Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Feast of Nativity of Christ

Leo, Sermon XXI, On the Feast of the Nativity:

Our Saviour, dearly-beloved, was born today: let us be glad. For there is no proper place for sadness, when we keep the birthday of the Life, which destroys the fear of mortality and brings to us the joy of promised eternity. No one is kept from sharing in this happiness. There is for all one common measure of joy, because as our Lord the destroyer of sin and death finds none free from charge, so is He come to free us all. Let the saint exult in that he draws near to victory. Let the sinner be glad in that he is invited to pardon. Let the gentile take courage in that he is called to life. For the Son of God in the fulness of time which the inscrutable depth of the Divine counsel has determined, has taken on him the nature of man, thereby to reconcile it to its Author: in order that the inventor of death, the devil, might be conquered through that (nature) which he had conquered. And in this conflict undertaken for us, the fight was fought on great and wondrous principles of fairness; for the Almighty Lord enters the lists with His savage foe not in His own majesty but in our humility, opposing him with the same form and the same nature, which shares indeed our mortality, though it is free from all sin.

Archbishop Demetrios, Encyclical for the Feast of the Nativity of Christ:

The holy birth in Bethlehem of our Savior occurred at a specific time, but His Incarnation and its significance for our redemption are timeless. The Son of God, the Lord of Glory and King of kings who upholds the universe by His word of power, became man so that we human beings might be redeemed, renewed, united with Him, and become fellow citizens with the Saints and members of God’s household.

The magnitude and the depth of the event of the Nativity of Christ are impossible to grasp, but yet its message is clear and true. It is a message of grace, hope, and salvation to all humanity and all of the created order…

As the shepherds and wise men received the invitation to “come and see” the superb miracle of the Incarnation of God, so too we are invited on this great feast to come and encounter Christ, and to see the great and marvelous work He has done for us and our salvation. On this day we come and see the brilliant light of truth and life shining through the darkness and despair of our world. We hear a message of hope and grace that causes us to cease all other thoughts and activities and direct our hearts and minds to the One who has come to bring us peace and assurance. We come to Christ and see justice, holiness, and love and realize the necessity of these for true and abundant life.

Ephrem the Syrian, First Hymn on the Nativity:

In this night of reconcilement let no man be wroth or gloomy! in this night that stills all, none that threatens or disturbs! This night belongs to the sweet One; bitter or harsh be in it none! In this night that is the meek One’s, high or haughty be in it none! In this day of pardoning let us not exact trespasses! In this day of gladnesses let us not spread sadnesses! In this day so sweet, let us not be harsh! In this day of peaceful rest, let us not be wrathful in it! In this day when God came to sinners, let not the righteous be in his mind uplifted over sinner! In this day in which there came the Lord of all unto the servants, let masters too condescend to their servants lovingly! In this day in which the Rich became poor for our sakes, let the rich man make the poor man share with him at his table. On this day to us came forth the Gift, although we asked it not! Let us therefore bestow alms on them that cry and beg of us. This is the day that opened for us a gate on high to our prayers. Let us open also gates to supplicants that have transgressed, and of us have asked [forgiveness.] To-day the Lord of nature was against His nature changed; let it not to us be irksome to turn our evil wills. Fixed in nature is the body; great or less it cannot become: but the will has such dominion, it can grow to any measure. To-day Godhead sealed itself upon Manhood, that so with the Godhead’s stamp Manhood might be adorned.

Pope Benedict XVI, Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord:

The first thing we are told about the shepherds is that they were on the watch – they could hear the message precisely because they were awake. We must be awake, so that we can hear the message. We must become truly vigilant people. What does this mean? The principal difference between someone dreaming and someone awake is that the dreamer is in a world of his own. His “self” is locked into this dreamworld that is his alone and does not connect him with others. To wake up means to leave that private world of one’s own and to enter the common reality, the truth that alone can unite all people. Conflict and lack of reconciliation in the world stem from the fact that we are locked into our own interests and opinions, into our own little private world. Selfishness, both individual and collective, makes us prisoners of our interests and our desires that stand against the truth and separate us from one another. Awake, the Gospel tells us. Step outside, so as to enter the great communal truth, the communion of the one God.

Leo, Sermon XXVI, On the Feast of the Nativity:

Although, therefore, that infancy, which the majesty of God’s Son did not disdain, reached mature manhood by the growth of years and, when the triumph of His passion and resurrection was completed, all the actions of humility which were undertaken for us ceased, yet to-day’s festival renews for us the holy childhood of Jesus born of the Virgin Mary: and in adoring the birth of our Saviour, we find we are celebrating the commencement of our own life. For the birth of Christ is the source of life for Christian folk, and the birthday of the Head is the birthday of the body. Although every individual that is called has his own order, and all the sons of the Church are separated from one another by intervals of time, yet as the entire body of the faithful being born in the font of baptism is crucified with Christ in His passion, raised again in His resurrection, and placed at the Father’s right hand in His ascension, so with Him are they born in this nativity.

Archbishop Rowan Williams, Christmas Sermon (2009):

Relationship is the new thing at Christmas, the new possibility of being related to God as Jesus was and is. But here's the catch and the challenge. To come into this glorious future is to learn how to be dependent on God. And that word tends to have a chilly feel for us, especially us who are proudly independent moderns...we think of dependency as something passive and less than free.

But let's turn this round for a moment. If we think of being dependent on the air we breathe, or the food we eat, things look different. Even more if we remind ourselves that we depend on our parents for learning how to speak and act and above all how to love. There is a dependence that is about simply receiving what we need to live; there is a dependence that is about how we learn and grow. And part of our human problem is that we mix up this entirely appropriate and lifegiving dependency with the passivity that can enslave us. In seeking (quite rightly) trying to avoid passivity we can get trapped in the fantasy that we don't need to receive and to learn.

Which is why it matters that our reading portrays the Son in the way it does - radiant, creative, overflowing with life and intelligence. The Son is all these things because he is dependent, because he receives his life from the Father. And when we finally grow up in to the fullness of his life, we shall, like him, be gladly and unashamedly dependent - open to receiving all God has to give, open to learn all he has to teach.

Ephrem the Syrian, Second Hymn on the Nativity:

Blessed be that Child, Who gladdened Bethlehem to-day! Blessed be the Babe Who made manhood young again to-day! Blessed be the Fruit, Who lowered Himself to our famished state! Blessed be the Good One, Who suddenly enriched our necessitousness and supplied our needs! Blessed He Whose tender mercies made Him condescend to visit our infirmities!

Praise to the Fountain that was sent for our propitiation. Praise be to Him Who made void the Sabbath by fulfilling it! Praise too to Him Who rebuked the leprosy and it remained not, Whom the fever saw and fled! Praise to the Merciful, Who bore our toil! Glory to Thy coming, which quickened the sons of men!

Glory to Him, Who came to us by His first-born! Glory to the Silence, that spake by His Voice. Glory to the One on high, Who was seen by His Day-spring! Glory to the Spiritual, Who was pleased to have a Body, that in it His virtue might be felt, and He might by that Body show mercy on His household’s bodies!

Glory to that Hidden One, Whose Son was made manifest! Glory to that Living One, Whose Son was made to die! Glory to that Great One, Whose Son descended and was small! Glory to the Power Who did straiten His greatness by a form, His unseen nature by a shape! With eye and mind we have beheld Him, yea with both of them.

Glory to that Hidden One, Who even with the mind cannot be felt at all by them that pry into Him; but by His graciousness was felt by the hand of man!

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Encyclical for the Nativity of Christ:

The unshakeable belief of Christians is that God does not simply or indifferently observe from above the journey of humanity, which He has personally created according to His image and likeness…the divine condescension of Christmas is not restricted to things related to eternity. It also includes things related to our earthly journey. Christ came into the world in order to spread the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven and to initiate us into this Kingdom. Yet, He also came in order to help and heal human weakness. He miraculously and repeatedly fed the multitudes who listened to His word; He cleansed lepers; He supported paralytics; He granted light to the blind, hearing to the deaf and speech to the dumb; He delivered the demonized of impure spirits, resurrected the dead, supported the rights of the oppressed and abandoned; He condemned illegal wealth, heartlessness to the poor, hypocrisy and “hubris” in human relations; He offered Himself as an example of voluntary self-emptying sacrifice for the sake of others!

Perhaps this dimension of the message of divine incarnation should be particularly emphasized this year. Many of our friends and colleagues are experiencing terrible trials from the current crisis. There are countless numbers of unemployed, nouveau poor, homeless, young people with “cropped” dreams…Now is the time for a practical application of the Gospel message with a dignified sense of responsibility! Now is the time for a clear and exact implementation of the words of the Apostle: “Show me your faith with works!” (James 2.18) Now is the time and the opportunity for us “to raise our minds to things divine” to the height of the royal virtue of Love, which brings us closer to God.

