps reinforce our understanding of the fact that they are just that: sacred. They are in our possession, yet simultaneously they are above and beyond us. Practicing that modesty concerning the holy faith can help dignify it for ourselves. It's called veiling what is sacred, meaning it should be exposed and shared only when it's called for and is beneficial. A few examples:

Sometimes, the Ark of the Covenant was processed on special occasions (such as going to war, and at the dedication of the temple.) But most of the time, it was hidden behind the curtains in the Holy of holies. Only the high-priest, with all of his sins atoned for, could be entrusted with ministering before it. It wasn't hidden out of shame, but out of reverence.

Likewise, in marriage, the marital act where "the two shall become one", is performed behind closed doors -- not out of shame or embarrassment, but out of respect, and in recognition of its significance. (This is one reason why pornography is such a sin; it tears away the veil.)

Or take the relationship between a therapist and their client (or a confessor and a penitent, for that matter): that information isn't divulged to others except in cases of grave concern (and is NEVER divulged outside of confession) because the trust is so precious. Intimacy, physical or emotional, is, by its very nature, discreet, and that discretion exists not because trust is profane, but because it is sacred.

So, while not adopting the ancient and nigh-cultish approach, there might be a certain principle of virtue embedded within the old custom of the disciplina arcani that could behoove us to carry as we practice our faith. We should be conscious that what we're sharing is a great gift which we have first been given, which guides our conduct both within and outside of the conversations we have with non-Christians.


Sunday, March 4, 2018

Guest post at "Quelpart"

Fellow blogger and friend Sarah Carey initially requested through Twitter for people to submit testimonies to how Marian devotion has bettered their spiritual lives. I ended up submitting to her quite a long account and she was gracious enough to share the whole thing on her blog. You can read it here:

Sarah writes on the practical living of Catholic faith. She is a convert from the Church of Christ denomination. She is of reputable character, and totally worth giving a follow on Twitter!

Thanks, Sarah!

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Catholic Prayers and Matthew 6:7

 Image source: http://barringtonrosaries.com/howtopray.html 

"But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
Matthew 6:7 (KJV)
This verse is often utilized by critics of Catholicism to condemn Catholic devotional practices and methods of prayer. They deem devotions like the Rosary, which employs the repetition of such prayers as the "Hail Mary" and the "Our Father", to be in direct opposition to the message of this verse. (Some will even go so far as to condemn formulaic, recited prayer of any sort.) Is the Rosary, as well as the Divine Mercy Chaplet or the Jesus Prayer, in violation of Christ's command?


The argument will sometimes proceed along the following lines. "Jesus teaches us to call God our Father. What kind of child talks to their father with formulaic repetition? That's not a real relationship!" (This example comes from personal experience in a conversation I had, as a non-denominational Christian said something basically to this effect in describing his criticism of the Catholic faith.)

Aside from the fact that this is not even Jesus' immediate concern in his admonition (explained in the following section), a fine question might be asked to those with such scruples: "If it's improper to speak to our Heavenly Father, whom we were merely adopted by, with repetitious prayers, why is it that Jesus, His only Begotten, prayed to Him in such a manner?" Consider the following passage from Matthew's Gospel (26:36-46):
Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, who if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.
If Christ came back the first time to his disciples to find them sleeping and asked "could you not keep watch with me an hour?", that would certainly seem to indicate that he himself was praying for an hour. Yet, an hour's worth of text is not recorded from his prayer. "Father, if it is at all possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not my will, but thy will be done." His next prayer follows this same structure -- it's formulaic. Then, finally, in verse 44, it says Jesus went back again a third time, "saying the same thing." Some translations that aren't even Catholic (such as the ESV) render it as "saying the same words." Not only is there a formulaic pattern to his prayer, but the Lord Christ is repeating himself in his prayer to the Father. This is repetitious prayer.

There's really no way around it; Christ himself used repetitious prayer in preparation for his Passion. Obviously, this is not the only way He ever addressed His Heavenly Father (and it's not the only way Catholics approach God in prayer, either!), but the fact He used this method at all should inform any honest reader that such form of prayer is not in itself bad, else the Savior would never have made use of it.

Christ not only used it himself, but the righteous figure in one of his parables is also seen using repetitious prayer. In Luke 18-9-14, in the parable of Pharisee and the Publican, whereas the former figure thanks God for his being more righteous than sinners (presuming himself to be righteous at all in the first place), the latter strikes his breast and says "Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner." Some translations render the phrase as "he kept beating his breast, saying 'Lord,...'" It's the word "kept" -- he kept making the same action, while saying the same thing. This is repetitious prayer.

