Monday, June 19, 2017

The Church Fathers on Original Sin


THE CHURCH FATHERS ON ORIGINAL SIN

St. Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 130 - c. 202)
But this is Adam, if the truth should be told, the first formed man, of whom the Scripture says that the Lord spoke, Let Us make man after Our own image and likeness; (Genesis 1:26) and we are all from him: and as we are from him, therefore have we all inherited his title.
(Against Heresies III:23:2)
Men cannot be saved in any other way from the ancient wound of the Serpent except by believing in Him who according to the likeness of sinful flesh was lifted up from the earth on the tree of testimony and drew all things to Himself and gave life to the dead.”
(ibid IV:2:8)
But inasmuch as it was by these things that we disobeyed God, and did not give credit to His word, so was it also by these same that He brought in obedience and consent as respects His Word; by which things He clearly shows forth God Himself, whom indeed we had offended in the first Adam, when he did not perform His commandment. In the second Adam, however, we are reconciled, being made obedient even unto death. For we were debtors to none other but to Him whose commandment we had transgressed at the beginning.
(ibid V:16:3)

Tertullian of Carthage (c. 155 - c. 244)
In expressing vexation, contempt, or abhorrence, you have Satan constantly upon your lips; the very same we hold to be the angel of evil, the source of error, the corrupter of the whole world, by whom in the beginning man was entrapped into breaking the commandment of God. And (the man) being given over to death on account of his sin, the entire human race, tainted in their descent from him, were made a channel for transmitting his condemnation.
(Testimony of the Soul 3)

Origen of Alexandria (c. 185 - c. 254)
Every soul that is born into flesh is soiled by the filth of wickedness and sin . . . And if it should seem necessary to do so, there may be added to the aforementioned considerations [referring to previous Scriptures cited that we all sin] the fact that in the Church, Baptism is given for the remission of sin; and according to the usage of the Church, Baptism is given even to infants. And indeed if there were nothing in infants which required a remission of sins and nothing in them pertinent to forgiveness, the grace of Baptism would seem superfluous.
(Homilies on Leviticus 8:3)

St. Cyprian of Carthage (c. 200 - 258)
For which reason we think that no one is to be hindered from obtaining grace by that law which was already ordained, and that spiritual circumcision ought not to be hindered by carnal circumcision, but that absolutely every man is to be admitted to the grace of Christ, since Peter also in the Acts of the Apostles speaks, and says, The Lord has said to me that I should call no man common or unclean. (Acts 10:28) But if anything could hinder men from obtaining grace, their more heinous sins might rather hinder those who are mature and grown up and older. But again, if even to the greatest sinners, and to those who had sinned much against God, when they subsequently believed, remission of sins is granted— and nobody is hindered from baptism and from grace— how much rather ought we to shrink from hindering an infant, who, being lately born, has not sinned, except in that, being born after the flesh according to Adam, he has contracted the contagion of the ancient death at its earliest birth, who approaches the more easily on this very account to the reception of the forgiveness
of sins— that to him are remitted, not his own sins, but the sins of another. (Epistles 58:5)

St. Methodius of Philippi (d. 311)
For with this purpose the Word assumed the nature of man, that, having overcome the serpent, He might by Himself destroy the condemnation which had come into being along with man's ruin. For it was fitting that the Evil One should be overcome by no other, but by him whom he had deceived, and whom he was boasting that he held in subjection, because no otherwise was it possible that sin and condemnation should be destroyed, unless that same man on whose account it had been said, Dust you are, and unto dust you shall return, (Genesis 3:19) should be created anew, and undo the sentence which for his sake had gone forth on all, that as in Adam at first all die, even so again in Christ, who assumed the nature and position of Adam, should all be made alive.
(Banquet of the Ten Virgins III:6)

St. Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335 - 394)
Evil has been intermingled with our nature from the outset, because of those who received passion into themselves at the beginning by disobeying and so giving the disease a home in themselves. And, as in every species of living being, the same nature persists as one follows the other, so that as far as nature itself is concerned, what comes into existence is identical with that whence it came, so it is that man comes from man, the passionate from the passionate, the sinner from the sinner. In some sense, therefore, sin comes to exist along with things that come to be. It is born with it, grows alongside it and ceases only when life is ended.
(Sixth Homily on the Beatitudes)

St. Ambrose of Milan (c. 338 - 397)
Therefore, in accordance with nature, excessive grief must not be yielded to, lest we should seem either to claim for ourselves either an exceptional superiority of nature, or to reject the common lot. For death is alike to all, without difference for the poor, without exception for the rich. And so although through the sin of one alone, yet it passed upon all; (Romans 5:12) that we may not refuse to acknowledge Him to be also the Author of death, Whom we do not refuse to acknowledge as the Author of our race; and that, as through one death is ours, so should be also the resurrection; and that we should not refuse the misery, that we may attain to the gift. For, as we read, Christ has come to save that which was lost, (Luke 19:10) and to be Lord both of the dead and living. Romans 14:9 In Adam I fell, in Adam I was cast out of Paradise, in Adam I died; how shall the Lord call me back, except He find me in Adam; guilty as I was in him, so now justified in Christ. If, then, death be the debt of all, we must be able to endure the payment. But this topic must be reserved for later treatment.
(On the Death of Satyrus II, 6)

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Jesus Christ As the Wisdom of God


"... Christ,  the wisdom of God and the power of God."
1 Corinthians 12:4 
"... Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."
Colossians 2:2-3
In the writings of St. Paul, the Apostle makes praises of Jesus as being the ultimate manifestation of God's wisdom (as well as knowledge and power.) What is the significance of this description? Where does the Apostle get this idea? As it turns out, when the Old Testament sings the praises of Wisdom, its descriptions often apply to Christ, even with an exactitude!