Leo, Sermon XXI, On the Feast of the Nativity:

Let us then, dearly beloved, give thanks to God the Father, through His Son, in the Holy Spirit, Who “for His great mercy, wherewith He has loved us,” has had pity on us: and “when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together in Christ,” that we might be in Him a new creation and a new production. Let us put off then the old man with his deeds: and having obtained a share in the birth of Christ let us renounce the works of the flesh. Christian, acknowledge thy dignity, and becoming a partner in the Divine nature, refuse to return to the old baseness by degenerate conduct. Remember the Head and the Body of which thou art a member. Recollect that thou wert rescued from the power of darkness and brought out into God’s light and kingdom. By the mystery of Baptism thou wert made the temple of the Holy Ghost: do not put such a denizen to flight from thee by base acts, and subject thyself once more to the devil’s thraldom: because thy purchase money is the blood of Christ, because He shall judge thee in truth Who ransomed thee in mercy, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “ Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Another Apophatic Moment

From Peter of Damascus, A Treasury of Divine Knowledge:

In our ignorance, however, we should not identify God in Himself with His divine attributes, such as His goodness, bountifulness, justice, holiness, light, fire, being, nature, power, wisdom, and the others…God in Himself is not among any of the things that the intellect is capable of defining, for He is undetermined and undeterminable. In theology we can speak about the attributes of God but not about God in Himself…It is indeed more correct so speak of God in Himself as inscrutable, unsearchable, inexplicable, as all that is impossible to define. For He is beyond intellection and thought, and is known only to Himself, one God in three hypostases, unoriginate, unending, beyond goodness, above all praise. All that is said of God in divine Scripture is said with this sense of our inadequacy, that though we may know that God is, we cannot know what He is; for in Himself He is incomprehensible to every being endowed with intellect and reason.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Four Gospels: A Blogtome by Request

It was recently requested that I post something here regarding the early development of the canon, specifically a truncated version of a paper I wrote as an undergraduate on the canonization of the Gospels. Impossible as it may be to believe, what follows is just such an abbreviation. I have taken the knife to the paper, in a way not unlike Marcion did with Luke, in an effort to make it e-managable. I apologize for the extent to which I failed in that effort.


The discussion surrounding the origin and closure of the Christian canon is in a perpetual state of flux. Dates for the final formation of the Christian canon have ranged from the end of the first century to well into the fourth. Opinions change as new evidence surfaces and old evidence is reinterpreted until the picture becomes nearly too convoluted to understand. What’s more, the discussion of the development of a complete canon has given way to theories about the development of the sub-canonical groups yielding separate dates for the completion of the Pauline canon, the canon of Catholic epistles, and the four-Gospel canon. It is the last of these which will be treated here.

The four-Gospel canon constitutes the greatest canonical development in Christianity. It was unique in its time: four separate and distinct accounts of a single man which were bound into a solitary, authoritative chronicle of his life. It has enthralled and vexed the minds of the pious laity and academics alike for the better part of two millennia. The question remains: when did the four Gospels become the fourfold Gospel—the inviolable, normative, authoritative account of Christ’s life? It will be the contention of this study that the second century saw the practical completion of the four-Gospel canon, that at the close of the century the Gospels had been compiled into a single sub-canonical unit that was both unalterable and widespread in “orthodox” churches.

The argument put forth nearly a century ago by Harnack and more recently advanced by Campenhausen and others that the period of the second century was ripe for the development of canon holds no less true today. The controversies that the church faced in the second century are so intrinsically linked to canon that to posit that the church would not have at the very least been initiating the process of canonizing its sacred literature requires significantly more justification than the more natural assumption that it had. This is all the more true for the Gospel literature which formed the core of the Christian canon. However, when discussing external factors which caused a rise in the canon, the mistake is often made of overestimating the value of any one source of stimulus. Rather than proposing that Marcion or the Montanists were directly responsible for either the creation of the canon or the acceleration of that process, it is better to look instead at a general second century milieu which predisposed Christianity to accept the four-Gospel canon. No one group ought to be afforded overwhelming significance over any other, but rather each should be viewed as contributing to a religious culture which created a more urgent need for the development of canon, including more specifically the four-Gospel canon.

One of the principle figures in any discussion of second century canon is Marcion, whose compilation of a single gospel and truncated collection of Pauline letters into a normative collection was for whatever reason notable even in his own day. The traditional view is that Marcion’s collection of documents constituted the first canon of Christian literature, possibly even created the idea of canon. More recent scholarship tends to reject this interpretation. John Barton, for example, attempts to reframe what Marcion did by suggesting that Marcion was not creating a canon but a “critical reconstruction,” not compiling authoritative documents but excluding heretical documents. He suggests that if Marcion had indeed instigated the creation of an “orthodox” canon of scripture, there would be a marked increase in the citation of those scriptures. This assumes, however, that a transition from non-canonical to canonical status is necessarily accompanied by an increased frequency of citation. The reverse is process is just as plausible, if not more so: that documents which were already in frequent and widespread use, such as the four Gospels, would then make the transition into a canonical status.

Much like Barton, L. M. McDonald and Stanley Porter reject the idea that Marcion had significant import for canon development. In a passage rife with concessions and equivocation, they, like Barton, suggest that Marcion’s canon was in fact merely a loose list of “untainted” Christian literature to which his followers felt free to add to because it was never created with the intention of being a fixed canon. Completely apart from the validity of this claim, it is clear, even in their own work, that the motives of Marcion may or may not have had any relevance with regard to the reaction of the early church. The admissions that Marcion’s “canon,” whatever the nature of the collection was, may have “been an important catalyst” in the church’s process of becoming selective with its scriptures and that he “may have had the effect” of causing the church to evaluate the place of Jewish literature in the canon seem to negate any discussion of Marcion’s motives. Whether he meant to or not is essentially irrelevant to the question of whether or not Marcion and his canon began or significantly sped the development of the canon.

Amidst their discussion, however, McDonald and Porter make a statement which approaches a better understanding, a middle way so to speak between the traditional view of Marcion as a lone innovator (at least with regard to a peculiarly Christian canon) and the emerging view of Marcion as essentially irrelevant: “Marcion may have been an important catalyst in causing the church to come to grips with the question of which literature best conveyed its true identity and possibly which literature could be called Scripture.” Though the development of the four-Gospel canon was already in progress prior to or at least contemporary with and apart from Marcion, the controversy surrounding Marcion should be seen as injecting a sense of urgency into the process.

It is important to note in response to this that when Irenaeus first treats Marcion (Against Heresies, I.27.4) he makes explicit that his primary crime is the mutilation of the Scriptures. The Scripture in reference here is most certainly at least the Gospel of Luke if not the whole canon of Marcion since Irenaeus levels the same accusation of “mutilation” later in connection with Marcion, naming Luke’s Gospel specifically as the violated text. Tertullian as well, in the course of his lengthy treatment of Marcion (Against Heretics, 38), specifically charges Marcion with editing the Scriptures to suit his theological ends. For these reasons, Everett Ferguson’s claim is certainly viable: ‘“At any rate, the four-gospel canon, for whatever difficulties it may give theologians, was seen as a defense against heresy.”

Marcionites were not by any stretch the only heretical group in the second century whose particular view of Christianity likely had an influence on the development of the four-Gospel canon. Just before his famous theological defense of the four canonical Gospels (Against Heresies, III.11.7), Irenaeus indicated that Marcion was not alone in his tendency to cling to a single gospel. The Ebionites, he wrote, used Matthew’s Gospel exclusively; the Docetists used Mark; the Valentinian Gnostics employed John. This importantly demonstrates that Marcion rather than practicing something unique was something of an exemplar among heterodox groups who exalted the one Gospel which best suited their theological tendencies. To a lesser degree, what was true of Marcion’s influence on the development of the four-Gospel canon, is true also of the general trend toward this behavior by other heterodox groups of the second century.

An opposite trend, though no less important, is apparent among the Montanists to whom Campenhausen attributes a critical importance in the development of the canon. The Montanist tendency toward the proliferation of prophecy, recorded in books, which had unassailable authority created a no less vital problem for the church. Rather than showing a limiting of the authoritative literature, it demonstrated an unnerving willingness to expand the basis of normative Scriptures. For this reason, Metzger estimates that the Montanist controversy was primarily important in that it cast a shadow of skepticism over the production of new “sacred” Scripture, while Campenhausen claims that Montanism is the “crisis” which called “a halt to the uncontrolled growth of the New Testament.” This is probably an overstatement, but certainly Montanism should be seen as having a limiting effect in general on what was perceived as authoritative Scripture. Ferguson probably phrases it best: “The Montanist controversy brought to the surface a consciousness that the time of the revelation had ended and that there was a qualitative difference between the era of church’s origins and the present.”

Contrary to claims that the very concept of canon is anachronistic to the second century and that the issue of creating a normative collection of Scripture would not have been on the mind of the early church, the second century does seem to be a fitting time for the church to begin the necessary process of consolidating its normative texts, the core of which were always the words and deeds of Jesus. The rise of the four-Gospel canon in the second century should be seen in part as a balance between the tendency of some heretical groups to conservatively restrict their use to a single gospel and the tendency of others to produce or accept an overwhelming multiplicity of authoritative gospel literature. For Irenaeus, the single Gospel devotions of the Ebionites, Marcionites, Docetists, and Valentinians was both a proof of a distinctly canonical authority of the four Gospels and an inherent insufficiency in the heretics’ system, due to the ability of a single text to be manipulated for a group’s own ends. At the same time, the almost wanton inclination of Montanists and certain Gnostic groups to produce and accept a variety of scriptural literature necessitated a reevaluation of the church’s theology of authoritative prophecy and the place of contemporary literature.

