Wednesday, May 27, 2009
I have often inquired of very many men eminent for their sanctity and learning, how and by what sure and universal rule I may be able to distinguish the truth of the apostolic faith from the falsehood of heretical depravity: and I have almost in every instance received an answer to this effect: we must with the Lord’s help, fortify our own belief in two ways; first, by the authority of the divine Law (the word of God), and then by the tradition of the whole universal church. (A Commonitory, St. Vincent of Lerins, ca 450 AD)
Vincent of Lerins was a monk who gave his life to learning how one should determine true apostolic doctrine. In his quest, he interviewed innumerable godly and learned persons in the faith; consequently, he left behind for the church with a set of sound dogmatic precepts that have yet to be exceeded. The foundation for his methodolgy is simple: knowledge of the word of God, and knowledge of the traditions that were left to us by the apostles. I will be posting a series on St Vincent in the days to come, with the goal of identifying the process for sorting out apostolic truth from revisionist error.
Monday, May 25, 2009
The actual fallen world, the ongoing cosmos that runs on regular clock-time, is still the subject of God’s concern. It is still in the process of being reconciled and having its sin overcome. To speak of an actual fallen world is to hold up for examination penultimate prodigal history of sin that has not yet come into itself in repentance and faith. It remains a truncated world history that still despairs over its failure to come freely into the presence of God’s mercy, as it can at any time by faith. For this reason, ancient Christian teaching does not speak to the human quandary merely out of humanity’s’ skewed assumptions about itself. We must not concede to the spirit of the times the absolute truth of all its premises, for many of those are false. The ancient faith encounters that conjectured world with real world as God’s gift, valuing the real world more than its conjectured counterpart. (The Rebirth Of Orthodoxy, Thomas C. Oden, 2002)
Contemporary humanity has become apt at differing between reality and a screenplay. Very few people are so taken in by what the watch on a TV screen that they come out of the experience unsure about which experience is the real life. Not so with the natural world and the supernatural world. The real world, by that I mean the fullness of the supernatural and the natural world, requires that we be filled in on the fact that this the play we watch in the natural sphere does not take the whole of reality into account. Humanity often ignores their creator who guides their progress through history, and instead get sucked into the created story is if it is ultimate reality. Oden points us to the fact that we are to take our fallen world and hold up for examination while avoiding humanity’s’ skewed assumptions about itself. This means that we must take care not assume any assumption presented to us by the conjectured world is worthy of acceptance. Instead, we are to face each assumption with God’s real world.
Friday, May 22, 2009
God is taking the world somewhere. He has promised to do for us what He did for Jesus after He died. God really does love the whole world, and He wants to make it alive in a new way, like He did with Jesus on the first day of the week. And when He does we will meet Jesus Himself! When we take the bread break it and eat it, and when we take the wine and share it around it isn’t only that we seem to be there with him at his last supper. We are with Him in His new world. What we do in this meal brings all the past and the future all together into one moment. (The Meal Jesus Gave Us, N. T. Wright, 2003)
The supper of the Lord is an inter-participation with Him in a way that surpasses the limitations of our temporal understanding. The corporal body of Jesus, which by his power or energy enters into the bread and the wine, becomes food and drink for the believers to take into their own bodies. Upon consumption of it, both spiritually and physically, we become fused with the Lord who acts through the bread and the wine. Thus, it connects us with the eternal God who is Jesus, and He takes us into eternity with Him. When we take of the bread and wine we enter into eternity- Kairos. Hence, for the believer, it is a great blessing to experience the goal of their life, salvation, and for the non-believer it is their self-inflicted curse that they experience. The bread and wine of communion are the time-machine that leads to eternity.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
"Nothing in theosis (being formed into God likeness) is the product of human nature, for nature cannot comprehend God. It is only the mercy of God that has the capacity to endow theosis unto the existing... In theosis man (the image of God) becomes likened to God, he rejoices in all the plenitude that does not belong to him by nature, because the grace of the Spirit triumphs within him, and because God acts in him" (Letter 22 to Thalassius, St Maximus the Confessor, ca 611-641).
St Maximus is the champion of the doctrine of "essence and energy," a teaching that has been almost completely ignored in the Western Church. In this teaching he points out the distinction and similitude that exists between the essence of a being, and the energy of the being. The difference between the two is primarily that "essence" is the proper person or being, and the "energy" is what the being produces or creates. As an example he sates that a person is a being, and the voice that emanates from that person is their energy. When another hears the persons voice, the hearer is affected by the person speaking and in doing so they partake in the speaker, yet at the same time they do not take on the speaker's essence. Another would be this: if a sharp sword were heated by a flame, and then made to cut an object, the heat of the flame transferred onto the sword becomes the property of the sword which would burn the object, yet the sword does not become the flame. Therefore, if we ask what what burned the object, the sword or the flame, the answer would be the flame through the sword. This understanding of essence and energy is the basis for the eastern view of sanctification. When the energy of God acts upon the Christian and it affects the Christian's essence to the point that the energy of God becomes part of person's essence; body, mind, and soul. This is quite different from the western teaching that what is affected is merely the mind and the heart. In theosis, the whole person is transformed by God's energy into the likeness of God.