It might strike the reader of odd to read about "wisdom" being referred to in the feminine, while Christ Jesus was obviously incarnate as a male. The feminine description of wisdom is purely figurative, symbolic of its surpassing beauty and worthiness. What the Old Testament praises of wisdom figuratively, Christ embodies with a literal quality, actualizing and personifying those many traits that make men savvy to the friendship of God.

Proverbs (8:22-31) ascribes qualities to Wisdom beyond that of a teacher of men. In this beautiful passage, Wisdom says of herself that she was with God before the foundation of the world, and that she labored in its creation, and that she was God's delight.
The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
    the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up,
    at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
    when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
    before the hills, I was brought forth—
when he had not yet made earth and fields,
    or the world’s first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there,
    when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
    when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
    so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
    rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
    and delighting in the human race.
The Proverbs voice her saying "The Lord created me at the beginning of his work", "When he established the heavens, I was there" and "I was beside him, like a master worker." The Book of Sirach, (also known as Ecclesiasticus), makes similar statements, saying "Wisdom was created before all other things, and prudent understanding from eternity . . . It is he who created her; he saw her and took her measure; he poured her out upon all his works..." (Sirach 1:4, 9)

Ever notice how the Apostles refer to Christ using the exact same notions?

[Christ is] ... the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible... all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15-17)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. (John 1:1-4)

Really, the entirety of the Eighth Chapter of Proverbs can be seen as applying to Jesus Christ. (Just read it for yourself and be blown away!) What Wisdom makes of herself in this passage, Christ fulfills to a 't'.

Passages from the Old Testament even touch on the nature of Christ's incarnation, such as saying "Wisdom has built her house." (Proverbs 9:1) In "wisdom building her house", it required only the finest materials; Christ, the wisdom and power of God, was incarnate from a pure and holy virgin, "because wisdom will not enter a deceitful soul, or dwell in a body enslaved to sin." (Wisdom 1:4)

The Old Testament also emphasizes just how precious Wisdom is, and how essential it is to demonstrate one's loyalty to her. The Proverb says "Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever else you get [though it costs you all you have], get insight." (4:6-7) Does not Christ say the same of himself, telling his disciples to follow him at all costs, and that he will not deny them if they do not deny him? (cf. Mt. 10:33) The admonishments of Wisdom and the admonishments of Christ are not all that different.

In the next chapter (Proverbs 9:4b-5), Wisdom also says:
    To those without sense she says,
"Come, eat of my bread
    and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Lay aside immaturity, and live,
    and walk in the way of insight.”
 
Drinking her wine and eating her bread has a greatly beneficial quality. Sort of like Jesus, right?
Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." (Matthew 26:26-28)
I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.... 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.(John 6:35, 51)

The Book of Sirach (51:23, 26-27) voices Wisdom's invitation to the unwise in the following manner:
"Draw near to me, you who are uneducated,
    and lodge in the house of instruction. . . . "
Put your neck under her[the] yoke,
    and let your souls receive instruction;
    it is to be found close by.
See with your own eyes that I have labored but little
    and found for myself much serenity. 
Sound familiar? It should: these words hold a resemblance to that of some of the most beautiful ever spoken by Christ. Christ offers himself to those lacking in a similar fashion: he will teach them and aleve them. (Matthew 11:28-30)
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

And yet, there are those who spurn wisdom: there are also those who spurn Christ. Proverbs' very fist chapter includes the following (Proverbs 1:28-29):
Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
    they will seek me diligently, but will not find me.
Because they hated knowledge
    and did not choose the fear of the Lord,
This is part of Wisdom's scoff of those who did not find her because they did not fear the Lord. In John 7, after Jesus is scoffed by the Jews of whom he claimed did not know God, he departs from them, saying: "You will search for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.” (John 7:34)

Christ expresses the wisdom of God with so much simplicity and, simultaneously, so much depth. The infant wades and the elephant drowns. He is the instructor of those who truly long for righteous living.

Take, for example, his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. There, by "not abolishing the Law but fulfilling it", he demonstrates what was in God's heart the whole time when he had given the Israelites the law. He reveals that the commandment against "thou shalt not kill" was speaking past simple exterior action and going to straight to the human heart, telling man not to be angry with his brother. Likewise, the commandment was not in itself  merely concerning "thou shalt not commit adultery", but was telling us not to lust for anyone at all. He goes beyond saying to "love your neighbor and hate your enemies" to say "love your enemies."

Christ is thus not only the one who teaches us God's divine wisdom, but equipts and enables us to use it. This is part of what's so beautiful about knowing Jesus of Nazareth. He is more than just a wise teacher that lived two thousand years ago. He is the wisdom of God itself, incarnate from a pure womb, living and breathing in human flesh. He is what all the wise and learned of ancient times were reaching for, aiming for, striving for, but could never accomplish. He is the fulfillment of a promise, prophesied through the mouths and pens of multiple prophets. He "one-ups" every single other wise teacher, philosopher and religious founder in the entire world: while the rest all proclaimed to have discovered the way, the truth, the life, only Christ says "I am the way, I am the truth, I am the life."