Also, if repetitious prayer is truly unpleasing to God, let's just throw Psalm 136 out of the Bible. 

Some will even condemn reciting any prayers at all. Furthermore, we know from early Christian texts such as the Didache (1st century) and the treatises of Tertullian (2nd century) and Cyprian (3rd Century) that the Lord's Prayer was in fact recited in Early Christian communities. The style of repeating a set of phrases as a means of prayer is evident even in first century Christianity, indicating that these early Christians did not understand Christ's words of condemnation the same way many critics of Catholicism interpret them. Evidently, there's no offense in using a formulaic prayer and reciting it, and even repeating it.

[The Didache, paragraph 8 ; Tertullian, On Prayer, chapter 2 ; Cyprian On the Lord's Prayer, paragraph 3]


What often gets missed in Jesus' words by anti-Catholic critics is the *signifier* in his sentence. Notice that Our Lord does not say "do not use repetitions", but that he says "do not use vain repetitions." Or, utilizing a different translation, he does not say "do not heap up phrases," but rather says, "do not heap up empty phrases." These qualifiers suggest a meaninglessness within the petitions being made -- an insincerity, a lack of engagement. This is actually akin to taking God's name in vain -- invoking it when you don't really mean it.

Christ continues, "for they think they will be heard on account of their many words." He contrasts this with how God hears our prayers, saying "Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him." (Mt. 6:8)

What's the logical inference out of Christ's words? He's condemning using meaningless prayers over and over again, as if they can somehow win God's ear over and thus make known our request to Him. "[Y]our Father knows what you need before you ask him" is something for the Christian to know that the pagan doesn't know, because the pagan believes he has to sequentially spew out prayers in order to get God's attention. But God doesn't work that way.

If you believe that you can "introduce" yourself and your concerns to God through your many prayers, you do not believe God to be omniscient and deny the fact that He knows you better than you know yourself.

If you believe that you can "win God over" through your many prayers, you rob God of His sovereignty and omnipotence, and ultimately set yourself higher than the Divinity you're addressing.

And to think that you have to do any of these things in order for Him to answer you, it follows that you do not believe He loves and cares for you personally, and it means you lack true faith. You act as if God owes you something, and this mentality is strictly condemned in Romans 3 &4.

Compare this mentality with that of the prayer that Christ introduces immediately after condemning the pagans, the Our Father: this prayer affirms God's sovereignty ("Lead us not into temptation"). The prayer expresses a humility towards God ("Thy will be done; forgive us our trespasses"), and the essence of its formula is one that simply demands trust in God's faithfulness, and not trust in one's own self. ("Give us this day our daily bread.") The Lord's prayer is one rooted in filial trust and humility; elements which the heathens' prayers did not contain.

This humility is also what made the Publican's prayer pleasing to God, and not the prayer of the Pharisee. The Pharisee, even though his prayer was more "conversational," ultimately trusted in himself, in his own righteousness. The Publican was in touch with his own depravity, and knew his only hope was in the mercy of God, and his simple utterance of "God, be merciful to me, a sinner" led to his justification.

The state of the heart is ultimately what is at the heart of Christ's teaching. Repetitions in and of themselves are not the issue. No Catholic should pray the Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, the Jesus Prayer, or a Novena with the attitude that God won't grant them their requests until they say the proper amount of words and prayers. God's interested in quality, not necessarily quantity.  They can commit themselves to a certain amount of prayers as an act of faith, obedience and/or self-giving, but not as if they can somehow exert control over God and bend His will to their needs. The Rosary in particular is, primarily, a meditation -- which means that it doesn't even come close to violating Christ's intended instruction. 

If one wants to see an illustration of what Christ is actually condemning, one should turn to 1 Kings 18:20-40, which describes the contest between the Lord's prophet Elijah and 450 of Baal's prophets. The prophets repeat their cry "O Baal, answer us!", danced around and even bled themselves, all trying to get their false god's attention. This lead's Elijah to mock them, and his mockery itself implies that their god truly isn't all-knowing, all-present and all-powerful. "... perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened." And, when the children of Israel recognize once again who the one true God really is, they acknowledge Him with a repetition: "The Lord is indeed God; the Lord is indeed God." (v. 39)

