Tuesday, June 30, 2009

FATHERS: Comprehendable and Mysterious


But some one will say “if the Divine substance is incomprehensible, why then dost thou discourse of these things?” So then, because I cannot drink up all the river, am I not even to take in moderation what is expedient for me? Because with eyes so constituted as mine I cannot take in all the sun, am I not even to look upon him enough to satisfy my wants? Or again, because I have entered into a great garden, and cannot eat all the supply of fruits, wouldst thou have me go away altogether hungry? I praise and glorify Him that made us; for it is a divine command which saith, Let every breath praise the Lord . I am attempting now to glorify the Lord, but not to describe Him, knowing nevertheless that I shall fall short of glorifying Him worthily, yet deeming it a work of piety even to attempt it at all. For the Lord Jesus encourageth my weakness, by saying, No man hath seen God at any time. (Catechetical lecture 6, Cyril of Jerusalem, CA 350 AD).


It is an unfortunate truism that the mysterious nature of God allows humanity all kinds of excuses for not ascribing God the right praise (lit. ortho-doxa). St Cyril addresses the catechumens in their struggle with this mystery by uncovering their false expectation to know something exhaustively. Cyril points out that many like to tell themselves that one must know God exhaustively to speak of Him or even know him at all. Yet, what in this creation do they know exhaustively? Nothing! Nevertheless, few would argue that there is a joy that results from partaking in the mysteries of this life and we do not question them nearly as deeply. Who is not breathless with amazement when they view the painted dessert from 35,000 feet in the air, or when they look down the Grand Canyon; and who can deny the joy of the balmy breezes of Maimi Beach after sun down? Do we understand these things fully? No, but we do find them worthy of praise. How much more the mysterious one who formed them all.

Friday, June 26, 2009

FATHERS: Faith Works


The method of godliness consists of these two things, pious doctrines, and virtuous practice: and neither are the doctrines acceptable to God apart from good works, nor does God accept the works which are not perfected with pious doctrines. For what profit is it, to know well the doctrines concerning God, and yet to be a vile fornicator? And again, what profit is it, to be nobly temperate, and an impious blasphemer? A most precious possession therefore is the knowledge of doctrines: also there is need of a wakeful soul, since there are many that make spoil through philosophy and vain deceit. (The Ten Points of Doctrine, Cyril of Jerusalem, CA 350 AD).


The Catechism of St Cyril begins by placing faith and works in their proper places. Cyril wants his readers to note that there are no works considered acceptable to God apart from faith, and there is no faith considered acceptable to God apart from a faith that works. But what about if we ask, "can one be saved without works?" What is the appropriate answer? This is not a trick question, in fact it is an essential question. The reformation axiom "salvation is by faith alone," has led many to conclude that what we do bears no significance in our salvation. However, this kind of conclusion regarding faith is not what the reformers meant, nor is it what we find in the earliest of church catechisms. Cyril insists that works apart from faith cannot save, and he also insists that true faith works. So, can one be saved by a kind of faith that does not have works? No! Can one then be saved without works? Equally, No. Are we saved by our works? By no means, we can only saved by "a faith that works." The two must co-habitate if either is to be acceptable to God.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Shameless Plug: King of Glory Church

Anglican Christianity
While Anglicanism can vary widely depending on the continent where it is expressed, there are a general set of character traits that are common to it. The most common trait is that we Anglicans desire to live out the very faith that we have received from the historic Christian church of the apostles and church fathers in a way that engages people today. The following characteristics describe Anglican Christianity.

Evangelical, but not Protestant
Anglicanism is Evangelical because, like all Evangelicals, our main focus is on the salvation of the individual and of the world, and we believe that our salvation comes by the power of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. We also place a high value on the power of biblical preaching, and on the centrality of the word of God. In fact, we see the word of God as the canon and the ultimate authority over all that is necessary for faith and salvation. Yet, unlike the Protestants, we do not look at the bible alone for instruction in the Christian life; we also look to the Holy tradition out of which the bible came. For this reason, Anglican Evangelicalism does not protest against everything that occurred before the Protestant Reformation. We believe that the traditions of the church handed down to us by those who came before us is “Holy Tradition,” and therefore, we believe that it contains the practical aspect of living the Evangelical faith.

Catholic, but not Roman
Anglicanism is also Catholic because, like all Catholics, we are Trinitarian, Episcopal, Sacramental, and Liturgical. The episcopacy of our clergy is of apostolic succession. Our sacramental practices involve signs, gestures, vestments, bells, art, incense, and water, bread and wine. Our worship practices involve the same liturgical ceremonies and music of the ancient church. Enter an Anglican church and there will be little doubt that you are in a Catholic Church. However, this does not mean that Anglican Catholicism is identical to Roman Catholicism. Anglican Catholicism rejects many of the innovations of the Roman Church. We see the required celibacy of clergy, indulgences, purgatory, the treasury of merit, the planks of salvation, and many other medieval inventions as innovations and not as Catholic.