The problem with the above understanding of the nature of canon controversy in the second century is that it is largely open to interpretation. There are as many distinct understandings as there are minds to try to understand the problem. Moreover, rather than simply subtle nuances on basic consensus, the freedom of interpretation has allowed for a growing sense that the second century may not even be the crucial period in canon development. Thankfully, with regard to the Gospels, the above understanding of the second century need not be entirely speculative. There are objective clues which tend toward a second century understanding of the development of the four-Gospel canon. Textual studies have illuminated the issue, particularly recently with a crucial new study of the Gospels undertaken by T. C. Skeat and picked up by Graham Stanton.

An early indication that the Gospels are considered Scriptural literature and thereby authoritative is the utilization by scribes of nomina sacra. The nomen sacrum—the system of abbreviations for sacred words—is a distinctive Christian device which appear in the earliest Gospel manuscripts and, if not fully developed then, is standardized very early. While several theories have been advanced for the peculiar Christian usage of these abbreviations, including connection to the Jewish reference for the divine name and foundation in a mystical “theology of the name,” a more convincing suggestion has been made. Harry Gamble proposes that the nomina sacra are actually indicative of a practical aspect of the documents in question, that is that they were transcribed by Christians for use by Christians in small community settings. The practical use in question can be more specifically narrowed to the reading of the manuscripts in worship. This understanding of the nomina sacra as indicative of liturgical use would seem to indicate an early view of the Gospel literature (which is among some of the earliest preserved) as normative scripture in the church appropriate for public reading in corporate worship.

More critical still are the studies undertaken by Skeat and Stanton with regard to the rise of the codex in early Christianity. Much like nomina sacra, the codex was largely a Christian phenomenon in the second century, and, again like the nomina sacra, no one has conclusively proven why this is. The key to the entire question is to better understand what uniquely Christian task the codex can perform that the scroll, which was preferred by the secular world, could not. Gamble suggests that this task was the collection of the letters of Paul into a single manuscript. Skeat, on the other hand, holds the view that the codex is best suited for containing a four-Gospel canon, the fact which caused its very early rise to prominence in the church. Since all Gospel manuscripts, in fact very nearly all biblical manuscripts, have been found to be from codices, this would make the date for the origin of the use of a four-Gospel canon necessarily concurrent with or antecedent to the rise of the codex, thereby pushing the date back to the turn of the second century. There is still, however, the small hurdle of having any evidence of early four-Gospel codices, a hurdle which Skeat would seem to overcome.

Until recently, it has been assumed that P45 represents the earliest evidence, probably from the first half of third century, for the compilation of the four Gospels into a single codex. Particularly in light of the proposed potential of P53 to be a four-Gospel codex, the textual evidence would seem to keep the date of the birth of four-Gospel codices in the third century. Skeat, however, finds a predecessor to these in P75, a single-quire codex containing Luke and John. He suggests that this is in fact the second half of a four-Gospel codex. A double-quire codex, that is a single quire codex of Matthew and Mark attached to a single-quire codex of Luke and John, would have been the necessary format for a four-Gospel codex of the period, since a single-quire codex of all four would have been extremely awkward to handle, if not impossible. If it is accepted then that P75 was originally a four-Gospel codex—and there is no reasonable explanation for why John and Luke would be circulating together in the absence of Matthew and Mark—then the earliest witness to the four Gospels circulating together could theoretically be as early as 200.

Yet Skeat proposes in a later, more comprehensive study, even earlier textual evidence for the circulation of the four Gospels together in a codex. His examination of P4, P64, and P 67 revealed that the three were actually one: “There can in my opinion be no doubt that all these fragments come from the same codex which was re-used as packing for the binding of the late third century codex of Philo.” P4 is a fragment from the early part of Luke and P64 and P 67 are a collection of small fragments from Matthew, thus making the original manuscript theoretically a Matthew/Luke text. Skeat demonstrates through an examination and explanation of the steady, deliberate reduction of script size throughout the fragments, that these manuscripts likely formed a single-quire codex. From a recognition that this is a single codex like P75, the argument proceeds in much the same manner as it had with P75 concluding with the strong assertion that there is now proof that the four-Gospel codex has ancestors which reach well back into the second century. This fact is further strengthened by the observations of Stanton about the high quality of the P4,64,67 manuscript. He argues that the arrangement of the text, evident planning, and meticulous execution “indicate a most handsome edition of the four gospels which…does not look at all like an experiment by a scribe working out ways to include four gospels in one codex: it certainly had predecessors much earlier in the second century.”

Having shown that the second century most certainly lends itself to the development of a four-Gospel canon and that textual evidence gives strong indication that four-Gospel codices were circulated in the early church for liturgical purposes, it is important now to turn to the evidence presented in the patristic literature. The four-Gospel canon finds stronger evidence in the second century fathers than does any other sub-canonical group. This should be seen in large part as a result of the largely gospel oriented controversies already noted.

The earliest clear evidence of a plurality of gospels being used is in Justin Martyr around the middle of the second century. The precise nature of Justin’s gospel material is often disputed. There have been a multitude of suggestions: that he used a variety of canonical and non-canonical gospel material, that he was in fact utilizing a single harmony, or that he used some smaller selection of canonical literature. It is certain that Justin did know and use other gospel material other than what he calls the “memoirs of the apostles,” however, the use of other such material should not be seen as proof that Justin did not have or had a low view of the canonical Gospels. Quite the contrary, Justin is the first record we have of the Gospels being used liturgically on the same level with, and possibly in place of, the Old Testament Scriptures. Furthermore, he gives us fairly clear indication that he knows all four Gospels. It is broadly accepted that Justin knew at least Matthew and Luke. Justin gives indication that he knows a memoir of Peter, which from the context, is likely Mark (Dialogue, 106). The debate about whether or not Justin knew the fourth Gospel is much more difficult, but Ferguson convincingly argues that the particular terminology used (namely the Word and only-begotten designations) is compelling. Additionally, Brooke Foss Westcott proposed that some of the readings that appear to be taken from other sources are actually variant readings of John synthesized with the period baptismal formula.

Probably the most important statement from Justin comes in his anti-Gnostic exposition of Psalm 22. Here he made what is an important statement, which is often overshadowed in the discussion of the four-Gospel canon by Irenaeus. “For in the memoirs which I say were drawn up by His apostles and those who followed them…” (Dialogue, 103). Stanton and others have noted here something that should be fairly obvious, namely that this two group formula assumes a bare minimum of four distinct written gospels, two of which must be written by apostles and two of which must be written by so-called apostolic men. That this so perfectly fits the four-Gospel canon admittedly may be coincidental, but is not for this any less thought-provoking. This passage, coupled with the indication that Justin knew all four canonical Gospels, that they were used as Scripture in the church, and that four-Gospel codices were likely to have been in circulation at this time, lead Stanton to believe, not unreasonably, that Justin likely had a four-Gospel codex at his catechetical school around 150.

Certainly one of the most important, if not the most important, patristic text with regard to the development of a four-Gospel canon is Irenaeus’ theological defense of canon in Against Heresies III.11. Here, Irenaeus draws a comparison between the four winds, the four zones of the earth, the four creatures from Ezekiel and the Apocalypse of John, four pillars of support for the church, and the fourfold Gospel. This is important because, as Campenhausen points out, Irenaeus “appeals to the New Testament documents authority by name, defends their authenticity, and asserts that they are normative.” It is more recently and widely suggested that the very fact that Irenaeus makes a defense of the four-Gospel canon is proof positive that it was not yet established. This view, for whatever reason, seems to presuppose that Irenaeus is directing this argument against other members of “orthodox” churches who are rejecting the four-Gospel canon. Quite the opposite, Irenaeus’ statements are a reiteration of what is already established as a defense against current and rising heresies. The very purpose of his work was, after all, to be a criticism of second century heresies and a defense of the “orthodox” faith against such heresies. He had a consistent and vested interest in presenting only those views which were uniform in the church, something he was uniquely positioned to do having experienced Christianity in Asian Minor, Rome, and Gaul over the course of his life.

While Irenaeus constitutes the most important second century witness, his testimony would be significantly less useful if it stood alone. Luckily, others flourishing soon after him, both in the West and the East, also seem to testify to the strength of the four-Gospel canon at the end of the second century. Tertullian, in his treatise against Marcion’s heresy, gives us an important indication for the strength of the four-Gospel canon in North Africa, particularly that they are apostolic in contrast to all others. “We lay it down as our first position, that the evangelical Testament has apostles for its authors, to whom was assigned by the Lord Himself this office of publishing the gospel” (Against Marcion, IV.2). He then proceeds to name the four by name: “Of the apostles, therefore, John and Matthew first instill faith into us; whilst of apostolic men, Luke and Mark renew it afterwards” an affirmation which will be repeated three chapters later.