So there's nothing wrong with formulaic prayer, repetitive prayer or any sort of sincere act of faith -- the signifier is the word "sincere." Christ condemns prayer that just exhibits a mere babbling on, that flows from a detached heart, and that wishes to just get something out of God rather than honor Him and God and as Father. The issue, again, isn't quantity, but quality. God never sleeps, and He is faithful to remember those who love Him. If Catholic devotions that utilize repetitious, formulaic prayers are conscious of and reverent of God and produce good fruit in one's walk with Him, no violation of Christ's command has occurred. It isn't what you ask, or how many times you ask, or in what way you ask, it's the heart in which you ask.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

"My Flesh is True Food": Realist Nuances in St. John 6

[Firstly, I invite you to read the sixth chapter of the Gospel of St. John, specifically verses 22-71, and go over it on your own. I imagine most translations will do. Secondly, to follow along with me here.]

Those who hold to a Transubstantianist (that is, a true change of substance) view, who hold the most adamant form of a "real presence" doctrine concerning the Holy Eucharist, (Catholics and Orthodox, some Anglicans) are often scoffed at because, to the mind of the Protestant, they take but one statement from the Lord Jesus, who very frequently employed the use of symbolic language in his teaching, and somehow decided that in this particular episode, his words were no mere symbol. (Humorous examples can be found all along YouTube comments: "Christ also said He was the door -- do you think He's a door?") It is essentially an accusation of a superstitious ineptitude.

However, it is odd that the Scripture would devote this much detail, this many statements within such an intense dialogue, around one teaching of Christ's, that should ultimately only be read along the same lines of His other statements. A discussion this dense is not given around His "being the door of the sheepfold", or His being "the vine", or around his command to "turn the other cheek." The sheer acknowledgement that the Evangelist has dedicated so much writing in presenting us with this teaching, should likewise inform us that it would behoove us to pay attention to it.

The Competency of His Hearers:

If one holds to a strictly symbolic view of the Eucharist, as many Evangelicals do, it is incredibly easy (I would say de facto) to think of the crowd as somehow dense, unreasonable, or unenlightened. After all, He often spoke to the crowds in parables, so that only those with "ears to hear" would understand Him. But this is too hasty a rendering; their own words reveal that they are capable of understanding to when He is speaking metaphorically and when He is speaking with an assertive realism. Such can be demonstrated:
Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
Christ statement contains two parts: "I am the living bread | which came down from heaven." He is, of course, not literally bread, but it can be legitimately said that He came down from heaven -- it is from this fact from which the metaphor draws its inner truth.

How does the gathering reply? “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” (John 6:42) Notice, then, that Christ's audience has dissected which parts of his statements were realist, and which were symbol. They raise objection, not to His saying "I am bread", but to "I came down from heaven." These Jews are not dense; they have caught on just fine as to what Christ was implying. Christ's words contain both realism and symbolism, but it is only their realism that is met with skepticism. They will not cede that He has in fact descended from the heavenly realm. In other words, they take issue not with Christ calling himself bread, but by his saying that he came down from heaven -- the part of His statement that is not metaphor, but actual.

The same can be said for when Christ further extrapolates his words "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh." (Jn. 6:51)
Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Having vouched for this crowd's intellectual aptitude, let it be asked: if Christ were just speaking in figure about the necessity of consuming his flesh and blood, would they have taken offence at it? Why would they have found it a difficult teaching, a hard saying? Have they not already shown themselves competent enough to see where He was speaking in figure and where He was not? Just as they were scandalized by His implying that He came down from heaven -- something which is very true and that they grasped just fine -- they are now scandalized that He should tell them to eat His flesh.
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
His hearers have voiced and evidenced their hesitancy, yet the Lord only becomes more assertive than before. Before, He says "the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh." Now, "Very truly, I tell you... my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink." He explains His reasoning for making such a statement: Christ has his spiritual life from the Father, and by partaking of His flesh and blood, His disciples share in that same life which He has in the Father. That spiritual life is something He experiences in His humanity, that spiritual life from the Father which is capable of raising those who possess it from the grave. Those who would eat his flesh and drink his blood would live in Him just as He lives in the Father, and consequently be raised gloriously from the dead just as He would be.