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. 1 Thess 5: 23-24
Friday, May 15, 2009
The truth is found nowhere except in the catholic church, the sole depository of apostolic doctrine. The apostles like a rich man depositing money in a bank, have lodged in their hands most copiously all things pertaining to truth: so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from her water of life, for, she is the entrance of life, and all others are robbers. Among us we have recourse to the most ancient churches which the apostles held constant intercourse, and from them we learn what is certain and clear in regard to present questions. (Against Heresies, Iranaeus, ca 150 AD)
The church was plagued with error from its very start. However, in God’s kindness we have recorded the words of a man who was the student of Poloycarp, who was the student of John the apostle. He writes this about 60 years after John death, and explains to his readers that the treatment of heresies belongs in the hands of the one apostolic, ancient church with whom the apostles had regular communication and discipleship occurring. This is astounding. Would we commend the same thing? Well, it depends upon who one asks. Perhaps this question really gets us to ask another: “what is the role of apostolic teaching other than what is found in scripture?” It is obvious that there existed such a thing; the fact is that most churches did not have the final canon of the New Testament yet, they only had pieces, and they also had books that were not canonical along with them. The canon was not finally agreed upon until the 4th century. So what was this other knowledge? It was the liturgical practice and piety that was handed down by the apostles, a practice which was practiced day by day in the life of the church at the time of this writing. It was songs and hymns, prayers and liturgies, creeds and ritual acts, and acts of piety, many of which are recorded in the scriptures. In summary, it was the life of the early church that was spread throughout the world by word and deed, and eventually canonized in Holy Scripture. Apostolic tradition and the apostolic New Testament are not two different things; they come from the same fountain, contain the same truth and work towards the same end.
So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. 2 Thess 2: 15
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
The real trouble with this world of ours is not that it is an unreasonable world, nor even that it is a reasonable one. The commonest kind of trouble is that it is nearly reasonable, but not quite. Life is not an illogicality; yet, it is a trap for logicians. It looks a little more mathematical and regular than it is; its exactitude is obvious, but its exactitude is hidden; its wildness lies in wait. (Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton, 1908)
Chesterton is a master at pointing out obvious truths that we so easily learn to ignore. He describes our world as a place of great order, yet tainted by disorder; a place of precision, yet undecipherable complexity. He drives us to conclude what is obvious; the world should be perfect, except it is full of imperfections. Creation is knowable and at the same time is mysterious beyond our sorting out. Living life leaves us in need of a great resolution. Our own wisdom leaves us wanting; we need a more perfect wisdom.
My mouth shall speak wisdom; the meditation of my heart shall be understanding. I will incline my ear to a proverb; I will solve my riddle to the music of the lyre. Ps 49: 3-4
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Let us become like Christ since he became like us. He assumed the worse that He might give us the better; He became poor that through His poverty we might become rich; He came down that we might be exalted; He was dishonored that He might glorify us; He died that He might save us; He ascended that he might draw us to Himself, who were lying low in the fall of sin. Let us give all, offer all, to Him who gave himself a ransom and reconciliation for us. (In Defense of His Flight, Gregory of Nazienzen, 371 AD)
St Gregory gets right in the face of much of today’s morality, which focuses on doing what is going merely because it is right. In other words, doing good because it is the law. All too often today, little emphasis is placed on doing good out of devotion to Christ. If all we have is conduct based on law, it is because the benefits obtained for us by Christ remain only in the cognitive and mental part of our reality. We know he is good and speaks the truth so we feel obligated to do what he says. Yet, experiencing Jesus requires that we live in the truth of what Jesus has procured for us to the point that we actually desire to respond by do what is pleasing to our Lord. This is what is meant in the New Testament by love fulfilling the law.