While Tertullian testifies for the West, Clement and Serapion of Antioch witness to the canon in the East. Serapion of Antioch, who flourished at the turn of the third century, is recorded by Eusebius to have dealt with a controversy arising over the reading of a “so-called Gospel of Peter” (Church History, VI.12.1). Serapion declared this new gospel to be false because it lacked the antiquity and consistency of doctrine that the four canonical Gospels, against which he judged the new gospel. Clement too, accepts the four-Gospel canon and, while making use of extra-canonical literature, does not consider other gospels to be authoritative or in any way on par with the canonical Gospels.
When viewed together, the picture which is painted by the evidence seems clear. The second century was a time of immense turmoil for the church. The rise of various heterodox groups—each making use of its own Gospel or making use of a multiplicity of Gospels indiscriminately—created a milieu fertile for the development of a four-Gospel canon. Evidence of such authoritative four-Gospel collections comes to us textually in the form of four-Gospel codices intended for liturgical use which may reasonably be assumed to have existed as early as the middle of the second century. In addition to this, the church fathers of the late second century seem to give a uniform testimony as to what gospel literature the church accepted as canonical and which it rejected. Beginning some time prior to the middle of the second century, since the process was already underway by the time of Justin, the four canonical Gospels had begun to make the transition from a fluid group of individually authoritative texts to an inviolable collection understood to be a single work, the fourfold Gospel, a point which they had reached by the close of the second century.

Aland, Kurt and Barbara Aland. The Text of the New Testament. Translated by Errol F. Rhodes. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987.

Balla, Peter. “Evidence for an Early Christian Canon (Second and Third Century).” In The Canon Debate. Editors Lee Martin McDonald and James A. Sanders. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers Inc., 2002, 372-385.

Barton, John. Holy Writings, Sacred Text: The Canon in Early Christianity. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997.

------------- “Marcion Revisited.” In The Canon Debate. Editors Lee Martin McDonald and James A. Sanders. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers Inc., 2002, 341-354.

Blackman, E. C. Marcion and His Influence. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1948.

Campenhausen, Hans von. The Formation of the Christian Bible. Translated by J. A. Baker. Philidelphia: Fortress Press, 1972.

Epp, Eldon Jay. “Issues in the Interrelation of New Testament Textual Criticism and Canon.” In The Canon Debate. Editors Lee Martin McDonald and James A. Sanders. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers Inc., 2002, 485-515.

Farkasfalvy, Dennis. The Formation of the New Testament Canon: An Ecumenical Approach. New York: Paulist Press, 1983.

Ferguson, Everett. “Factors Leading to the Selection and Closure of the New Testament Canon: A Survey of Some Recent Studies.” In The Canon Debate. Editors Lee Martin McDonald and James A. Sanders. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers Inc., 2002, 295-320.

Gamble, Harry Y. Books and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995.

------------- The New Testament Canon: Its Making and Meaning. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985.

------------- “The New Testament Canon: Recent Research and the Status Quaestionis.” In The Canon Debate. Editors Lee Martin McDonald and James A. Sanders. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers Inc., 2002, 267-294.

Grant, Robert. The Formation of the New Testament. New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1965.

Hahneman, Geoffrey Mark. The Muratorian Fragment and the Development of the Canon. Oxford: Claredon Press, 1992.

Knox, John. Marcion and the New Testament: An Essay in the Early History of the Canon. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1942.

McDonald, Lee Martin. The Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1988.

McDonald, Lee Martin and Stanley Porter. Early Christianity and its Sacred Literature. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers Inc, 2000.

Metzger, Bruce. The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development and Significance. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987.

Skeat, T. C. “Irenaeus and the Four-Gospel Canon.” Novum Testamentum 34 (1992): 194-199.

-------------- “The Oldest Manuscript of the Four Gospels?” New Testament Studies 43 (1997): 1-34.

------------- “The Origin of the Christian Codex.” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 102 (1994): 263-268.

Stanton, Graham N. “The Four Fold Gospel.” New Testament Studies 43 (1997): 317-346.
Westcott, Brooke Foss. A General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament. 6th ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Christ and True Ontology

From Panayiotis Nellas, "Redemption or Deification? Nicholas Kavasilas and Anselm's Question 'Why Did God Become Man?'"

Man finds his existence and being in Christ. Before and outside Christ, his being is a being-unto-Christ. And when it is not oriented towards Christ--when, to be more precise, it is defined in freedom and conciousness indepentently of Christ--then it is a being-unto-death, as Heidegger called it, quite correctly according to his own perspective. United with Christ, the iconic biological being of man becomes a true being-in-Christ. In Christ, man finds his true ontological content.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

RE: The Rebuilding of St. Nicholas

Late last month, I got this notice about the attempts being made to rebuild St. Nicholas Orthodox Church at Ground Zero:

On Sunday, December 5th, at 2:00 PM, on the eve of the Feast Day of St. Nicholas, Archbishop Demetrios will lead a special prayer service at Ground Zero (Liberty and Greenwich Streets). On this solemn day, we will join the parishioners of St. Nicholas, not simply in observing the Feast Day of the Wonderworking Saint and the Name Day of the church, but we will intensify our prayers and supplications that the church dedicated to him, the only house of worship destroyed on 9/11, be re-built at Ground Zero, and soon!

I didn't think much of it, except perhaps that I might have liked to be able to attend the prayer service had it not been in the open air of Manhattan in December. Certainly rebuilding the Orthodox Church destroyed on 9/11 is a better cause than constructing a Muslim community center near Ground Zero, and I believe in the power of prayer to enable and invigorate God's work.

More recently, however, I read a news article that suggests that the good people of St. Nicholas are turning to methods a little more down-to-earth than prayer:

A Greek Orthodox church in New York City that was destroyed on Sept. 11 is taking legal action against the agency that owns ground zero, saying it has reneged on a promise to rebuild the church.

The Wall Street Journal reports that St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church filed a notice of claim against the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey on Monday. The papers seeks to compel the agency to live up to what it says is a "binding preliminary agreement" from 2008.

I realize that I will probably be in a minority on this, but it seems strangely inappropriate to have one hand lifted in prayer and the other at the throat of the New York Port Authority. In the end, it turns out that the Orthodox don't need my prayers so much as my contribution to their legal fund.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"We're not sorry if we tricked you."

I recently stumbled across an interesting article entitled Insane Clown Posse: And God Created Controversy. It was written this October by Jon Ronson (of "Men Who Stare at Goats" fame, among other things) about the revelation (some years ago now) that ICP has been secretly infusing spirituality into their lyrics in an attempt to prompt their fans to think about God, life, and death. Most interesting of all was the subtitle: "America's nastiest rappers in shocking revelation – they've been evangelical Christians all along." Curiously, in reading the article, neither of the rappers that make up ICP ever use the word Christ or Christian at all, much less to describe themselves. They certainly never label themselves as "evangelical Christians." I'm not sure when, but at some point generic theism seems to have become evangelical Christianity by default. I didn't get the memo.

See you Sunday Shaggy 2 Dope.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Religious Freedom: Fighting for Muslims to Fight for Christians

This is a very interesting article about outrage from Greeks about a variety of recent events that have used the status of the Muslim minority in Greece as a foil to talk about the Christian minorities in Turkey. The author quotes himself from a speech he gave at recent conference about religious minorities in Turkey:

As a human rights defender I really would like to see good examples in Greece in the treatment of Muslim minorities so that I could use it to force my government to do the same thing for non-Muslims in Turkey.

I was discussing recently whether or not I thought it was appropriate for Christians to promote religious freedom as such. I certainly won't suggest that we ought to support or pursue the suppression of religious minorities, but I question the legitimacy, the ethics of actively pursuing the rights of people everywhere to worship idols. While I still struggle with that question in general, this article has at least shown me the utilitarian value of improving the lot of Muslim minorities in Greece. I cannot imagine a more potent weapon in the arsenal of the Ecumenical Patriarch than a Greece that shames Turkey with its humanitarian tolerance. That seems to me to be a thoroughly Christian way of going about things, being so obviously, overtly good so as to shame evil out of existence.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Nicholas Cabasilas on True Joy

The following is something of a long selection from Nicholas Cabasilas, The Life in Christ, on why true joy has God alone as its object:

God has emplanted the desire into our souls by which every need should lead to the attainment of that which is good, every thought to the attainment of truth. For these we long in their purity: good rather than evil, truth rather than error; for no one enjoys being deceived or is pleased by going astray and meeting with evil instead of good. Yet no one by desiring them has ever attained them in their purity. What is good and true in our eyes does not correspond to the name, but rather the contrary. Thus it is also clear that neither the power of our love nor the greatness of our joy apparent when the things which we must love and which we enjoy are absent, nor is the compulsion of desire or the ardour of its fire known when the object of desire is absent.