Some of His statements are augmented to be rather intense; the Savior emphasizes his previous remarks so as to make it personal. While continuing to say "eat my flesh," he also expresses this truth by emphatically including, "whoever eats me." He utilizes the word "true", as is His wont as the enlightener of the human race, when he says "Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life within you" and "for my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink." How often has He at other times employed such claims to veracity? "Truly I tell you, you must be like little children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven" (Mt. 18:3)  "Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." (Jn. 12:24)

Yes, much of the Lord's language is spiritual in its nature, but evidently, no one in this able crowd seemed inclined to take the contemporary Protestant approach of simply understanding the words about eating His flesh and blood along the same lines as the rest of His sermon. When doubt is initially expressed, He only reinforces this line of speech and progresses it in its assertiveness.
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” 
The text tells us it not merely His casual hearers, or those with some loose association with him, who are bothered by these words. Rather, it informs us that it is His disciples -- those who have already walked with Him -- who own up to having a problem. They admit to their reservations. "This teaching is difficult, who can accept it?" Yet the Lord does not choose to blunt the edge his words. Rather, he directly challenges their hesitation: “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?"

His begging question which He uses as a follow up to his teaching is, of course, very realist: the Son of Man is going to ascend to where he was before (this happens at the Ascension, as recorded at the end of Luke and in the beginning of Acts.) This is not a mere rhetorical device, but a driving guarantee. It would seem very odd that He would intimidate the crowd's hesitation towards a metaphorical statement with one that is not metaphorical at all. If His claim that He down from heaven, and that He will ascend back to His Father, is credible, why is not His command to eat His flesh and drink His blood?

"The Flesh is useless?"

It is sometimes objected that Jesus, with one fell swoop, eliminates any realist understanding when He utters "It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life." There are some who would latch on to "the flesh is useless" and utilize it to dismiss that idea that there could be any spiritual benefit in taking into oneself the literal flesh and blood of Christ.

This is quite an unsound interpretation to think that when He says "the flesh is useless", that this would include His own flesh and blood. How regularly does the New Testament attribute Christ's blood with the work of Redemption? Thus says St. Paul, "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace" (Eph. 1:7) And in Revelation, "you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation" (Rev. 5:9) No, His flesh is precious, as He offered it to His Father in a holy oblation which proved conducive towards the salvation of the human race.

Rather, in accordance the more Scripturally consonant understanding, in this particular instance, He is using this word "flesh" not in the sense of physical and tangible flesh, but rather, in the sense of man's lower, carnal mind. In such a way, He spoke to the Apostle Peter "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven." (Mt. 16:17)

Turning to Those Closest to Him
Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
It isn't fair to assert that those He was preaching to were simply among the uninitated. The text tells us many of His disciples no longer walked with him. It was his followers who were scandalized; not merely the casual hearers and those who had ulterior motives.

When the crowds turn away, Jesus turns to the Twelve. Though Christ had many disciples, this group of men had a privilege which no others shared -- namely, that when Christ spoke in parables in public, He would do them the service of explaining them in private. “With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples." (Mk. 4:33-34) Or as they are actually addressed: “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given." (Mt. 13:11) The twelve received the most direct instruction. Yet, when the crowd which included many of His followers departs, He offers them no explanation to his words. Rather, he only leaves them with harrowing question:

Do you also wish to go away?

If the Apostles had special access for unpacking His teachings which are more or less verbal illustrations, and in light of this most hard saying, no interpretation is thus given, it seems to follow that He was, in fact, not using a mere metaphor at all.

Let us close with this: one who would deny the realist implications of His words would have to in some way or another, admit:
  • that Christ's audience generally had well developed enough reasoning to discern when He was using metaphor and when he was not, yet somehow made an obvious error in their assessment of His instruction to eat His flesh and drink His blood.
  • that the Lord's disciples , who had greater familiarity with Him than others, were the ones who called it "a hard teaching", and were the ones needlessly scandalized over a metaphor, over which they ultimately left Him.
  • that He challenged them needlessly, and did not even explain His words to His intimates in this scenario 
  • that one of the Gospel accounts devotes so much time in explaining a teaching of Christ which is just as much a metaphor, simile, hyperbole and parable as His other statements.
  • that it also takes so much time in explaining this teaching, comparable to other discourses like ones where He says that He is the Son of God
  • that aside from proclaiming Himself the Son of God and for condemning the Pharisees of infidelity, no other statements of His illicit such negative reactions amidst His hearers.
That's quite a lot to ascribe to being a mere metaphor and to consign to relative regularity in the greater scheme of His teachings.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Deus Fit Homo Ut Homo Fieret Deus

The Transfiguration of Jesus Christ

And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.  
2 Corinthians 3:18

Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature. 
2 Peter 1:4  

Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 
1 John 3:2 

One of the doctrines of the Early Church is also one not commonly addressed or adhered to in contemporary Western Christianity. It is, however still part of Catholic and Orthodox teaching. The Eastern Churches calls it "Theosis", while the West calls it "Deification", and Aquinas uses the term "becoming Deiform."