Orthodox, but not Eastern
Anglicanism also holds to the Holy Orthodox faith, because like the Eastern Orthodox, we see the one faith that existed in the first 1000 years of the church as containing the fullness of apostolic truth. As Orthodox, we believe that the doctrine, or dogma of the faith is best expounded in the documents produced by the seven ecumenical councils, and that they alone contain the teachings that can be considered undisputed. It is in these seven councils that the church has spoken with one voice. However, unlike the Eastern Orthodox, we are distinctly western. We believe the same essential truths as the Eastern Orthodox, yet, we express these truths by way of a western liturgy, western sacred art, and western music.

Anglican Christianity is Evangelical, Catholic, and Orthodox.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009



What then is the nature of this mind that distributes itself into faculties of sensation, and duly receives, by means of each, the knowledge of things? That it is something else besides the senses, I suppose no reasonable man doubts; for if it were identical with sense, it would reduce the proper character of the operations carried on by sense to one, on the ground that it is itself simple, and that in what is simple no diversity is to be found. Now however, as all agree that touch is one thing and smell another, and as the rest of the senses are in like manner so situated with regard to each other as to exclude intercommunion or mixture, we must surely suppose, since the mind is duly present in each case, that it is something else besides the sensitive nature, so that no variation may attach to a thing intelligible. (The nature of mind, Gregory of Nyssa, ca. 335 – 394 AD)


St Gregory’s treatment of the mind appears to be totally foreign and disconnected from our understanding of the matter. St. Gregory seems to be asserting that the senses are somehow central to the mind; how strange this sounds. Well, it is only strange because in Western European languages we have not come up with a proper term for the Greek word Nous which is presently translated mind. However, this Nous is in fact another faculty. The nous is the place in the human where all of the faculties physical, intellectual, and emotional come together in order to enable true understanding. In all of the Eastern societies, be they Semitic or Greek, there existed three places where understanding dwelt. The first place is the feelings or emotions, and that was addressed by the term “the gut,” also called the bowels or kidneys. The second place is the intellect, it is addressed by the term “heart”; it is with the heart that we sort out every fact and truth. The third however is the Nous, it is the place where all of the physical senses that inform the rest our understanding come together and enable us to know something experientially. The Nous is the place were all the full understanding takes place, it is the faculty by which we sense danger, rain, fear, warmth, etc… The Nous is then according to Gregory is invisible and mysterious, especially to us westerners who stand in desperate need of its recovery. Without an understanding of the Nous, the bible and the traditions of the church: the liturgies, creeds, canons, and pious practices, will remain a closed book.

Friday, June 12, 2009

OFFSPRING: Vincentian Canon Part 4


Nestorius developed an innovative theory on the person of Christ: he concluded that it is better to speak of Christ as two persons rather than one. One person was the man, and the other was the divine Logos, eternal and unbegotten. He proposed to speak of Mary as the Christotokos- mother of Christ and not the theotokos- mother of God. Yet every baptized Christian knew by heart, both from scripture and the liturgy that Mary had given birth to the eternal Son of God. It had been passed on from the earliest liturgical traditions that she, the mother of the God-man, was thus the mother of God incarnate, born as one person-truly human, truly divine. Nestorius had replaced the apostolic tradition with innovation. (The Rebirth of Orthodoxy, Thomas C. Oden, 2002)


While we tend not to get very alarmed in our day and age about new teachings that are presented from contemporary theological scholarship, the Vincentian canon does not favor innovations at all. In the case of Nestorius, we find a very bright and gifted teacher and scholar, and it is even conceivable that his views would probably be supported by many a Christian today, yet the security of the ancients delivered us from this error. They knew that they had always believed that Jesus is fully God and fully man. This then meant that Mary was the Theotokos- the mother of God, and not just the mother of an anointed man. This is where Vincent’s canon comes into play; while one may be able to support Nestorius’ view from the right set of biblical passages, we could not overcome what was delivered in the content of liturgies and the creeds. Hence Nestorius' innovation did not square with those what had always been believed. The Vincentian canon kept the Nestorian error from winning the day, and left us with one God-man.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

OFFSPRING: Case studies on the Vincentian Canon, Pt 3


The Donatists held sway for almost a century over most of North Africa; they argued against the apostolic tradition by stating that the validity of a sacrament depended on the holiness of the celebrant, therefore they believed that rebaptism was necessary for those baptized by heretics. The Donatists constituted for Vincent’s Canon a challenge to the rule’s spatial spatial-geographical criterion (ubique- believed everywhere). The larger church held that any doctrine had to show concurrence with prevailing worldwide, intergenerational Christian lay consent. The universal was preferred over the particular (regional Donatism). (The Rebirth Of Orthodoxy, Thomas C. Oden, 2002)


