Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Are All Sins Already Forgiven?


It’s very hard for the human race to accept that: "Nothing separates us from the love of God." We think there must be some breaking point where God would give up on us. "Well, what about if we…?"

Sin is not a problem with God. God solved all his problems with sin before the foundation of the world, in the beginning—and it’s done. The iceberg that lies under the surface of history is the Son of God; redemption is the mystery behind all history. Sin is a permanent irrelevancy. And God is the one to say, "Look, I have taken away the handwriting that was against you."

I like the translation in Matthew, "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." What do we do when we don’t forgive somebody else’s debts, or literally, their sins? We carp on what they owe us. We look at the chips that we have saved. This is what you owe me and you haven’t given it to me. There is an IOU I hold against you, and I gotta have this…. Well, it’s not that way with God. With God, it’s done—there is no handwriting against us. It’s done. He’s not holding IOUs.

Legalism is something that’s afflicted the church from the start. Humans have a hard time believing that God doesn’t hold IOUs. But Paul says the law cannot save. He says, "He has made him to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him."

That’s what I got out of reading the judgment parables. In the way Jesus presents them, people were not denied an invitation to the party; instead, they were kicked out of a party they were already at. Even in the parable of the prodigal son, nothing was stopping the elder brother from joining the party where his younger brother was being received and honored—nothing but his own resentment. He isn’t kicked out; he refuses to go in. But that parable brilliantly ends with a standoff.

The elder brother refuses to join the party, but the father won’t leave it like that. He goes out to the elder brother, and Jesus ends the parable with the father and the elder brother standing out in the courtyard—forever—at least for 2,000 years now. And there it is. It’s all done in the presence of the redeemer. Even the obstinacy of the older brother. The father doesn’t give up. He’s right there with the elder brother, aching for him as much as he ached for the younger one, the prodigal. (An Interview with The Rev. Fr. Robert Farrar Capon)


None needed!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Is God Good or is He Angry?


The movement of self-contemplation alone could not satisfy (God’s) goodness, for good must be poured out and go forth beyond itself to the objects of its beneficence; this is essential to the highest goodness. (Orations, St Gregory Nazianzen, CA 365 AD)


A typical presentation of the gospel in today’s America explains to the hearer that God is good, and that he loves to bring good to all persons, yet, at the very same time, this good God is also one who is offended by sin, and is therefore very angry with them. This perspective is a legacy left to the western church by St. Augustine, who employed his Platonic logic to the scriptures and Christian theology.

It is inherently difficult, if not impossible to present God as both Good and as angry without having some major philosophical problems to overcome. However, it should be understood that this view has not always been the prevailing view in the church. Unlike Augustine, the basis of the gospel in the early church and in today’s Eastern Church has always been that God is good, and that he loves even those who deeply offend him. The basis for the gospel is what Gregory the theologian calls the essential to the highest goodness. And that which is essential is to pour out goodness and go forth beyond oneself to the objects of its beneficence. True goodness is good all the time, in every place, and in every way, to all. When Jesus describes what God is like to His hearers, and therefore what we are to be like, he says:

Mat 5: 43 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

In this passage we are told that our Father in heaven is perfect, and this perfect One loves His enemies in the same way as His friends. This makes it quite difficult to explain how it is that God is angry with the one with whom the gospel is being shared. In fact, it seems to stand in direct contradiction to the gospel. The heart of the gospel is that God is not angry with his creatures, but instead He desires to share all the goodness that is His with them. He desires them to live in communion with them forever. The short version of the gospel is this: God desires to live in you and you in him, and has opened the way to that relationship by the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of his beloved Son our Lord Jesus Christ; God is not angry with you, he wants you back as His own, will you enter into that life?

Without a doubt one can spend a great deal of time explaining the implications of the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, but nevertheless, this is quite a different gospel than many in our day have heard.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Hierarchy and Typology


I exhort you to be careful to do all things in the harmony of God, while your bishop presides in the place of God, and your presbyters in the place of the assembly of the apostles, along with your deacons, who are most dear to me, and are entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father before the beginning of time, and in the end was revealed. Do this then, imitating the same godly conduct, pay respect to one another, and let no one look upon his neighbor after the flesh, but continually love each other in Jesus Christ. Let nothing exist among you that may divide you; but be united with your bishop, and those that preside over you, as a type and evidence of your immortality. (Epistle to the Magnesians -Ch 6, Justin Martyr, CA 130 AD)