Ranking among the greatest of all Christian mysteries is the idea that God descended from His heavenly throne to become one of us, taking the form of a lowly servant. Or, as it's commonly stated: God became man. If this mystery is true, there's a flip-side to it, which is seldom contemplated in mainstream Christianity: if God became man, then man also became God.

This is truly significant. Jesus says "no one has seen the Father except the One who is truly from him." (John 6:46). Moses, a human being, could not look upon the face of God, and yet Jesus, also a human being, could, on account of his simultaneously being divine. Jesus later says "anyone who has seen me has seen the Father." (John 14:6) Jesus thus offers himself as the means for man to finally see God. He gives man an ability that innately only belongs to the Trinity: the ability to look upon the Face of God. Being the mediator between God and man (2 Tm. 1:5), he thus bridges the two parties, and allows both to assume each other's inner experience.

How does this apply to us? God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying "Abba, Father!" In other words, we call out to God as Father just as Christ calls out to God as Father, for it is His Spirit within us. We are, not figuratively, but literally, adopted into the Divine Family! We are, by sharing in Christ's eternal sonship, participating in the inner life of God. If we are truly sons via adoption, then we are truly heirs as well (cf. Rm 8:15), meaning what the Father has is being passed on to us.

Hence, here lies the explanation for the verses up above. By being made "partakers in the divine nature", it entails a host of things: it enables us to share in God's holiness, which sanctifies us and makes us holy; to experience His internal life, which is everlasting, and it will culmination to actually being able (to some extent) to look upon the face of our Creator. Therefore, "when he is revealed, we shall be like him, for we will see him as he is." It says "we will be like him!" It says we are progressing "from glory unto glory," reflecting God's glory as in a mirror.

It could be summed up in a simple sentence: Deus fit homo it homo fieret deus. God became man that man might become God.

This is not to be understood that we become who God is, nor is it to be understood in a Mormon-esque way and believing ourselves to become our own gods -- God alone is God, and He is one. We are not, and shall never be, gods unto ourselves. Yet, this is to be understood as more than just being made righteous and even more than just living forever in and of themselves. Essentially, it means that we will experience in our lives certain qualities that by their very nature only belong to God: perfect sanctity, everlasting life, consummate happiness. Thus, we experience God's own life, partaking in the divine nature.

Through the loving Grace which God offers us through his Son, Jesus' command "be ye therefore perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" should no longer be seen as an impossible achievement -- for what is impossible for man is possible for God, and He has made it that our humanities may have true union with His divinity. This is ultimately what the life of Christ accomplished for us. As active Christians, we are literally becoming the righteousness of God (2 Cr. 5:21), being conformed to the image of His Son (Rm. 8:29).

And this concept of theosis, of "Deus fit homo it homo fieret deus", is the consistent testimony of the ancient church, as is demonstrated from these ancient voices:

"The Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself."
St. Irenaeus of Lyon (130-202), Against Heresies, preface to book 5

"If he [man] should incline to the things of immortality, keeping the commandment of God, he should receive as reward from Him immortality, and should become God..."
St. Theophilus of Antioch (d. 183), to Autolycus, book II, 27

"The Word of God became man, that you may learn from man how man may become God"
 St. Clement of Alexandria (150-215), Exhortations to the Heathen 1

"The Father of immortality sent the immortal Son and Word into the world, ...begetting us again to incorruption of soul and body, breathed into us the breath (spirit) of life, and endued us with an

incorruptible panoply. If, therefore, man has become immortal, he will also be God."
-Hippolytus of Rome (170-235), discourse on the Holy Theophany 8

"Certainly He is not man only who gives immortality, which if He were only man He could not give; but by giving divinity by immortality, He proves Himself to be God by offering divinity, which if He were not God He could not give."
Novatian (200-258), treatise on the Trinity 15

"This is our God, this is Christ, who, as the mediator of the two, puts on man that He may lead them to the Father. What man is, Christ was willing to be, that man may be what Christ is."
-Cyprian of Carthage (200-258), Treatises 6:11

"For He was made man that we might be made God ; and He manifested Himself by a body that we might receive the idea of the unseen Father; and He endured the insolence of men that we might inherit immortality."
-Athanasius of Alexandria (297-373), On the Incarnation 54

"But the Incarnation is summed up in this, that the whole Son, that is, His manhood as well as His divinity, was permitted by the Father's gracious favour to continue in the unity of the Father's nature, and retained not only the powers of the divine nature, but also that nature's self. For the object to be gained was that man might become God."
Hilary of Poitiers (310-367), On the Trinity 9:38

"Since the God who was manifested infused Himself into perishable humanity for this purpose, viz. that by this communion with Deity mankind might at the same time be defied."
Gregory of Nyssa (335-395), Great Catechism 38

"While His inferior Nature, the Humanity, became God, because it was united to God, and became One Person because the Higher Nature prevailed ... in order that I too might be made God so far as He is made Man."