[The icon is of Christ Pantocrator (Christ Almighty),St. Catherine's monastery, Sinai, Egypt, 6th century.]

Monday, May 29, 2017

Answering a Common Argument Against "Theotokos"

Theotokos of Vladimir Icon
The assertion of the Marian title "Theotokos" or "Mother of God" is established on the following grounds:
  1. Jesus Christ is God
  2. Mary is the mother of Jesus Christ
  3. Ergo, Mary is the Mother of God
This is the historic understanding of the Christian faith; it is inferred from the teaching of Scripture (cf. Is 7:14; Lk. 1:43), and the title's usage is well-established in the Church Fathers (Athanasius, Ephraim, Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory Nazianzen, Ambrose, Jerome, Epiphanius)

There are some who nevertheless oppose this assertion, even should they acknowledge its truth, replying that it the assertion is, at least, misleading, if not actually erroneous. They demonstrate the basis for their rejection of the term by offering the following syllogism which intends to employ the reductio ad absurdum, the syllogism being so obviously false in its conclusion that it demonstrates the beginning premise must be false.
  1. Mary is the Mother of God
  2. God is a Trinity
  3. Therefore, Mary is Mother of the Trinity
The argument based upon this syllogism is itself fallacious, on account of its presuppositions being removed from the context of the Christian Faith. It makes an erroneous assessment of the word "God", one that is too limited and too narrow.

It is important to remember what exactly the doctrine of the MOST HOLY TRINITY is. Each person of the MOST HOLY TRINITY are fully God. The Three Persons do not each constitute 1/3 of God -- rather, each Person is wholly, 100% God. (To believe otherwise is to adhere to the heresy of Partialism.) The title "God" can refer not only to the Godhead in its Three Persons, but can apply to any of Its individual Persons as well. The Father is Divinity in its fullness; the Son is Divinity in its fullness; the Spirit is Divinity in its fullness.

The Blessed Virgin Mary gave birth only one of the Divine Persons, yet that Person was and is "the fullness of deity dwelling in bodily form." (cf. Colossians 2:9) The Person whom Mary birthed was not merely partly God, or part of God, but was wholly God. The error in this counter-syllogism is its presupposition that the term "God" is exclusively applied to the Triune Godhead, and not also to any of the individual Persons which compose it.

Neither can, if one holds to proper Trinitarian theology, this doctrine be misunderstood as Jesus also being the other members of the Holy Trinity as well (for this is the heresy of Modalism.) Mary was but the human mother to the Second Person of the Trinity made Incarnate, the Word made flesh, as it was only this Person of the Godhead who became man. The same cannot be said for God the Father or God the Holy Spirit. The term "Mother of God" is but reference to the Incarnate Christ, and neither of the other two Members of the MOST HOLY TRINITY.

All in all, in order for any objection to the Marian title "Mother of God" to be a valid criticism, it must either assume or prove that he who uses the title and professes it to be true has a heretical understanding of the person of Christ or of the Holy Trimity. Ergo, let no Christian be criticized for using the title, because if they understand it in a way which contradicts proper Christology or Trinitarian theology, they don't qualify as an orthodox Christian to begin with. Far from being unorthodox or heretical, the validity of this title, Theotokos, is actually demanded on the grounds of proper Christology.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Ancient Christian Thought on Mary's Spiritual Motherhood

Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
John 19:27
Contrary to certain assertions, there was in fact an understanding in the early Church of Mary being a spiritual mother to Christians, albeit, they do not convey the full blossoming of Marian devotion as we have it today. What they do convey, however, is the idea that Mary, by virtue of having birthed the Redeemer, has by extension, also birthed all the redeemed.

For the most part, it is conveyed in a formal, theological sense, and not in the personal, devotional sense of "Mama Mary." But this is somewhat expected: the earliest writings of the Church are almost all focused either on apologetics against heresy and paganism, or on church discipline. Theology for theology's sake was not the standard for most of the ancient saints, and any purely sentimental expression of devotion was all the more infrequent. So the fact that this concept of the Blessed Virgin being a universal mother to the members of Christ's body is present at all is noteworthy, and in my mind, can be argued to supply enough substance for adequate development of later ages.