It is clear in this epistle of Justin Martyr to the Magnesians that the threefold hierarchical role of Bishop, Priest (Presbyter), and deacon was in place by the time of his writing in the early second century. However, perhaps even more interesting than this is the reason that Justin gives the church for embracing their authority. His argument for respecting the hierarchy is that their respect serves as a type and evidence of our immortality. In other words, the gospel of Jesus, and salvation itself is presented to the world by the living relationship between the church and its hierarchs. Therefore, this means that without this structure at work in the life of the church, the gospel is damaged and salvation weakened; the threefold office is not merely an option.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Priesthood


It is a priest’s duty to offer something, and, according to the Law, to enter into the Holy places by means of blood; seeing, the, that God rejected the blood of bulls and goats, this high Priest (Jesus) was indeed bound to make passage and entry into the holy of holies in heaven through His own blood, in order that He might be the everlasting propitiation for our sins. Priest and victim, then, are one; the priesthood and sacrifice are, however, exercised under the conditions of humanity. For he was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and he is a priest after the order of Melchizedech. (On the Christian Life, St Ambrose, CA 370 AD)


Outside of Jesus Christ, there has never been a priest who was able to be the one who offers and at the same time be the offering; for if there were such a priest, he would only make one offering. None but Jesus could rise from the dead, and remain a priest forever. Therefore, every priest before Jesus was a type (foreshadow) of Him, and every priest after Jesus is an icon (image) of the one, true, high priest. Both serve as bridges that lead others to the one who St Ambrose calls the everlasting propitiation for our sins. To be “a propitiation,” means to be a kind of satisfaction or offering that obtains atonement. In other words, the point of the offering is “atonement.” The word atonement is a conjunction of three words, at-one-ment. It is the title given to the event wherein one person is made one with another person. Our high priest made such an offering in his own physical person that it produced at-one-ment between man and God. This is what he refers to when he says that by this offering He made passage and entry into the holy of holies in heaven through His own blood. Ambrose is explaining that salvation is a life procured for us by Jesus that is lived out within the holy of holies, and therefore salvation is nothing less that living con-joined to God. Salvation is the divinization of sinful humans by the grace of Christ’s offering for us. Salvation= propitiation + atonement + divinization. It is this task that our great high priest Jesus Christ has accomplished once and for all. Every priest since Jesus has merely presented Christ to the people of God, and escorted them down the path that was opened into the heavenlies by the true high priest.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Does God Have Grandparents?

Joachim and Anna were the Parents of Mary, and the Grandparents of Jesus, who was fully God and fully man. Therefore, the answer is yes, God has grandparents.

Wearing Our Crowns


Now, it is evident that no one can terrify or subdue us who have believed in Jesus over all the world. For it is plain, that though beheaded, crucified, thrown to wild beasts, chains, fire, and all kinds of torture, we do not give up our confession; but the more such things happen, the more that others and in larger numbers become faithful, and worshippers of God through the name of Jesus. For just as if one cut away the fruit bearing parts of a vine, it grows up again, and yields other branches flourishing and fruitful; even so the same things happen with us. (Dialogue with Trypho, St Justin Martyr, CA 100-165 AD)


The kind of faith testified to here by Justin Martyr, is not a thing that we contemporary western Christians know first hand. Unlike our forefathers who stood for the faith with their very lives, and unlike our Eastern brothers and sisters, who until very recently were tortured and murdered for their faith by the communists, and unlike our current African brothers and sisters, who sit under the gun of the Mohamedans, awaiting an impending attack at any moment; we really have no recent recollection of the need to make a public confession of Christ when it counts. Jesus said that the kingdom of God is within us, and if this is true, then this kingdom should be visible in us, especially in the face of beheadings, crucifixions, being thrown to wild beasts, chains, fire, and all kinds of torture, without giving up our confession because we already wear the crown of heavenly princes here and now.

Hold fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. Rev 3: 11-12

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

On The Nativity of Mary


The months of Anna’s pregnancy were fulfilled, and in the ninth month she gave birth. Anna said to the midwife. “What have I borne?” and she answered, “A girl.” Anna said. “This day my soul is magnified,” and she laid the child in a cradle. The days of Anna’s cleansing were fulfilled and she gave her breast to the child, and she called her Mary. (The Lost Gospel of Mary. CA 100 AD, Transl. by Frederica M. Greene)


Many in the western church know precious little about the Blessed Virgin Mary. Questions that were easily answered by those in the early church are now issues of huge contention between groups that do not know where most of this information came from . Without proper knowledge about Mary we are unable to answer many of these very basic questions regarding her place in the church. Consider these questions: Should we call her the Blessed Virgin Mary, or just Mary? Is it proper to call her the Mother of God, and if so why? Where was she born, and to whom? Did she remain a virgin, or is that did she have children with Joseph? Was she kept free of sin by grace, or did she sin just like everyone else? And finally, did she die normally, or was she taken bodily to the side of her Son? The fact is that most of these questions cannot be answered directly by Scripture alone; we need an accurate history to help us respond. This is not to say that all history is flawless, but at very least reading the history of the church we can learn what the early church believed, and why they believed it. It is indisputable that the majority of early Christians knew the answers to the above questions, and many of those answers are found in one of the finest accounts known asThe Lost Gospel of Mary. The above quote comes from a version translated by Frederica M. Greene, I highly recommend it.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Doctrinal Disagreement