-Gregory Nazianzen (329-390), The Third Theological Oration 29:19

"Today Godhead sealed itself upon Manhood, that so with the Godhead’s stamp Manhood might be adorned." Ephraim the Syrian (306-376), Hymns on the Nativity 1
"He therefore descended that we might ascend, and, while remaining in His own nature, became a sharer in our nature, so that we, while remaining in our own nature, might become sharers in His nature; but not in the same way, for He did not become worse by sharing in our nature, but we become better by sharing in His"
St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), Letters 140:4

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Trinitarian Theology in St. Irenaeus

In the discussion as to whether or not the Ante-Nicene Fathers would have believed in the doctrine professed by the Nicene Council, one church father is particularly important: St. Irenaeus of Lyons. He is, among other things, the first of all systematic theologians in Christian history. He was also instructed by St. Polycarp of Smyrna, who himself learned under St. John the Apostle (one of the Twelve.) He wasn't unaware of other ecclesial writers either, both past and contemporaneous with himself. 

Dr. Jackson Lashier posits in his magnificent work that Irenaeus, hidden within plain sight from so many scholars for so many years, is the first early Christian writer to express the Christian doctrine of the Trinity in a form conceptually recognizable (but not necessarily identical) to the expressions of future Christians with more developed Trinitarian language. Looking honestly upon those writers (St. Justin Martyr and the other Apologists) who predated him, Dr. Lashier posits that Irenaeus transcends the subordinationist lingual tendencies (tendencies which would ultimately culminate in the heresy of Arianism.) He is the first to present a more mature Trinitarian theology, more wholly the formulations of the post-Nicene fathers.

There is no need to be scandalized by the fact that Justin & the Apologists expressed the mystery of the Trinity in very Platonic, subordinationist terms; it is the terminology they had available to them. They had not the fruits of later fathers in their expression of it -- namely, a development of language more suitable for conveying the substance of this faith. John Henry Newman would posit that when we read the early fathers, "of course we believe that they imply... or rather intend" what we are ourselves believe, despite their deficiency of language. (Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, Introduction, sect 11) But Irenaeus has more developed and nuanced wording in his arsenal for his doctrine concerning the Trinity.

Irenaeus' work Against Heresies reveals familiarity with, and even consultation with, the works of the Apologists, in his exposition of Christian doctrine against the heresy of Gnosticism (a highly platonic and cultic form of Christianity which esoterically practiced a secretive elitism in whom they revealed their doctrines.) The bishop of Lyons' own ancient form of orthodoxy is vouched for by the fact that later authors, such as Hippolytus of Rome and Eusebius of Caesarea, reference his life and legacy in positive terms, even when they might be inclined to still be using the more widespread and available language of the Apologists. Thus, though he surely sticks out among the other Ante-Nicene fathers for his Trinitarian language, we ought not to conclude that Irenaeus is set in innate opposition to them. He is expressing their faith -- the Christian faith.

To grasp the full significance of his thoughts, it helps to understand what Irenaeus is writing against in his treatise. Firstly, his adversaries adhere to the standard Gnostic attitude of deeming physical matter as innately evil (being that it was created by the inferior, evil god) and that spiritual realities are of the holy and good God. Further, according to the Gnostic theologies of his opponents, the good God is an incredibly distant one -- so distant, in fact, that he needs a whole series of intermediaries, called Aeons, in order to actually create the world. One of these Aeons in particular, Sophia/Wisdom, visits the physical realm in the form of a man: Jesus of Nazareth.