For those who have tasted of the Savior, the Object of desire is present. From the beginning human desire was made to be gauged and measured by the desire for Him, and is a treasury so great, so ample, that it is able to encompass even God. Thus there is no satisfaction, nothing stills the desire, even if men attain to all the excellent things in life, for we still thirst as though we had none of the things for which we long. The thirst of human souls needs, as it were, an infinite water; how then could this limited world suffice?

He, then, is its repose because He alone is goodness and truth and anything else it desires. Those, therefore, who attain to Him are hindered by nothing from loving to the extent that love was implanted into our souls from the beginning, or from rejoicing as much as human nature is able to rejoice, or from anything that virtue and the water of regeneration added to these faculties. Since the good things of ordinary life are not true to their name it is impossible for either desire or joy to be fully effective in them, for even if something seems to be beautiful it is but a paltry spectre of true beauty. But in this case, since , since there is nothing which will stand in the way, love is clearly shown to be wonderous and ineffable and joy to be beyond description. Above all this is so because God has ordained each of these passions with Himself as its object, so that we should love Him and find our joy in Him alone. It follows, I think, that the passion should be in proportion to that infinite goodness and thus, so to speak, be in keeping with it.

In reading that, two thoughts immediately to mind. The first is how much thoughts like this make me prefer soteriology which focuses on participation in God rather than remission of sins. The idea that our souls are made to delight eternally in the infinite goodness of God seems so much richer to me than more aneseptic visions that are preoccupied merely with the expiation of sin.

My second thought returns to the perennial issue of apatheia as an ethical imperative for humanity. The argument here is the reverse from how I typically make it-namely that God is impassible and we ought to be impassible in the way that He is impassible-but it seems nonetheless compelling to me. God has created us with divinely ordained passions which we are to actualize in the ways He has ordained for them ("God has ordained each of these passions with Himself as its object"). Not only are we passionate by design, but our passions are intended to be infinite, coressponding to the object of the passion ("passion should be in proportion to that infinite goodness"). Given that the reality of passions does not remove the necessity of impassibility (apatheia) as an ethical imperative, why would be reject the idea that God can be both passionate (i.e. loving, angry, pleased) and impassible?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Confession of Faith Against a Confession of Faith Against Ecumenism

It has perhaps been foolish to try to understand the Orthodox spirit merely by reading Lossky, Meyendorff, and others of their ilk. One could no more correctly grasp the spirit of 18th century congregationalists by studying Jonathan Edwards. Certainly the theologians to whom I gravitate represent a position within the Orthodox Church, even a vocal and prominent position, but they are no means representative of the Orthodox Church universal. There is an equally vocal dissenting group (perhaps even a dissenting majority) that espouse ideas quite opposed to the more temperate positions of many of the Orthodox authors I read. I have encountered these voices more and more, the more I detach myself from the lofty literature appearing in periodicals and collecting dust on the library shelves.

Specifically, I came across a particularly disturbing document recently which seems to have substantial support. A Confession of Faith Against Ecumenism is a vitriolic denouncement of the Orthodox participation in ecumenical dialogues, meetings, and activities. I do not intend to restate the entire document here. Instead, I will give five points which I found especially unsettling, and leave others to be unsettled by the rest should they so choose:

  • Straying dangerously close to Donatism, the authors suggest that all the sacraments of the Catholics and Protestants are utterly devoid of grace on the basis of their errors. Curiously, they are willing to accept unity on the grounds of baptism, provided the baptism is a triple-immersion performed by a legitimate priest (which exist only in the Orthodox Church): "One enters the church, however, and becomes Her member, not just with any baptism, but only with the 'one baptism,' that uniformly performed baptism, officiated by Priests who have received the Priesthood of the Church."

  • So certain are these Orthodox of their own correctness and of the depravity into which the rest of us have sunk, that they refuse to pray with other "Christians," even in private: "As longa s the heterodox continue to remain in their errors, we avoid communion with them, especially in common prayer...not only common officiating and common prayer in the temple of God, but even ordinary prayers in private quarters." I have been blessed in my encounters with the Orthodox never to be confronted with this attitude, but I cannot imagine my response if an Orthodox person refused to pray with me because of the insufficiency of my single-immersion baptism.

  • The document is surprisingly alarmist, all of it coated with a thick layer of fear-mongering. For example, it is suggested that if we make the audacious suggestion that there are Christians outside the Orthodox Church then we might as well call Buddhists Christians: "This inter-Christian syncretism has no expanded into an inter-religious syncretism, which equates all the religions with the unique knowledge of and reverence for God and a Christ-like way of life--all revealed from on high by Christ."

  • The authors seem to describe to the kind of cold, formal conservatism that so many of the authors I read have vocally rejected: "We maintain, irremovably and without alteration, everything that the Synods and the Fathers have instituted. We accept everything that they accept and condemn everything that they condemn; and we avoid communication with those who innovate in matters of the Faith. We neither add, nor remove, nor alter any teaching." Contrast this attitude--that the Orthodox have held fast without addition or alteration to the historical statements of the Church--to the sentiments of Archimandrite Lazarus Moore: "The true traditionalist is not a person who lives in the past, but one who is open and alert to the voice and activity of the Spirit today…[Tradition] is not the sum of past experience, but a living experience of God’s action today." Equally unnerving is the self-deluded senseof nostalgia that accompanies the formal conservatism. If only we could go back to better times, earlier times..."Up until the beginning of the 20th century, the Church has steadfastly and immutably maintained a dismissive and condemnatory stance towards all heresies..." Sure it has.

  • Perhaps most disturbing of all is how convinced the authors (and signers) of this document are that whatever they say and however they say it may be wrapped in a banner of "tough love." Love, apparently, gives the Orthodox carte blanche to be as hateful as they like, to--in their own words--wage war on the rest of us: "The Church's strict stance toward the heterodox springs from true love and sincere concern for their salvation, and out of Her pastoral care that the faithful be not carried away by heresy...There is such a thing as a good war and a bad peace."

Some, certainly, will not object to some of those points. In particular, I have in mind the readiness of the Churches of Christ to condemn as invalid all baptisms which do not take place by immersion or baptisms of children. (Ironically, members of the Churches of Christ might be pleased to see the Roman Catholic Church blamed in the Confession of Faith for the introduction of instruments into worship.) Of course, there are undoubtedly also things to which others will object that I do not. Which is fine. Just so long as we all find something objectionable in this mess.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

In other news

In an overwhelming display of generosity and good will, the Turkish government gave the Orthodox Church back this dilapidated, hundred year old building (that the Turks had "appropriated" in 1997):

Bravo, Turkish government. What more could the Orthodox want?

Buddhism and Abortion

I'm not sure why it never occurred to me (given the essential role that respect for life plays in Buddhism), but reading about abortion laws in Thailand has made me realize just how "pro-life" Theravada Buddhism can be:

In [the] Buddhist view, both having an abortion and performing an abortion amount to murder. Those involved in abortions will face distress in both this life and the next because their sins will follow them.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Action 5 News Meets Survivor

In a recent TV plug for WMC-TV Memphis evening news, the anchor promised that if you watched that night you would see the sex of an unnamed staff members baby revealed. It turned out the story was actually attached to a report about the accuracy of a take home test that purports to determine the sex of a fetus, but I'm concerned that TV channels feel the need to advertise the news as if it were reality TV.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Texts on Thanksgiving: Jonathan Edwards

This short quote is from a sermon by Jonathan Edwards entitled "The Importance and Advantage of a Thorough Knowledge of Divine Truth:”

When God hath opened a very large treasure before us, for the supply of our wants, and we thank him that he hath given us so much; if at the same time we be willing to remain destitute of the greatest part of it, because we are too lazy to gather it, this will not show the sincerity of our thankfulness.

Edwards has in mind here particularly the abundance of information which God has revealed about Himself for mankind’s benefit. The Bible, for example, lies waiting to be plumbed for the abundant and rejuvenating truth which it records. Edwards balked at the idea that the information was so readily available and yet so few people took advantage of it. (Easily imaginable is the kind of invective he would call down on contemporary society, with its obscenely ready access to Scripture and inversely proportional apathy to its message.) Yet, the idea carries beyond just knowledge. God has afforded to humanity abundant blessings that merely await human appropriation. Salvation must spring immediately to mind, offered freely to all and yet rejected by so many. More convicting still is the abundant time and resources of so many of the world’s Christians for which they give thanks but with which they never do anything productive for God’s ends.

Edwards insists that gratitude for some blessings best takes the form of seizing those blessings when they are offered. Are there gifts which God has offered that we refuse to accept for His purposes?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

We interrupt this program to bring you some late breaking news:

The pope has come out in favor of condoms as a means of combatting the AIDS crisis in Africa. Or at least he thinks that they are slightly less immoral than HIV positive, homosexual prostitutes having unprotected sex with clients.

But then again, who doesn't think that?