Second Century:
Again, there are those who say, He is a man, and who shall know him? and, I came unto the prophetess, and she bore a son, and His name is called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God; and those [of them] who proclaimed Him as Immanuel, [born] of the Virgin, exhibited the union of the Word of God with His own workmanship, [declaring] that the Word should become flesh, and the Son of God the Son of man (the pure One opening purely that pure womb which regenerates men unto God, and which He Himself made pure)
-St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies IV:33:11
Third Century:
We may therefore make bold to say that the Gospels are the first fruits of all the Scriptures, but that of the Gospels that of John is the first fruits. No one can apprehend the meaning of it except he have lain on Jesus' breast and received from Jesus Mary to be his mother also. Such an one must he become who is to be another John, and to have shown to him, like John, by Jesus Himself Jesus as He is. For if Mary, as those declare who with sound mind extol her, had no other son but Jesus, and yet Jesus says to His mother, "Woman, behold your son,"(John 19:26) and not "Behold you have this son also", then He virtually said to her, "Lo, this is Jesus, whom you bore." Is it not the case that every one who is perfect lives himself no longer, (Galatians 2:20) but Christ lives in him; and if Christ lives in him, then it is said of him to Mary, "Behold your son Christ."
-Origen of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of John, I:6
Fourth Century: 
Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Lk 1:28). This is she who was prefigured by Eve and who symbolically received the title of mother of the living (cf. Gen 3:20). For Eve was called mother of the living after she had heard the words, “You are dust and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19), in other words, after the fall. It seems odd that she should receive such a grand title after having sinned. Looking at the matter from the outside, one notices that Eve is the one from whom the entire human race took its origin on this earth. Mary, on the contrary, truly introduced life itself into the world by giving birth to the Living One, so that Mary has become the Mother of the living.
-St. Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion (Against Heresies) 78:18 (emphasis mine)
Fifth Century:
His mother is [a figure of] the whole Church, because she herself assuredly gives birth to His members, that is, His faithful ones... that one female, not only in the Spirit, but also in the flesh, is both a mother and a virgin. And a mother indeed in the Spirit, not of our Head, Which is the Saviour Himself, of Whom rather she was born after the Spirit: forasmuch as all, who have believed in Him, among whom is herself also, are rightly called children of the Bridegroom: but clearly the mother of His members, which are we: in that she wrought together by charity, that faithful ones should be born in the Church, who are members of That Head: but in the flesh, the mother of the Head Himself.
-St. Augustine of Hippo, On Holy Virginity 5, 6

Notable in all these expressions, they carry a Christological significance. Something it is healthy and good for all Christians to keep in mind is that Jesus Christ is the connection between Mary and all those who think of her as their mother, and that any Marian devotion practiced by Christians will be depraved if devotion to Christ is not its means and its end.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Perpetuator of "Two Babylons" Falsehoods Sets Record Straight

[In a sense, this might be considered "old news", but as these falsehoods are still firmly embedded in the minds of so many, it is thus still relevant, and "news" nonetheless.]

BABYLON MYSTERY RELIGION, by
Ralph Woodrow
Ralph Woodrow, author of BABYLON MYSTERY RELIGION, has acknowledged the misinformation extant in his book, and has stopped distributing it. As well as publishing another book in which he addresses and critiques these errors, entitled THE BABYLON CONNECTION?, he has also posted a public message on his website, admitting that the former work contains items which are in fact falsehoods.

[You can read the whole statement here: Message from Ralph Woodrow regarding the book BABYLON MYSTERY  RELIGION]

BABYLON MYSTERY RELIGION perpetuates an historical theory, first proposed by Alexander Hislop in his work TWO BABYLONS, that the modern Roman Catholic religion is ultimately a repackaged continuation of the ancient and unchristian pagan religion of Babylon, and that several of its heathen religious practices has infected much of Christianity as a whole.

Woodrow demonstrates that much of this theory is largely established upon what amounts to pseudo-science and historical fiction; in other words, its claims are unfounded. Supposed connections between Catholicism and the ancient paganism are no true connections at all, as the claims result from a shallow assessment of supposed similarities between the two in their external features.

Belief in the false ideas proposed by this book has sometimes led to a needless hostility against Catholicism from otherwise well-meaning Christians, deeming its adherents to be no better than pagans (I partially speak from personal experience.) I believe actively sharing this information will go a long way in clearing up misunderstandings and in promoting a deeper sense of charity between Catholic and non-Catholic Christians.

Here are what I deem as some highlights from Mr. Woodrow's public message:
. . . It puzzles me how some can be so fanatical against one set of errors—or what they perceive to be errors—only to develop greater errors: becoming judgmental, hateful, and dishonest.

My original book... contained certain teachings that were made popular in a book many years ago, THE TWO BABYLONS, by Alexander Hislop. This book claims that the very religion of ancient Babylon... was later disguised with Christian-sounding names, becoming the Roman Catholic Church... Proof for this is sought by citing numerous similarities in paganism. The problem with this method is this: in many cases there is no connection.

. . . By this method, atheists have long sought to discredit the Bible and Christianity altogether—not just the Roman Catholic Church . . . Basic things like prayer, and kneeling in prayer, would have to be rejected, because pagans knelt and prayed to their gods. Water baptism would have to be rejected, for pagans had numerous rites involving water, etc.

. . . It is amazing how unsubstantiated teachings like these circulate—and are believed. One can go to any library, check any history book about ancient Babylon, none of these things will be found. They are not historically accurate, but are based on an arbitrary piecing together of bits and pieces of mythology.

. . . Some claim that round objects, such as round communion wafers, are symbols of the Sun-god. But they fail to mention that the very manna given by God was round! (Exod. 16:14). Some are ready to condemn all pillars and historical monuments as pagan. But they fail to take into account that the Lord himself appeared as a pillar of fire; and, in front of his temple, there were two large pillars (Exod. 13:21,22; 2 Chron. 3:17).

. . . Claims that imply “all these things started in Babylon,” are not only divisive and fruitless, they are untrue.
I would like to personally commend and warmly applaud Mr. Ralph Woodrow for his integrity and honesty in this matter: he is a good man. May God grant him many years.