Irenaeus affirms that God the Father made the world through the Son and the Spirit -- but one thing he does NOT want to do is present the Christian faith so as to make it appear similar to the very Gnosticism with which he is in combat. For St. Irenaeus, the Son and the Spirit are not mere created underlings who "do the dirty work" of creation. Irenaeus uses the language of them being God's "two own hands", with which He was "never without." Though distinct from God the Father, the Son and the Spirit are never separate from God the Father. Though He creates the world through them, it is still right to directly credit the work as being His.
For He is Himself uncreated, both without beginning and end, and lacking nothing. He is Himself sufficient for Himself; and still further, He grants to all others this very thing, existence; but the things which have been made by Him have received a beginning. But whatever things had a beginning, and are liable to dissolution, and are subject to and stand in need of Him who made them, must necessarily in all respects have a different term [applied to them], even by those who have but a moderate capacity for discerning such things; so that He indeed who made all things can alone, together with His Word, properly be termed God and Lord: but the things which have been made cannot have this term applied to them, neither should they justly assume that appellation which belongs to the Creator. [AH 3.8.3]
According to St. Irenaeus, God alone is uncreated, without beginning and end, and all other beings have their existence and beginning in this self-existent and infinite God. By saying that both the Father and His Word (the Son) are able to so be called "God", Irenaeus thus attributes theses same qualities to the Son -- the Son is uncreated, without beginning and end. There is nothing Arian about this in the slightest.
It was not angels, therefore, who made us, nor who formed us, neither had angels power to make an image of God, nor any one else, except the Word of the Lord, nor any Power remotely distant from the Father of all things. For God did not stand in need of these [beings], in order to the accomplishing of what He had Himself determined with Himself beforehand should be done, as if He did not possess His own hands. For with Him were always present the Word and Wisdom, the Son and the Spirit, by whom and in whom, freely and spontaneously, He made all things, to whom also He speaks, saying, Let Us make man after Our image and likeness; (Genesis 1:26)  [AH 4.20.1]
Man was made in the image of God. This is no small statement; a created intermediary such as angels could not have the power to accomplish this. Though the Son and Spirit are attributed with the work of creation, Irenaeus says that this power that made man was "not distant" from the Father; nay, the saint calls them God's "own hands", whom "were always present" with him. Our saint thus ascribes to these two hands of God, the Son and the Spirit, the quality of being eternal, and insofar as they were always present to Him, God thus did not then make or create them.

Further, Irenaeus says that in creating the world, God "determined with Himself before hand" with His two hands, interpreting "Let us make man after Our image and likeness" referring to God the Father, the Son and the Holy. The "our" in Genesis 1:26 thus applies equally to the Father, Son and Spirit -- it is Their image in which man is made. And this image is, of course, a single image -- God's image.
By this arrangement, therefore, and these harmonies, and a sequence of this nature, man, a created and organized being, is rendered after the image and likeness of the uncreated God—[of] the Father planning everything well and giving His commands, [of] the Son carrying these into execution and performing the work of creating, and [of] the Spirit nourishing and increasing [what is made], but man making progress day by day, and ascending towards the perfect, that is, approximating to the uncreated One. For the Uncreated is perfect, that is, God. [AH 4.38.3]
This subtlety in St. Irenaeus is actually one of the most revealing; concerning not only man's being made in the image of God, but man's ascension to the likeness of God, He has already extrapolated  that man was made in the image and likeness the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In this passage, Irenaeus now refers to man's ascension to becoming "partakers in the divine nature." Man's similarity to God does not only relate to whom they are being likened to (the Father), but also being made like unto Who creates them (the Son) and who gives them increase (the Spirit). Being made like the Father through the Son, in the Spirit, it is this image to which man ascends.

He deems that what is uncreated as perfect, and given that he has already in previous passages attributed to the Son and Spirit the quality of uncreatedness, they must, according to the view of St. Irenaeus, be perfect in the same manner in which God is perfect.
And thus one God the Father is declared, who is above all, and through all, and in all. The Father is indeed above all, and He is the Head of Christ; but the Word is through all things, and is Himself the Head of the Church; while the Spirit is in us all, and He is the living water, (John 7:39) which the Lord grants to those who rightly believe in Him, and love Him, and who know that there is one Father, who is above all, and through all, and in us all. Ephesians 4:6  [AH 5.18.2]
In this way, then, it is demonstrated [that there is] One God, [the] Father, uncreated, invisible, Creator of all, above whom there is no other God, and after whom there is no other God. And as God is verbal, therefore, He made created things by the Word; and God is Spirit, so that He adorned all things by the Spirit, as the prophet also says, “By the Word of the Lord were the heavens established, and all the power by his Spirit” (Ps. 33:6/32:6 LXX). Thus, since the Word ‘establishes,’ that is, works bodily and confers existence, while the Spirit arranges and forms the various ‘powers’, so rightly is the Son called the Word and the Spirit the Wisdom of God. Hence, His apostle Paul also well says, “One God, the Father, who is above all, and through all and in us all”—because ‘above all’ is the Father, and ‘through all’ is the Word—since through Him everything was made by the Father—while ‘in us all’ is the Spirit, who cries “Abba, Father,” and forms man to the likeness of God. Thus, the Spirit demonstrates the Word, and, because of this, the prophets announced the Son of God, while the Word articulates the Spirit, and therefore it is He Himself who interprets the prophets and brings man to the Father. (On the Apostolic Preaching 5)
St. Irenaeus,
2nd century bishop of Lyons
This last statement from Irenaeus is, in a way, a nice condensation of his whole thought. As mentioned in Against Heresies, this One God is the Father who is above all, through all (via the Word) and in all (via the Spirit.) It is not simply the Father designated as the One God, but specifically the Father who is above all, and through all, and in all. These extensions of himself, that is, His being reckoned "through" and "in" all, are part of what qualify Him to be Himself. God is not simply God in Himself, but the God who is through all and in all -- the "through" and "in" are as much God as God himself.