Texts on Thanksgiving: Symeon the New Theologian

The following passage may be found in Symeon the New Theologian’s homily On Faith:

I grieve, I exhaust my heart, I pine for you when I bring to mind that we have a Lord so bountiful and compassionate that simply if we have faith in Him He grants us gifts beyond our imagination—gifts we have never heard or thought of and that ‘man’s heart has not grasped.’ Yet we, like beasts, prefer the earth and the things of the earth that through His mercy it yields in order to supply our bodily needs…This is our purpose, for this we were created and brought forth: that after having received lesser blessings in this world we may through our gratitude to God and our love for Him enjoy great and eternal blessings in the life to come. But, alas, far from having any concern for the blessings in store, we are even ungrateful for those at hand, and we are like the demons, or—if truth be told—even worse. Thus we deserve greater punishment than they, for we have been given greater blessings. For we know that God became for our sakes like us in everything except sin, so that He might deliver us from delusion and free us from sin. But what is the use of saying this? The truth is that we believe in all these things only as words, while we deny them where our acts are concerned. Is not Christ’s name uttered everywhere, in towns and villages, in monasteries and on mountains? Search diligently, if you will, and find out whether anyone keeps His commandments.

Symeon, with fearful conviction, speculates about just how deep is human ingratitude. It is one thing that humanity should prefer the immediate, terrestrial blessings to the eschatological, supernal blessings. After all, the one is grasped by the senses and the intellect (if one is keenly perceptive), while the other is grasped only by faith and only in the spirit. Yet humanity is not even appropriately thankful for those earthly blessings it receives. Being more richly blessed than the demons—infinitely so—in this life, humans typically have a disposition no better than evil spirits. It raises doubts about whether or not humanity truly can be grateful for the eternal gifts which were bequeathed to it in the Incarnation since humans cannot seem to begin to show appropriate thanksgiving for the blessings which are experienced now.

Symeon suggests that the truest act of thanksgiving is obedience, which in turn mediates more blessings to creation. If he were alive today, would he still find that our thanksgiving exists “only in words?” Would he still say, “Among thousands and myriads you will scarcely find one who is a Christian both in word and in act.”

Monday, November 22, 2010

Texts on Thanksgiving: Peter of Damascus

Here is a text from Peter of Damascus, A Treasury of Divine Knowledge:

The purpose of what we say in our prayers is as follows. The thanksgiving is in recognition of our incapacity to offer thanksgiving as we should at this present moment, of our negligence in doing so at other times, and of the fact that the present moment is a gift of God's grace.

The prayers offered by the monks in Peter's day always began with a thanksgiving. This thanksgiving, according to Peter, was not so much a genuine fulfillment of humanity's duty to be grateful to God. In fact, it functioned first and foremost as a reminder that people cannot be truly thankful as they should. Whether it be sin or merely ignorance that prevents people from truly recognizing all that God does for His children, the gratitude offered God is never sufficient. It overlooks things that God has done and continues to do. Even if humanity were able to recognize every grace conferred to humanity, people could still not thank God adequately since every moment it would be necessary to thank God merely for the gift of being itself.

Peter recognizes that beneath every thanksgiving offered to God should be implicit remorse and recognition that it is never enough. Do we deceive ourselves into believing our gratitude is sufficient?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Texts on Thanksgiving: John Chrysostom

On Sunday morning, it seems appropriate that the text should come from perhaps the preeminent preacher in all of Christian history. This is from John Chrysostom's 15th Homily, a sermon regarding the martyrdom of Stephen:

None, I repeat, will be able to harm us, unless we harm ourselves; nor will any make me poor, unless I make myself such. For come, let us look at it in this way. Suppose that I have a beggarly soul, and let all lavish all their substance upon me, what of that? So long as the soul is not changed, it is all in vain. Suppose I have a noble soul, and let all men take from me my substance: what of that? So long as you do not make the soul beggarly, no harm is done…And why say I these things? None will ever be able to plot against us, nor lay us under any evil charge, if we choose (that they shall not). For how now, I ask you? Let him drag me into a court of justice, let him lay vexatious informations, let him, if you will, have the very soul out of me: and what of that? for a little while, undeservedly to suffer these things, what does it signify? “Well, but this,” say you, “is of itself an evil.” Well, but of itself this is a good, to suffer undeservedly.

what is a man injured, when from death itself he has got great gain, not merely no hurt? If indeed the man had been immortal, and this made him mortal, no doubt it would be a hurt: but if he be mortal, and in the course of nature must expect death a little later, and his enemy has but expedited his death, and glory with it, what is the harm? Let us but have our soul in good order, and there will be no harm from without. But thou art not in a condition of glory? And what of that? That which is true of wealth, the same holds for glory: if I be magnanimous I shall need none; if vainglorious, the more I get, the more I shall want. In this way shall I most become illustrious, and obtain greater glory; namely, if I despise glory. Knowing these things, let us be thankful to Him Who hath freely given us such a life, and let us ensue it unto His glory; for to Him belongs the glory, forever. Amen.

This text responds to the question of whether or not Stephen losses anything by virtue of being martyred. The preacher answers that persecutors took nothing from Stephen when was of any enduring worth. He was, after all, mortal to begin with. His life was not something he possessed; it was something he was slated to give up eventually anyway. Moreover, in dying Stephen found much more than he lost, embraced as he was by the eternal glory of God. Instead of depriving him of his life, Stephen’s murderers had ironically initiated him into Life. No matter how hard anyone may try to deprive Christians of anything, John Chrysostom reminds his listeners, so long as they have their priorities rightly ordered then their true treasure is invincible. It is for this that the preacher urges his audience to be grateful, that God should so love them as to give them a hope of life which can never be taken from them. They have an unassailable promise for future glory that of which trial, persecution, and even death cannot deprive them.

How often are we grateful when we are given that for which we ask? John reminds his readers that the greatest gift of God was that for which we did not ask, which we did not deserve, but which God took the initiative to grant us nonetheless.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Texts on Thanksgiving: Cyprian and the Roman Martyrs

This text is from a letter of Cyprian to those awaiting martyrdom in Rome:

Cyprian to the martyrs and confessors in Christ our Lord and in God the Father, everlasting salvation. I gladly rejoice and am thankful, most brave and blessed brethren, at hearing of your faith and virtue, wherein the Church, our Mother, glories. Lately, indeed, she gloried, when, in consequence of an enduring confession, that punishment was undergone which drove the confessors of Christ into exile; yet the present confession is so much the more illustrious and greater in honour as it is braver in suffering. The combat has increased, and the glory of the combatants has increased also. Nor were you kept back from the struggle by fear of tortures, but by the very tortures themselves you were more and more stimulated to the conflict; bravely and firmly you have returned with ready devotion, to contend in the extremest contest.

From the response of the Roman clergy on behalf of those suffering:

In which matter we ought to give you also, and we do give you, abundant thanks, that you have brightened the darkness of their prison by your letters; that you came to them in whatever way you could enter; that you refreshed their minds, robust in their own faith and confession, by your addresses and letters; that, following up their felicities with worthy praises, you have inflamed them to a much more ardent desire of heavenly glory; that you urged them forward; that you animated, by the power of your discourse, those who, as we believe and hope, will be victors by and by; so that although all may seem to come from the faith of those who confess, and from the divine mercy, yet they seem in their martyrdom to have become in some sort debtors to you.

In these complimenting passages we see an overflowing of thanksgiving from those who are perhaps least in a place to be grateful. Cyprian thanks God for the martyrs, not necessarily because they are being forced to suffer but because they are a true witness in their suffering. Cyprian is grateful to be associated with so powerful a testimony to the power of God’s goodness as those who would suffer willingly for the truth. He would follow their example at the end of his life. In turn, the martyrs echo Cyprian’s gratitude with overwhelming gratitude of their own. When darkness begins to creep up on them in their cells awaiting torment and death, they are grateful to be part of a community that glories in them and stands behind them unto death. Even when they are most isolated - separated from society, hidden away from their families, and condemned to death - they are never truly alone. They are part of a community, a heavenly body from which they cannot be separated by earthly means. They are sustained by the gratitude of their Christian family and they reciprocate by sustaining others with that same spirit of thanksgiving.

When the community of faith was still very much struggling in its infancy, Cyprian and the martyrs are abundantly thankful to part of the body of Christ. How often do we take it for granted?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Texts on Thanksgiving: Mark the Ascetic

The following text is from St. Mark the Ascetic's letter to Nicolas the Solitary:

Try, then, to remember unceasingly all the blessings that have been given to you by God. In particular, always keep in mind that miraculous grace which you told us He conferred on you when you were sailing with your mother from the Holy Land to Constantinople. Recall the terrifying and uncontrollable violence of the storm that broke on you during the night, and how everyone in thye ship, including the crew and your mother herself, perished in the sea; and how by an incredible acdt of divine power you and two others alone were thrown clear of the wreck and escaped. Remember how you came providentially to Ankyra, and how, with fatherly compassion, you were given hospitatlity by a certain freeman, and became friends with his devout son Epiphanios. Then both of you under the guidance of a holy man, entered on the path of salvation and were received as true sons of by the servants of

What repayment for all these blessings can you possibly make to Him who has called your soul to eternal life? It is only right, then, that you should live no longer for yourself, but for Christ, who died for your sake and rose again. in your struggle to acquire every virtue and to fulfill every commandment, always seek "the good, acceptable and perfect will of God," endeavoring with all your strength to pursue it.