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," James 2: 8
Monday, May 11, 2009
The doctrinal decisions and formulations of the seven ecumenical councils between 325 and 787 stand as the formal deposit of normative dogma. One reason for this is that no later actions of any church lay claim to the title “ecumenical.” (Credo, Jaroslav Pelikan, 2003)
The single most important rule of faith for church is adherence to the apostolic tradition. Nowhere is that tradition contained and displayed better than in the conclusions of the seven ecumenical councils. Many today argue that the scriptures contain all that is necessary, however, this fails to aknowledge that all sides in these controversies had the scriptures, yet, many still erred. The councils acted with a frame work of intrpretation that employed the whole of the apostolic teaching, and this enabled them to interpret scriptures properly. Yet, few today even know what the councils said and concluded. Most Christians today think that it is up to them to decide how to interpret scripture, and to create and discover the grid that will yield a true understanding of the canon of truth. The fact is that the apostolic tradition already exists, it has been believed the church at all times, and it has been applied in the seven ecumenical councils for our learning and protection.
Saturday, May 9, 2009
A patient, to be healed must be touched, and humanity had to be touched by Christ. Humanity was not in heaven, so only through the incarnation could it be healed. Besides, it was no more inconsistent with His divinity to assume a human body than a heavenly body because all created beings are on a level beneath the deity. Hence, abundant honor is now due to the instrument of His birth. (The Great Catechism, Gregory of Nyssa, ca. 335-336 AD)
In order for the physical world to be restored, God had to become part of it. In His taking on physicality, the seed of divinity was planted in the material. This seed continues to grow and flower, and as time progresses, the effects of the cure become more and more visible. However, the corruption runs so deep that the observer might be hard pressed to draw this conclusion. One must take the long view for this healing to become apparent. To see the healing one must compare where humanity was two-thousand years ago to where humanity is today. Only then does the healing touch of the God-man begin to come into focus. Ask yourself this: would I want in a world where of pre-medicine, pre-hygiene, pre-refrigeration, pre-abolishment of slavery, where women and children were property, and so on? Overcoming these maladies are the healing touch of the Christ. “Abundant honor is now due to the instrument of His birth.”
Thursday, May 7, 2009
The Christian is in a different position from other people who are trying to be good. Others hope by being good, to please God if there is a God; or – if they think there is not- at least to earn the approval from good men. But the Christian thinks that any good he does comes from the Christ-life inside of him. He does not think that God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us. (Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis, 1943)
The struggle in the mind of man often focuses on the merit of man before his maker. This really is a terrible starting point; man has nothing to offer his maker that He cannot produce for himself. A person may be the kindest, most upright, honest, selfless person around, yet he must still face the reality that his goodenss really adds nothing to God that he does not already possess. This reality is what places the whole theological conversation of human merit before God out of bounds. Lewis gets right to the point, God will not love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us. The one who is blessed by doing good is primarily man, not God. Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD. Ps 1: 1-2
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
For inasmuch as He (the Christ) who was born of her (Mary) was true God, she who bare the true God incarnate is the true “mother of God.” For we hold that God was born of her; not implying that the divinity of the Word received from her the beginning of its being, but meaning that God the Word Himself, who was begotten of the Father timelessly before all ages, and was with the Father and the Spirit without beginning and throughout eternity, took up His abode in these last days for the sake of our salvation in the virgin’s womb, and was without change made flesh and born of her. (Exposition of the Faith, John of Damascus, ca. 676-749 AD)
The subject of the “Theotokos,” the “Mother of God” has more to do with the two natures of Christ than it has to do with Mary. In the Eastern Church, Mary has never been considered a separate entity, possessing the keys to the treasury of merit, and able to dispense the grace of Christ; that is a western medieval concept that denies the role of Christ as the single savior of the world. Instead, from the second to the seventh ecumenical councils, Mary has been properly honored as the one who bore the God-man, by the title “the Mother of God.” And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. Luke 1: 46-49
Monday, May 4, 2009
The main reason why protestant theologians opposed prayers for the dead was because of purgatory. Since they no longer believed in purgatory, they did not need to pray that people would be released from it. Secondarily, praying for those who had died might seem to undermine the doctrine of assurance. But, there are many other reasons for praying in addition to anxiety about someones particular state. True prayer is an out flow of love; if I love someone I want to pray for them, not necessarily because they are in difficulty, but simply because holding them up in God's presence is the natural thing to do. Love does not stop at death, in fact, death could be defined as the form that love love takes when the object of love has been removed. (For All the Saints, N. T. Wright, 2003)
The protestant reformation was a battle for the soul of Christianity, and the gospel in the western church. As with most battles, there are always some who are killed from friendly fire. Fire fights are so intense, that clarity is not always available when needed, and consequently, it is common to hurt and destroy the things we love. Prayers for and with the dead, those who now live in eternity and in the presence of all creation, was one of these casualties from friendly reformation fire. The Catholic Evangelical understands the goodness in praying for and with the dead, while not undermining of the promises and assurances of Christ's salvation for his estranged beloved ones.