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Praying Eastward: Is it Pagan?


There's a rumor that circulates around the internet that Catholics and other Christians unwittingly engage in sun worship. This claim is "substantiated" on account that Catholics and Orthodox pray towards the east (and then also on account of worshiping on Sunday, but that's also a different issue.) The issue of facing east is especially heavy on certain people's sensitivities, because it seems even more overtly pagan. This apprehension is generally held by a certain sort of people who hold that the early Church apostatized into a semi-Christian semi-Pagan religion (known as Roman Catholicism) by incorporating Pagan practices and superstitions, which was largely the doing of the first "Christian" emperor, Constantine the Great. They will treat anything not discernible from a face value reading of Scripture as an impure pagan accretion into the purity of faith in Christ.

This post will thus attempt to show how genuinely Christian the practice is, by showing how early the practice is and pointing to the Scriptural support given for it.

Tertullian, from his Apology, says the following.
Others certainly, with greater semblance of nature and of truth, believe the sun to be our God. [But] If this be so, we ought be ranked with the Persians; though we worship not the sun painted on a piece of linen... this suspicion arises from hence, because it is well known that we pray towards the quarter of the east... In a like manner, if we give up to rejoicing [on] the day of the sun, for a cause far different from the worship of the sun, we are only next to those who set apart the day of Saturn for resting and feasting, deflecting themselves also from Jewish customs, of which they are ignorant. (Apology, chapter 16, c. A.D. 197)

Turns out, Tertullian and the other Christians of his day were accused of "sun-worship" just like Catholics and other Christians are by certain outlier groups. Tertullian, however, highlights just how arbitrary such notions are; Christians worshipping on Sunday has as little to do with the sun as those who take their rest on Saturday have to do with the god Saturn.

Tertullian's testimony has an added dimension of significance. Most of the Church Fathers, though they consistently repudiate the false pagan worship of the surrounding Greco-Roman culture, nevertheless respected certain elements found within the culture, namely philosophy. Tertullian, however, was NOT one of them. Being a purist, he famously said "What hath Athens to do with Jerusalem?" (On the Prescription of Heretics, chp 7) The fact that he, out of all people, would admit that Christians pray facing east without giving even a second thought makes for a good argument that, as a Christian practice, it did not originate out of paganism.

Going on to a different early Christian writer, Clement of Alexandria writes in Book Seven of the Stromata
And since the dawn is an image of the day of birth, and from that point the light which has shone forth at first from the darkness increases, there has also downed on those involved in darkness a day of knowledge of truth. In correspondence with the manner of the sun's rising, prayers are made looking towards the sunrise in the east. Whence also the most ancient temples looked towards the west, that people might be taught to turn to the east when facing the images. Let my prayer be directed before You as incense, the uplifting of my hands as the evening sacrifice, say the Psalms. (The Stomata, Book VII, 7, 43, c. AD 198)

Clement explains that praying towards the east carries a symbolic meaning: Those who have lived in darkness have seen a great light (Is. 9:2) so to speak, as the truth of Christ's Gospel has illuminated those whose minds and souls were darkened by false worship. This ties in well with any of the Scriptural concepts which might be brought forth as the foundation of the practice: that Jesus Christ is the Light of the World (Jn 8:12), a Sun of Righteousness (Mal 4:2) to banish the dark night of immorality.

Clement then actually bases the practice on the tradition of the ancient Jews. Jewish worship of old (as well as contemporary) was done facing the east. The tabernacle on Mt. Sinai faced east, the images referred to by Clement being those such as the cherubim woven into the curtains (Ex. 25-26). He's pointing back to it as something which was originally employed by the Hebrews in the Old Covenant.

These are the two earliest testimonies to Christians praying eastward that I have been able to find. They are both written within years of each other, right before the close of the second century AD (long before Constantine or the Council of Nicaea.) Tertullian is writing from the Latin West, while Clement is writing in the Greek-speaking East, meaning the tradition is widespread and existing in multiple churches. They both mention the practice but do not devote a lot of time to it, as John Damascene would later on book four in his Exposition on the Orthodox Faith in the 7th Century, which might imply that the practice is actually rather fixed.

So, there's pretty good evidence that the Christian practice of facing east in prayer stemmed from the Jewish equivalent, and, in a word, is definitely NOT of  Pagan origin! Yes, different Pagan cultures practiced it as well, but that does not mean it can't exist in a Judeo-Christian context -- after all, if being Holy depended on being unique in every external respect, then things like temples, incense, circumcision and baptism -- all things the Jews and Pagans used alike -- would have to be dismissed and thrown away.