From this brief passage, we can gather that Nicolas, the letter's addresee, sometime in his past was returning home from a pilgramage to the Holy Land. During the course of his return voyage, the ship was overtaken by a violent storm that killed most of the crew, most of the passengers, and Nicolas' own mother. Nicolas himself was thrown adrift at sea and eventually washed up at Ankyra. Yet for all this, Mark insists that Nicolas should be thankful, not only generally - as if it were some default disposition in spite of the circumstances - but particularly about this miraculous grace above all others. Why? Because Nicolas emerged from this harrowing ordeal a better person, a reformed person, a true son of God.

Mark saw providence working for the benefit of God's people even in their trials. Do we reserve our gratitude for blessings which conform to our expectations?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


In honor of this, my one hundreth entry, I present the top ten quotes of the previous ninety-nine entries:

10) David Lipscomb from The Wisdom of David Lipscomb. As tempting as it was to quote Lipscomb on the question of civil government or pacifism (issues about which I feel strongly), this quote is infintely more compelling to me.

And it may be set down as a truth that all reformations that propose to stop short of a full surrender of the soul, mind, and body up to God, are of the devil.

9) Bill Burton from Muslims: Do They EVER Pray?. I have comment on a number of obscenely stupid news articles, and this quote typifies them all.

The president is obviously a Christian. He prays every day.

8) Symeon the New Theologian from An Earnest Prayer For Taking the Eucharist. It is hard for me to read this and not think that I am missing something every Sunday morning when I pass the Lord's Supper down the aisle.

You have vouchsafed me, O Lord, that this corruptible temple, my human flesh, should be united to your holy flesh, that my blood should be mingled with yours, and henceforth I am your transparent and translucent member. I am transported out of myself. I see myself such as I am to become. Fearful and at the same time ashamed of myself I venerate you and tremble before you.

7) G. K. Chesterton from The Wisdom of G. K. Chesterton (Excursus 1). Chesterton, among other things, revolutionized the way I thought about love. His was by no means the only voice as I began to reconsider how I understood the affirmation that God is love, but his was very likely the initial voice. These are a pair of related quotes to illustrate his points.

Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.

A man's friend likes him but leaves him as he is: his wife loves him and is always trying to turn him into somebody else.

6) David Bentley Hart from Recommendation: Atheist Delusions. The full quote--and for that matter, the entire book--is very enlightening, but in the interest of brevity, I will include only the introduction.

There is, after all, nothing inherently reasonable in the conviction that all of reality is simply an accidental confluence of physical causes, without any transcendent source or end. Materialism is not a fact of experience or a deduction of logic; it is a metaphysical prejudice, nothing more, and one that is arguably more irrational than almost any other.

5) Georges Florovsky from The Wisdom of Georges Florovsky. This opinion of the role of history in theology (particularly in churhces like the Orthodox Church) stands in stark and refreshing contrast with the lifeless formalism and repitition which is at least the stereotype of so many tradition oriented churches.

This call to 'go back' to the Fathers can be easily misunderstood. It does not mean a return to the letter of patristic documents...What is really meant and required is not a blind or servile imitation and repetition but rather a further development of this patristic teaching, both homogeneous and congenial. We have to kindle again the creative fire of the Fathers, to restore in ourselves the patristic spirit.

4) Rene Descartes from Descartes, Unexpected. It was hard to choose a single quote about the foolishness of using logic to limit God, but Descartes stands out as something of a surprising (at least to me) spokesman for the "irrational" position.

The mathematical truths which you call eternal have been laid down by God and depend on him entirely no less than the rest of his creatures...In general we can assert that God can do everything that is beyond our grasp but not that he cannot do what is beyond our grasp. It would be rash to think that our imagination reaches as far as his power.

3) Vladimir Lossky from The God of the Square-Circle. No less than the inability of logic to limit God, the limits which reason imposes on human knowledge have enticed me. It would be easier, and perhaps more appropriate, to cite a fourteenth century hesychast on this point, but Lossky sums it up nicely nevertheless.

The only rational notion which we can have of God will still be that of His incomprehensibility. Consequently, theology must be not so much a quest of positive notions about the divine being as an experience which surpasses all understanding.

2) James A. Garfield from A Sentiment Plagarized from James A. Garfield's Journal, June 14, 1853. This quote, while seemingly devoid of content, expresses shockingly well my attitude about the way I have spent the better part of the last two years.

I sit down to insult my journal by making a few senseless marks upon its page – merely stating that this day shared the fate of its predecessors, and perhaps brought no more to pass.

1) Helmut Thielicke from The Wisdom of Helmut Thielicke. This quote takes precedence for me over all others I have posted because, as much as the previous quote described my actual experience, this quote describes what I continue to hope for in pursuing theology as an occupation, as a obsession, as an act of devotion to God.

Theological thinking can and ought to grip a man like a passion.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Language and the Corruption of Meaning

It is interesting (which is, in this particular context, a euphemistic way of saying “tragic”) the way the dynamic and cultural nature of language can completely transform the meaning of words. Specifically it is “interesting” how Christians have been able to constantly reinterpret the Bible and the rich theology therein—at times under the conscious aegis of contemporary contextualization but more often entirely unconsciously and thus uncritically—with a ceaselessly shifting cultural lexicon. Words which have a very specific meaning have crossed time and language, arriving at the present only semantically equal to the original with the meaning totally lost. The form persists while the function is obscured. There would be little cause for alarm if, as many seem to think, the problem could be solved merely by opening a dictionary of ancient words. In truth, the dictionary only compounds the problem: explaining ancient words with modern glosses or, at best, drawing tenuous parallels to modern concepts.

That is perhaps all too vague to be much of a complaint. An example: Vladimir Lossky has suggested to some acclaim that the formula “one substance in three persons” has been corrupted by the modern understanding of personality. Speaking of the Father, Son, and Spirit as “persons” was filtered (and thus altered) immediately into Latin where the term carried with it a connotation of “mask” that is entirely absent in the Greek. The concept was further altered in the West as culture embraced a radical form of humanism in the Renaissance and, even more dramatically, in the Enlightenment. Western culture (and this embraces the Eastern Church) now understands the person in terms of radical individualism, the thing which makes the “me” actually “me” and not “you.” Contemporary culture lacks not only the appropriate language to speak about the hypostases of God but lacks the appropriate concepts to grasp the personhood in theology. The solution for generally embraced in theological discourse is to abandon the corrupted terms (something that the preceding sentence demonstrates that I am guilty of as well). Instead of the three “persons,” English theology reverts to a transliterated form of the Greek: “hypostasis.” This by no means solves the problem. Simply changing the word to more nearly resemble the original does not automatically attach to it the original concepts. Even as theologians strain to unravel the mystery of the original terminology, how the ancients conceived of hypostases is continually colored by how moderns conceive of personhood. In its extreme form, this tendency produces literature like The Shack where God is depicted as three people with different voices, different senses of humor, different tasks, and different interests, in short, different personalities. This, for Lossky and later for David Bentley Hart, represents a fundamental reversal of the way conceptual transformation ought to work. Christians are constantly allowing the changes in the concepts conveyed by language to alter the original concepts: modern personhood explains theological personhood. Hart suggests that rather than altering the language (i.e. using “hypostasis” instead of “person”), people ought to be rethinking the concept of modern personhood. A true understanding of theological personhood ought to have radical effects on how Christians conceptualize human personhood. In the most basic terms possible, instead of thinking that God is persons in the way humans are persons, people ought to understand how they are persons by thinking about how God is persons.

The problem is not restricted to the esoteric fields of theology proper and anthropology, nor is that my primary concern in arguing this point. In fact, the specific problem which is the catalyst for this thought was actually inspired in part (heaven help me) by the pope and in part by the Jars of Clay song, “Love Song for a Savior.” The pope, several weeks ago, warned a group of children that the “love” which was being peddled on the Internet and in popular culture was not really love at all. I agree, but, while the pope may recognize (at least in speeches) that “love” as expressed in the contemporary idiom is not love in the true sense, in the Christian sense, the secular definition of love has crept into our religious thought and corrupted our understanding of love as God intends it or as the biblical authors mean it. Case and point is the aforementioned Jars of Clay song, the first verse of which describes a girl in a rosy haze thanking Jesus for flowers, running into his arms, and singing over and over: “I want to fall in love with you.” This picture of “true love” is contrasted to those people who sit in church and ignore the sermon. Someday, they too will sing the young girl’s chorus: “I want to fall in love with you…my heart beats for you.”

It could not be more evident (to me at least) that this is a clear permeation of the secular idea of love into what ought to be a truer, more theologically sound conception of love. Jars of Clay is by no means the lone, or even the most egregious, offender. This idea of Christians “loving” Jesus and God “loving” us has seeped into our hymnography, into Christian pop music, into sermons, and into the popular consciousness. The idea is pervasive that the way God loves mirrors in some way the sentimentality of the contemporary understanding of love and that we should, therefore, reciprocate that “love” in kind. The statement “I love Jesus” is more likely to denote nothing more than a positive affection for the Savior than it is to suggest any concrete reality that aligns itself with biblical or historical theological perspectives on love. The affirmation that God loves us is likewise diluted beyond the point of substantial meaning such that God might just as easily be caricatured as our Heavenly Father who carries pictures of all His children in his wallet.