We might be tempted to believe that once a heresy is defeated it does not reappear, but that would be incorrect. The very same heresies continue to raise their heads repeatedly throughout history. One great reason is ignorance of history, and another is ignorance of the Vincentian Canon. Most Christians do not know the difference between Donatism, Nestorianism, and Arianism. Each of these errors were so powerful that they nearly swayed the beliefs of the whole church. Again, we should acknowledge that our forefathers were not mental dwarfs, they were smart people. We must also acknowledge that the heretics always build their arguments on the bible. In this case, they could have said that there were no baptisms ever demonstrated in scripture that were carried out by heretics, and therefore any baptism done by a heretic is invalid according to the biblical witness. That is a biblical argument, isn’t it? Do you know any church that rebaptizes because they believe that the baptism of the previous church was accomplished by heretics? Well, many of them exist, and they still call themselves Christian. Yet, the universal church led by Vincent’s canon reflected upon not only that biblical argument, but also the interpretive method of that bible that they had possessed for several hundred years, and consequently they rejected Donatism. Why, because it did not pass the ubique- believed everywhere test. The Vincentian canon really does work, and those who ignore it repeat the heresies.

Monday, June 8, 2009

FATHERS: The Vincentian Canon Part 2


What then will a Catholic Christian do, if a portion of the Church has cut itself off from the communion of the universal faith? What, surely, but prefer the soundness of the whole body to the unsoundness of a pestilent and corrupt member? What, if some novel contagion seek to infect not merely an insignificant portion of the Church, but the whole? Then it will be his care to cleave to antiquity, which at this day cannot possibly be seduced by any fraud of novelty.

But what, if in antiquity itself there be found error on the part of two or three men, or at any rate of a city or even of a province? Then it will be his care by all means, to prefer the decrees, if such there be, of an ancient General Council to the rashness and ignorance of a few. But what, if some error should spring up on which no such decree is found to bear? Then he must collate and consult and interrogate the opinions of the ancients, of those, namely, who, though living in divers times and places, yet continuing in the communion and faith of the one Catholic Church, stand forth acknowledged and approved authorities: and whatsoever he shall ascertain to have been held, written, taught, not by one or two of these only, but by all, equally, with one consent, openly, frequently, persistently, that he must understand that he himself also is to believe without any doubt or hesitation. (A Commonitory (A Reminder), Vincent of Lerins, 434 AD)


St Vincent uncovers for us a common method by which errant interpretations of Christian doctrine spread. He calls this method “Novel Contagion.” A contagion is a disease that is quickly spread among the people. In using this term he infers that heresy in doctrine often has the attributes of a fast spreading epidemic. As a fine doctor he remedies this infirmity with a dosage of historical study. This is a very foul tasting medicine to the contemporary person who has been raised and fed on the notion that we are the generation that has finally arrived at true intellect and knowledge. There is an unspoken, but common consensus in the 21st century west that anyone before the enlightenment was only one step above a caveman. However, one quick glance and all who partake in the writings of will be assured that they not lacking intelligence.

Vincent not only assumes that those who went before him were intelligent and rational, but also that they were closer to the point of origin, and therefore closer to a purer understanding of the truth. For this reason he not only tells his readers to study what was said in the past but he also guides the one who would follow the universal understanding of the church to the conclusion made a by a consensus of those in the past. He does not commend that we rest our understanding on any one single person’s view, but on the whole. No matter how beloved or how respescted; be it Athanasius, Chrysostom, Jerome, Augustine, Symeon, Anselm, Luther, Calvin, or Cramner, the cure for the epidemic of innovation is found in the consensus of the church.

Monday, June 1, 2009

FATHERS: The Vincentian Canon Part 1

Some one perhaps will ask, since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church’s interpretation? For this reason,—because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation. Moreover, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense “Catholic,” which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. (A Commonitory (A Reminder), Vincent of Lerins, 434 AD)

The Commonitory of St. Vincent is one of the most prized possessions that the church owns. It contains within it the ultimate formula for stripping the fake wool from the disguised wolves in the Lord’s garden. This claim is not easily accepted by some, especially those who know little about the consensus of biblical interpretation found in the church fathers, and less about the conciliar theology hammered out in the seven ecumenical councils. Nevertheless, Vincent is abundantly clear in pointing out that there is absolutely nothing wrong with scripture, yet, its depth is such that every heretic from Novatian to Nestorious was able to build and support their theological conclusions from the very scriptures themselves. Hence, the problem is not the scriptures, but the interpreters. This leaves a rather large and even embarrassing problem at our doorstep, and it is this: how do we know for certain, and with complete and whole certitude that our interpretation is the actual meaning that God placed on the texts of a particular scripture? The answer given to us by Vincent, our interpretation must be in accordance with that which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. He states it another way: it must be inline with the universality, antiquity, and the consent of the church. Any other kind of interpretation is not apostolic; in fact, it is a renegade approach to God’s truth, and places us in the footsteps of the heretics.