UPDATE: 6-1-17

One other early source, the Didascalia (based off of the earlier Didache) has a section where it touches on the liturgical facing east. This document is usually dated to the year 230, and is most commonly believed to have originated in Syria, perhaps Antioch. From its twelfth chapter, the Didascalia Apostolorum reads thus:
And in your congregations in the holy churches hold your assemblies with all decent order, and appoint the places for the brethren with care and gravity. And for the presbyters let there be assigned a place in the eastern part of the house; and let the bishop's throne be set in their midst, and let the presbyters sit with him. And again, let the lay men sit in another part of the house toward the east. For so it should be, that in the eastern part of the house the presbyters sit with the bishops, and next the lay men, and then the women that when you stand up to pray, the rulers may stand first, and after them the lay men, and then the women also. For it is required that you pray toward the east, as knowing that which is written: Give ye glory to God, who rideth upon the heaven of heavens toward the east [Ps 67.34 LXX]

So, Tertullian in Carthage (very Northern Africa, within Rome's vicinity), and Clement of Alexandria (in Egypt) both write around the same time that Christians pray East, and roughly thirty-five years later we observe that Christians in Syria do the same thing. This doesn't mean they adopted it only by that time, but it is only by these times that we see the practice documented at all. The fact that it's so early and so widespread, I personally believe, says quite a bit!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Biblical Practice of Praying for the Dead

All Souls Day, Jakub Shikaneder, 1888

This post seeks to present the biblical evidences behind the custom of offering prayer to God on behalf of the departed. The evidence that the early Christian Church practiced it is old indeed, direct historical and archaeological testimony existent by the mid second century (see: here), hence the Catholic and Orthodox Churches have maintained it. Yet, the idea became controversial in light of the Protestant Reformation, with most churches descending from the tradition of the reformers dismissing it as anti-biblical. Therefore, presenting a Scriptural framework to reference in establishing and developing the concept proves useful. This post will provide positive, even if sometimes implicit, evidence which supports the ancient custom.


THE OLD TESTAMENT

The first verses which demonstrate any sort of prayer for the dead go as far back into the Bible as the first and second books of Samuel, where David and his company can be seen fasting on account of death of Saul and his household.

1 Samuel 31:11-13
But when the inhabitants of Ja’besh-gil’ead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, all the valiant men arose, and went all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan; and they came to Jabesh and burnt them there. And they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh, and fasted seven days.
2 Samuel 1:11-12
Then David took hold of his clothes, and rent them; and so did all the men who were with him; and they mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and for Jonathan his son and for the people of the LORD and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.
From what we know about fasting as a Biblical practice, it can be a means of prayer and petition to God. This is demonstrable from many passages and does not need to be proved (cf. 2 Sam 12:16; Daniel 10:3; Esther 4:16; Ezra 8:21; Acts 14:23). These words from Samuel clearly say that the fasting done by David was done for those who had been slain. Ergo, David is praying for the dead. Admittedly, these passages do not extrapolate as to what are the benefits the deceased might receive through fasting, but that any sort of religious action is taken up on their account is certainly present.

2 Maccabees 12:29-45

The passages from Samuel observe a practice of praying for the dead, but they do not describe as to what end. The most obvious and clearest instance of it is from 2nd Maccabees.
On the next day, as had now become necessary, Judas and his men went to take up the bodies of the fallen and to bring them back to lie with their kindred in the sepulchres of their ancestors. Then under the tunic of each one of the dead they found sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. And it became clear to all that this was the reason these men had fallen. So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous judge, who reveals the things that are hidden; and they turned to supplication, praying that the sin that had been committed might be wholly blotted out. The noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened as the result of the sin of those who had fallen. He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin.
Upon discovering that slain soldiers were in possession of idolatrous items, Judas Maccabeus and his army explicitly do two things on behalf of the dead: [1] they made supplication in prayer to God and [2] they actually collect silver as to provide for a sin offering to be sacrificed in Jerusalem on account of their sin. The intentions of these actions were that God would remit and forgive the sin of those who had fallen, so that, in view of the resurrection of the dead, they might share in the reward of godliness. In other words, the living pray and make sacrifice on behalf the dead, so that the sin of those who died would not be reckoned unto them at the resurrection, and thus not prevented them from experiencing the bliss of the afterlife.

[Albeit, Protestants don't formally recognize 2nd Maccabees as inspired Scripture. If one does not wish to receive this as Holy Writ, one can at least receive it as historical witness to prayer for the dead, as it demonstrates the custom existed in ancient Judaism. It is potentially able to shed light and give meaning to the practices which precede it and follow it.]


THE NEW TESTAMENT

1 Corinthians 15:29

In this passage, Paul weighs in on the issue is in his observance of a strange case in the early church.
Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?
Whether or not Paul was actually condoning the peculiar practice of being baptized on behalf of the dead (traditional church discipline would testify that he's not), the principle behind such an action is easily identifiable; it is a form of prayer for those who have departed from this life. And Paul points to the practice as a mean of validating that there is in fact a resurrection -- if there were not, the hope of those being baptized on behalf of the dead is unfounded, as there will be nothing for the dead towards which the baptism will avail them.

Also, notice how this phrasing somewhat mirrors that of the passage from 2nd Maccabees:

  • "For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead." (2 Mac 12:43)
  • "If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?" (1 Cor 15:29)


2 Timothy 1:16-18

In this second Pauline passage which is relevant to the subject, Paul is not commenting on prayers made for the dead; rather, he is making them himself.
May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiph’orus, for he often refreshed me; he was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me eagerly and found me — may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day — and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus.
Pay attention to the details of Paul's words concerning Onesiph'orus:
  1. Paul recalls the man's good deeds as past events: ("...he often refreshed me, he was not ashamed of my chains... all the service he rendered at Ephesus.")
  2. Paul wishes peace upon the family in the present ("grant mercy to the household of Onesiph'orus...")
  3. Paul prays that Onesiph'orus would find mercy on the Day of Judgment ("may the Lord grant him to find mercy.. on that Day.")
As the data suggests, the most natural reading of the passage indicates that the father of the household, Onesiph'orus, had passed away (as is remarked and acknowledged by several learned Protestant commentators.) Is it not natural to remember the good a man has done in his lifetime? Is it not customary to send peace and good wishes upon those who've lost someone in their family? And as Paul solemnly writes, "May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on the day" he is thus praying for one numbered among the dead.

