Monday, June 19, 2017

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.]