Throughout Irenaeus' work, the Spirit and Son do exhibit a sort of functional subordination in the work of creation, redemption, and sanctification; but this is wholly orthodox. It does not substantiate or infer any kind of ontological subordination, or that the Son and Spirit are lesser in their personhood. They share all the same attributes as God the Father, which are the attributes which accredit to him the perfection of Godhead.

St. Irenaeus' work is dated to c. A.D. 180, about halfway between the death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord, and of the convocation of the first council of Nicaea. The Nicene doctrines cannot be construed to be innovation; though Irenaeus does not speak in exactly the same terms and use the same mode of thinking, one can easily see the parallels between his thoughts and those of the later Nicenes. Surely, Irenaeus could give an amen to the notion that the Logos of God is "light from light, true God from true God", as would Justin Martyr and Ignatius before him, and as Tertullian and the two Dionysius after him.

[For more in-depth reading, see Jackson Lashier's great work: The Trinitarian Theology of St. Irenaeus of Lyons.]

UPDATE 3/9/18

I have come across other excerpts from St. Irenaeus' from the collection of Lost Fragments (partial remnants of lost works recorded by other authors.) These quotes go very much along in the same vein as do those from Against Heresies, but adding these to the list contribute to the dynamism of his doctrine.

Concerning Christ specifically, St. Irenaeus language is astounding in Fragment 53:
With regard to Christ, the law and the prophets and the evangelists have proclaimed that He was born of a virgin, that He suffered upon a beam of wood, and that He appeared from the dead; that He also ascended to the heavens, and was glorified by the Father, and is the Eternal King; that He is the perfect Intelligence, the Word of God, who was begotten before the light; that He was the Founder of the universe, along with it (light), and the Maker of man; that He is All in all: Patriarch among the patriarchs; Law in the laws; Chief Priest among priests; Ruler among kings; the Prophet among prophets; the Angel among angels; the Man among men; Son in the Father; God in God; King to all eternity. For it is He who sailed [in the ark] along with Noah, and who guided Abraham; who was bound along with Isaac, and was a Wanderer with Jacob; the Shepherd of those who are saved, and the Bridegroom of the Church; the Chief also of the cherubim, the Prince of the angelic powers; God of God; Son of the Father; Jesus Christ; King for ever and ever. Amen.
Our ancient saint actually utters what is said in the original Nicene creed: Christ is not only "God in God" (a phrase easily read along subordinationist lines) , but is "God of God; Son of the Father." This is certainly more along of the lines of what the Nicene Council affirmed in Christ's consubstantiality with the Father.

Along more explicitly Trinitarian lines, Fragment 26 reads:
Know that every man is either empty or full. For if he has not the Holy Spirit, he has no knowledge of the Creator; he has not received Jesus Christ the Life; he knows not the Father who is in heaven; if he does not live after the dictates of reason, after the heavenly law, he is not a sober-minded person, nor does he act uprightly: such an one is empty. If, on the other hand, he receives God, who says, I will dwell with them, and walk in them, and I will be their God, (Leviticus 26:12) such an one is not empty, but full.
Asserting that "every man is either empty or full", Irenaeus goes on to describe what those both mean. He who is empty "has not the Holy Spirit," "has no knowledge of Jesus Christ the Life", "knows not the Father." Contrasting this absence are those "who receive God." And God dwells with them, and walks with them, and is their God. He thus makes this juxtaposition: man is either empty of the Spirit, Son and Father, or man is full of God. The equivocation is difficult to downplay.