Since therefore we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek the truth among others which it is easy to obtain from the Church; since the apostles, like a rich man [depositing his money] in a bank, lodged in her hands most copiously all things pertaining to the truth: so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from her the water of life. For she is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers. On this account are we bound to avoid them, but to make choice of the thing pertaining to the Church with the utmost diligence, and to lay hold of the tradition of the truth. For how stands the case? Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question? For how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary, [in that case,] to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches?

To which course many nations of those barbarians who believe in Christ do assent, having salvation written in their hearts by the Spirit, without paper or ink, and, carefully preserving the ancient tradition, believing in one God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and all things therein, by means of Christ Jesus, the Son of God; who, because of His surpassing love towards His creation, condescended to be born of the virgin, He Himself uniting man through Himself to God, and having suffered under Pontius Pilate, and rising again, and having been received up in splendor, shall come in glory, the Savior of those who are saved, and the Judge of those who are judged, and sending into eternal fire those who transform the truth, and despise His Father and His advent. Those who, in the absence of written documents, have believed this faith, are barbarians, so far as regards our language; but as regards doctrine, manner, and tenor of life, they are, because of faith, very wise indeed; and they do please God, ordering their conversation in all righteousness, chastity, and wisdom. If any one were to preach to these men the inventions of the heretics, speaking to them in their own language, they would at once stop their ears, and flee as far off as possible, not enduring even to listen to the blasphemous address. Thus, by means of that ancient tradition of the apostles, they do not suffer their mind to conceive anything of the [doctrines suggested by the] portentous language of these teachers, among whom neither Church nor doctrine has ever been established. (Against Heresies, bk III, ch 4, Iranaeus, 200 AD)


St Iranaeus here addresses a regular occurrence in the church of Lord, the disagreement over doctrine. He asks:

Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us.”

And then leaves the church with the apostolic wisdom that was passed on to him by Polycarp. He says,

“Should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question?”

Many in our day would simply say, "should we not first and foremost go to the scripture?" And the answer is absolutely, yes, and double yes. However, we must also acknowledge that many of the disagreements that matter to us come out of differing scriptural interpretations (baptism- credo/paedo, eucharist- memorial/ real presence, eschatology- a-mill/pre-mill, worship- liturgy/free, polity- Episcopal, congregational, & c....) It is here that holy tradition steps in. While all right minded believers acknowledge that Holy Tradition is clearly below the scripture in authority, at the same time, like the bride of a husband, we also acknowledge that she does not disagree with him, but upholds and fills his thinking in when questions arise. She speaks in one voice with him, yet it is another voice. Therefore, Iranaeus says:

“thus many nations of those barbarians who believe in Christ do assent, having salvation written in their hearts by the Spirit, without paper or ink, and, carefully preserving the ancient tradition,” and by means of that ancient tradition of the apostles, they do not suffer their mind to conceive anything of the [doctrines suggested by the] portentous language of these teachers, among whom neither Church nor doctrine has ever been established.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Faith of Our Fathers

Basil the Great was Bishop of Caesarea, and one of the most distinguished Doctors of the Church. Born probably 329; died 1 January, 379. He ranks after Athanasius as a defender of the Church against the heresies of the fourth century. With his friend Gregory of Nazianzus and his brother Gregory of Nyssa, he makes up the trio known as "The Three Cappadocians", far outclassing the other two in practical genius and actual achievement.


Of the beliefs and practices whether generally accepted or publicly enjoined which are preserved in the Church, some we possess derived from written teaching; others we have received delivered to us “in a mystery” by the tradition of the apostles; and both of these in relation to true religion have the same force. And these no one will gainsay;—no one, at all events, who is even moderately versed in the institutions of the Church. For were we to attempt to reject such customs as have no written authority, on the ground that the importance they possess is small, we should unintentionally injure the Gospel in its very vitals; or, rather, should make our public definition a mere phrase and nothing more.