What does this practice of praying for the dead imply? If the soul of the deceased person prayed for is already at rest in paradise, there is certainly no need of any intercession from the living. If their soul is already sentenced to eternal punishment, there is no good able to be granted to them. Thus, the ancient Christian custom of praying for God's mercy upon the departed implicitly acknowledges something of a purgatory; not merely assuming one's purity before God and that one has no need of mercy or pardon upon exiting this life, prayers are made for the dead, that any hindrance not yet wholly blotted out in this life might be done away with before the Resurrection and the Last Judgment. If there is any remittance, any refinement, any purification, any chastisement which takes place after death but before the consummation of the age, then the basic principles of a purgatory are admitted and prayers for such souls are quite the justifiable, and the charitable, practice. (This is also a large reason as to why Protestant Christians tend to reject the practice.)

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Church Fathers & the Rapture: A Closer Look

AN EXAMINATION OF EXCERPTS FROM IRENAEUS, CYRPIAN AND PSEUDO-EPHRAIM

The Wise and Foolish Virgins, Ludwig Denig, 1784

The concept of a Pre-Tribulation Rapture is essentially the idea that, before the Great Tribulation, before the reign of Anti-Christ, God will assume His faithful ones into heaven, so that they will not have to endure the world's final and most desolating struggle. There will be no true church upon the earth when the End of Days approaches because the Bride of Christ will have been stolen away from the earth.

One frequent objection to this doctrine by those who don't adhere to it (such as myself) is that the concept was scarcely, if at all, brought up by any of the Early Church Fathers, and that it really wasn't ever truly flushed out until the 1830's, by a man named John Nelson Darby. 

In attempts to defend the doctrine, I've seen a handful of people on the web appeal to a handful of the Fathers and provide quotes from them in order to defend the doctrine, claiming that the said men espoused such a view. (One such website: here.)

In this post, I will go through those quotes from the Fathers and demonstrate how they are not indicative of a Rapture which occurs before the Tribulation. The patristic quotations that will be looked at, on account of their being most frequently used, will be from:
  1. Irenaeus of Lyons
  2. Cyprian of Carthage
  3. (Pseudo) Ephraim the Syrian

1. Irenaeus of Lyons

The first quotation presented here is one from the ancient bishop of Lyons, writing in the latter half of the second century in his treatise Against Heresies
And therefore, when in the end the Church shall be suddenly caught up from this, it is said, "There shall be tribulation such as has not been since the beginning, neither shall be." For this is the last contest of the righteous, in which, when they overcome they are crowned with incorruption. [Against Heresies V:29:1]

This quote, taken in isolation, can certainly be read as being suggestive of the idea. Does Irenaeus believe the Church will not be present for the Great Tribulation, because they will have been assumed into heaven beforehand? If this were the case, it would appear that Irenaeus contradicts himself in multiple places of the same work.
It is manifest, therefore, that of these [ten kings], he [the Anti-Christ] who is to come shall slay three, and subject the remainder to his power, and that he shall be himself the eighth among them. And they shall lay Babylon waste, and burn her with fire, and shall give their kingdom to the beast, and put the Church to flight. After that they shall be destroyed by the coming of our Lord. (ibid. V:26:1, emphasis mine)
But [John the Revelator] indicates the number of the name [666] now, that when this man comes we may avoid him, being aware who he is. (ibid. V:30:4)

If the Church isn't on earth for the coming of Antichrist, how can they be put to flight once he assumed power? Further, St. Irenaeus says that John gives the number of the name so that "we" will recognize and avoid the Antichrist. Who will recognize the person, name and number if the Church is gone? He obviously isn't expecting to be raptured away with his fellow believers if he says that"we" will be aware of who he is.

How then should we understand the words of Irenaeus pertaining to the Church being "suddenly caught up"? Larger context of the paragraph (and of book five of Against Heresies) will be key. The previous four-or-so chapters of the treatise are on the subject of the end times, the devil, the Anti-Christ, the tribulation, and the like. He treats of how the powers of evil will essentially take control of the nations.

Therefore, let us reexamine the quote which supposed endorses the Pre-T Rapture: "when in the end the Church shall be suddenly caught up from this, it is said, 'There shall be tribulation such as has not been since the beginning, neither shall be'  For this is the last contest of the righteous, in which, when they overcome they are crowned with incorruption."

One simply needs to reread to see what Irenaeus is actually saying. There will never be such tribulation again, because its completion shall be, quite literally, the end of all things. The 'this' he referring to is the Great Tribulation, the "last contest of the righteous" and the Church shall suddenly be caught up from 'this' in the end, that is, at its completion, and shall be crowned "when they overcome." There's not much to be crowned for if you're taken up before the contest even starts.