For instance, to take the first and most general example, who is thence who has taught us in writing to sign with the sign of the cross those who have trusted in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ? What writing has taught us to turn to the East at the prayer? Which of the saints has left us in writing the words of the invocation at the displaying of the bread of the Eucharist and the cup of blessing? For we are not, as is well known, content with what the apostle or the Gospel has recorded, but both in preface and conclusion we add other words as being of great importance to the validity of the ministry, and these we derive from unwritten teaching. Moreover we bless the water of baptism and the oil of the chrism, and besides this the catechumen who is being baptized. On what written authority do we do this? Is not our authority silent and mystical tradition? Nay, by what written word is the anointing of oil itself taught? And whence comes the custom of baptizing thrice? And as to the other customs of baptism from what Scripture do we derive the renunciation of Satan and his angels? Does not this come from that unpublished and secret teaching which our fathers guarded in a silence out of the reach of curious meddling and inquisitive investigation? Well had they learnt the lesson that the awful dignity of the mysteries is best preserved by silence.

What the uninitiated are not even allowed to look at was hardly likely to be publicly paraded about in written documents. What was the meaning of the mighty Moses in not making all the parts of the tabernacle open to every one? The profane he stationed without the sacred barriers; the first courts he conceded to the purer; the Levites alone he judged worthy of being servants of the Deity; sacrifices and burnt offerings and the rest of the priestly functions he allotted to the priests; one chosen out of all he admitted to the shrine, and even this one not always but on only one day in the year, and of this one day a time was fixed for his entry so that he might gaze on the Holy of Holies amazed at the strangeness and novelty of the sight. Moses was wise enough to know that contempt stretches to the trite and to the obvious, while a keen interest is naturally associated with the unusual and the unfamiliar. In the same manner the Apostles and Fathers who laid down laws for the Church from the beginning thus guarded the awful dignity of the mysteries in secrecy and silence, for what is bruited abroad random among the common folk is no mystery at all. This is the reason for our tradition of unwritten precepts and practices, that the knowledge of our dogmas may not become neglected and contemned by the multitude through familiarity. (On the Holy Spirit, ch 27, ca 350 AD).


St John Chrysostom is a Doctor of the Church, is generally considered the greatest preacher ever heard. His natural gifts, as well as exterior circumstances, helped him to become what he was (347-407).


So then, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye were taught, whether by word, or by Epistle of ours.” 2 Thes 2:15. Hence it is manifest, that they did not deliver all things by Epistle, but many things also unwritten, and in like manner both the one and the other are worthy of credit. Therefore let us think the tradition of the Church also worthy of credit. If it is a tradition, seek no farther. Here he shows that there were many who were shaken.


St Jerome is often represented as one of the four Latin doctors of the Church along with Augustine of Hippo, Ambrose, and Gregory I (347-420).


Don’t you know that the laying on of hands after baptism and then the invocation of the Holy Spirit is a custom of the Churches? Do you demand Scripture proof? You may find it in the Acts of the Apostles. And even if it did not rest on the authority of Scripture the consensus of the whole world in this respect would have the force of a command. For many other observances of the Churches, which are due to tradition, have acquired the authority of the written law, as for instance the practice of dipping the head three times in the laver, and then, after leaving the water, of and, again, the practices of standing up in worship on the Lord’s day, and ceasing from fasting every Pentecost; and there are many other unwritten practices which have won their place.


St Augustine of Hippo one of the four Latin doctors and probably the most influential of them all on western theology (354-430).


Those holy and blessed priests, famous in their treatment of doctrine, Iranaeus, Cyprian, Reticius, Olympus, Hilary, Ambrose, Gregory, Innocent, Basil, and to who I add that priest Jerome, omitting those who are still alive have pronounced against you their opinion…because the oral traditions they were given by the church they held, what they learned they taught, what they received from the Fathers they gave to the sons.


What we find in the writings of these most influential Fathers, is a Christianity that is completely foreign to that found in the protestant reformation. Here, the fathers bow the knee not only to scripture, which is the supreme fountain of truth, and by which all things must be measured, but also to the teachings of the apostles that had been passed down to the church by the teaching office of the church. Whether one agrees with them or not, it cannot be denied that the church saw the tradition of the apostles handed down in two forms, one, spoken, and the other written. Nevertheless, further study also shows that this oral tradition this did not give them the freedom to create new doctrine; rather, it constrained them to conform to all that they had received from the apostles. It is precisely new additions to the oral traditions that made the medieval Roman Catholic church’s departure so serious and worthy of reform. The question at hand is this: did the reformers re-form (restore) the church to its early form, or did they deform (change) it into a new shape? The answer is complex. However, this much can be said, the reformation was only a re-shaping movement and not a deforming movement when it actually restored the churches to the shape of the early church. In many ways the reformation succeeded, and yet in others it failed miserably. When the reformers made Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) rather than Prima Scriptura (Scripture First) its driving principle, the formula for deformation was placed front and center.