2. Cyprian of Carthage

Next, let's take a look at St. Cyprian, who was bishop of Carthage and martyred in the middle of the third century:
We who see that terrible things have begun, and know that still more terrible things are imminent, may regard it as the greatest advantage to depart from it as quickly as   possible. Do you not give God thanks, do you not congratulate yourself, that by an early departure you are taken away, and delivered from the shipwrecks and disasters that are imminent? ... Let us greet the day which assigns each of us to his own home, which snatches us hence, and sets us free from the snares of the world and restores us to paradise and the kingdom. (Treatise VII, 25)

Again, if taken in isolation, this excerpt might "tickle the ears" of those who are familiar with the idea of the Pre-Trib Rapture. What's more, Cyprian uses the language of "translation", and even compares the translation of believers to that of Enoch, being taken early on account of their holiness. (cf. ibid, 23)

And again, context is key; though Cyprian speaks of hastening, of translation, of passing over, and uses Enoch as an example of early exit on account of holiness, he qualifies the discussion of these things by saying:
"That in the meantime we die, we are passing over to immortality by death; nor can eternal life follow, unless it should befall us to depart from this life. That is not an ending, but a transit, and, this journey of time being traversed, a passage to eternity. Who would not hasten to better things?" (ibid., 22, emphasis mine)

Cyprian is not speaking of a bodily assumption into heaven, but of physical death. In fact, the paragraph before the seemingly pro-Rapture quotation, he says "laying aside the fear of death, let us think on the immortality which follows." (ibid., 24, emphasis mine) He is encouraging his readers to not fear the inevitability of death, but to lay hold of God's will for their lives and receive it with trust and gratitude. The reality that the Great Tribulation and the End of Days has not ushered in is all the more reason to be thankful for death, for it means that those who died have escaped being required of God to have gone through the greater trials imposed by the Anti-Christ.


3. Ephraim the Syrian

Here is the most controversial quote of all, one attributed to St. Ephraim. The work it comes from is titled "On the Last Times"
See to it that this sentence be not fulfilled among you of the prophet who declares: "Woe to   those who desire to see the day of the Lord!" For all the saints and elect of God are gathered, prior to the tribulation that is to come, and are taken to the Lord lest they see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world because of our sins. And so, brothers most dear to me, it is the eleventh hour, and the end of the world comes to the harvest, and angels, armed and prepared, hold sickles in their hands, awaiting the empire of the Lord. (On the Last Times 2)

There's a problem with this quotation: it is spurious. The saint lived in the late fourth century, yet the document these words come makes explicit reference to the invading forces of Islam, which could date it only as early as the 700's. So if this text actually espouses anything remotely similar to a pre-tribulation rapture, it would have only been introduced in the eighth century, and it would have been the only document in all of the Patristic Era (from the Apostolic Fathers in the late first century to Second Council of Nicea in 787) to carry such a teaching on the end times.

It still may not, however, actually teach the rapture doctrine. In the ninth and final section of the text, it says that the faithful of Christ will arise from their graves at His coming. It is more logically consistent to understand this text the same way one ought to understand St. Cyprian's words, that the translation unto God is via death.

One final factor which ought be looked at is to not simply analyse these writers in their own context, but in the wider context of their contemporaries and predecessors. Below are a few testimonies from other early Christian writers which demonstrate a more "orthodox" view and are incompatible with the belief in a pre-Trib rapture.
Justin Martyr (100-165): "[W]hen the man of apostasy, who speaks strange things against the Most High, shall venture to do unlawful deeds on the earth against us the Christians..." (Dialogue w/ Trypho, 110)
Tertullian (160-220): "...the beast Antichrist with his false prophet [will] wage war on the Church of God . . . the Scriptures both indicate the stages of the last times, and concentrate the harvest of the Christian hope in the very end of the world..." (On the Resurrection of the Flesh, 25)
Hippolytus of Rome (170-235): "Now, concerning the tribulation of the persecution which is to fall upon the Church from the adversary, John also speaks thus: [extensive quote from Revelation 12] ... [the time the Woman spends in the desert fleeing from the dragon] refers to the one thousand two hundred and threescore days (the half of the week) during which the tyrant is to reign and persecute the Church..." (On Christ and Antichrist 60-61)
Victorinus (d. 303): "Thence here he places, and by and by here he renews, that of which the Lord, admonishing His churches concerning the last times and their dangers, says: But when you shall see the contempt which is spoken of by Daniel the prophet standing in the holy place, let him who reads understand.' (Matthew 24:15; Daniel 9:27) It is called a contempt when God is provoked, because idols are worshipped instead of God, or when the dogma of heretics is introduced in the churches. But it is a turning away because steadfast men, seduced by false signs and portents, are turned away from their salvation." (Commentary on the Apocalypse of the Blessed John 13:13)

IN SUMMARY: These are the three quotations of ancient Christian texts which I have seen used consistently as proposing that the Pre-Trib rapture was believed and taught in the early Church. All three, when observed in greater detail with rightly established context, are actually in opposition to the concept. And even if one were to cede that the quotations from Irenaeus, Cyprian and Pseudo-Eprhaim actually were in favor of Darby's doctrine, they would register as anomalies in the greater context of Church history. Therefore, the assertion that these ancient Christians taught Darby's doctrine is left doubtful.