It may be alarmist of me, but I would suggest that the contemporary contextualization (which is, in this particular context, a euphemistic way of saying “rape”) of the meaning of “love” is the root of a number of significant theological problems. I wonder, for example, if the “faith alone” mentality which understands faith as the mere desire of Jesus to “come into my heart” is possible with a more concrete, less romantic view of what it is to love God and be loved by Him. More certainly, this false idea of love stands behind the overwhelming majority of objections to Christianity which begin, “How can a loving God” and end with a description of behavior which we would never permit from our spouses or relatives or friends—as if that were some kind of objective measure of love. Still more troubling are the manifold “loveless” marriages that people are stuck in. Love, rightly considered, is not something that is fallen into our fallen out of so much as it is something which the lover consciously chooses to express to the beloved through certain behaviors and dispositions. If God could fall out of love with humanity, then we would all be quite doomed. For just this reason, I object to the language of Jars of Clay about wanting to “fall in love” with Jesus, not—as with Dr. John Stackhouse—because it gives me the “homoerotic creeps” but because loving Jesus is not something which I fall into anymore than love (properly so-called) is something which I fall into with my wife.

The problem is not, as I said, so much with the words. We have preserved the right language. God should be spoken of as three persons and our basic stance toward Him ought to be described as love. The problem is the direction of meaning transformation for our words. Rather than allowing love rightly understood through divine guidance to determine how we ought to love both God and neighbor, we allow how we love apart from divine guidance to influence what we think is expected of us in the greatest commands. Human personhood ought to be defined relative to divine personhood, and human love ought to be define relative to divine love. In reversing these, our “contemporary contextualization” of meaning has led us into an unbelievably “interesting” modern problem.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

I enjoy the fact that unfaithful spouses sometimes give each other AIDS and die.

Do you know what drives me crazy? People who hate homosexuals.

This has been a long standing sentiment, but this particular thought was sparked by an incident that occurred recently in Arkansas (where, I am proud to say, I received much of my fine edjumication). The Huffington Post (I know, but bear with me) posted this report:

An Arkansas School Board member recently launched an inflammatory anti-gay tirade on Facebook that ran the gamut from basic bigoted slurs, to encouraging "f*gs" to commit suicide and announcing that he'd disown his own children if they were gay.

My initial thought was to wonder just what kind of "tirade" this was and whether or not the report was just more media sensationalism. But no. Here is quote from Clint McCance himself:

"Seriously they want me to wear purple because five queers killed themselves. The only way im wearin it for them is if they all commit suicide. I cant believe the people of this world have gotten this stupid. We are honoring the fact that they sinned and killed thereselves because of their sin. REALLY PEOPLE."

In this quote really lies my major problem with people like this. For some reason, there are people in this world who think that sin is a justification for hate, which is ironic since that hate they are seeking to justify is itself a sin. It isn't every sin of course, because then there would be a lot of self-hatred (though I suspect there is). It's only homosexuality. Liars we'll forgive. Lechers we'll forgive. If you're Andre Leonard you'll even readily forgive pederasts. But if you are a homosexual, then for McCance you ought to commit suicide and for Leonard you ought to get AIDS.

It isn't even simply the fact that this view is misguided which really bothers me the most. After all, a lot of people are misguided (going on seven billion). What drives me up a wall is that people like Leonard, McCance, and Phelps make it that much harder for people to operate in a position of responsible Christian ethics, which includes both moral purity and love. I cannot adhere to the belief that God intends for sexuality to be expressed exclusively in heterosexual marriages without having attached to that position images of foul mouthed picketers and grammatically incorrect tirades. (Incidentally, was anyone else really concerned that a school board member used the term "thereselves?") People are driven by those images to the opposite extreme, which says that homosexual behavior must somehow be morally admissible because to think otherwise is to be a backward, hateful bigot.

It leaves me (and certainly countless other Christians) in the position of wanting to suggest that homosexual behavior is a sin that should be corrected but being unable to do so without having read into that suggestion more than is really there. I can say that marital infidelity is wrong. I can say that premarital sex is wrong. I can say that polygamy is wrong. But to say that homosexuality is wrong is to open yourself to a wealth or largely inapplicable criticism.

It is perhaps intrinsic to my position that it should not have a loud voice and therefore should be steamrolled by the cacophonous interchange of more boisterous positions, but I would just like to state for the record that I believe that:

  • God intends sex to be between one man and one woman in the confines of a single marriage for the duration of a lifetime.
  • Deviation from that divine intent is sinful.
  • It is morally irresponsible to acquiesce to sin.

In contrast, I do not believe that:

  • Homosexuality is more sinful than the sins which I struggle to overcome.
  • Grace is insufficient to cover homosexuality.
  • Sin in any way absolves Christians of showing the full extent of their love to one another.

On that last point, I would add that I do not:

  • Want homosexuals to kill themselves.
  • Hope that homosexuals get AIDS and die.
  • Believe that God is killing American soldiers as punishment for homosexuality. (At the risk of being inflammatory, it seems to me that if anything, dying at war is a natural - and somewhat obvious - punishment for being at war.)

And while I know that there are many who do not share my clearly superhuman ability to divorce my sexual ethics convictions from politics, I will also add that I think it is directly contrary to the basic principles on which the American government was founded that:

  • Homosexuals should be denied the civil benefits afforded to heterosexual couples.
  • Homosexuals should be discharged from the military because their sexual preference has been revealed.
  • Homosexuals should be discriminated against in any way in the public sphere on the basis of their sexual proclivities.

Take that for what it is worth, but I cannot help being frustrated that on the basis of the above affirmations that I should be lumped into the same category - even broadly - as people like this:

I like that f*gs cant procreate. I also enjoy the fact that they often give each other aids and die. If you arent against it, you might as well be for it.

I am against "it" but no more than I am against people like you, Clint McCance.

Friday, November 5, 2010

And now, a public service announcement from the Pope and Patriarch:

The month of October saw two interesting announcements from, arguably, the world’s two most influential spiritual leaders.

On Saturday October 30th, the pope, the spiritual head of over one billion Christians, spoke to 100,000 Catholic children assembled from all corners of Italy in St. Peter’s Square. The seems to have had a number of lighter moments when the pope reminisced about his childhood, his dreams, and the desire to be taller. There was, however, a darker side to his speech, one which was tinged with no small amount of fear. Pope Benedict XVI urged the children to be wary of the kind of love that is peddled on the Internet and in the media. That kind of love is “incapable of chastity and purity,” and encourages people to “get used to love that's reduced to merchandise for barter.” The pope promised children that embracing the image of love which is propagated in popular culture would lead ultimately to unhappiness.

Certainly the pope’s message is not without merit. The pornographic paradigm for love that is uncritically received by everyone, not merely children, from popular culture (especially the Internet) stands in desperate need of correction. It does, however, seem strangely inappropriate for the pope to be warning people about love received from the Internet when what most people fear, in fact, is the kind of love being received in Belgian churches. Aged though the pope may be, he could hardly have let the matter of the hundreds of reported cases of sexual abuse perpetrated on children by his priests. After all, the Vatican had just summarily denied those abuse victims the right to hold a rally in St. Peter’s Square. It is perhaps unfortunate that the pope should be preoccupied with the troubles of a post-Christian culture when his own eye is plagued with an even more burdensome plank of patently unChristian behavior.

A little over a week earlier, the Ecumenical Patriarch - spiritual spokesman of a meager and curiously obscure three hundred million Christians - wrote an article for CNN in which he addressed issues of the Christian duty to the environment. In it he expresses the strongly positive message that creation has a unitive effect which transcends doctrinal differences, even between atheists and Christians. This world is entrusted to humanity, either through divine prerogative or through simple circumstance. Regardless, concern for the environment has a truly universal appeal and thus the ability to truly universally unite humanity in action toward a positive goal. Whatever elements of fear appeared in the course of Patriarch Bartholomew's message were tempered with a hope: "We are optimistic about turning the tide; quite simply because we are optimistic about humanity's potential. Let us not simply respond in principle; let us respond in practice. Let us listen to one another; let us work together; let us offer the earth an opportunity to heal so that it will continue to nurture us."

There is a great deal to commend the Patriarch's message. Specifically noteworthy is the positive theology which he presents to justify his environmentalism:

Nature is a book, opened wide for all to read and to learn, to savor and celebrate. It tells a unique story; it unfolds a profound mystery; it relates an extraordinary harmony and balance, which are interdependent and complementary. The way we relate to nature as creation directly reflects the way we relate to God as creator.

The sensitivity with which we handle the natural environment clearly mirrors the sacredness that we reserve for the divine. We must treat nature with the same awe and wonder that we reserve for human beings.

Creation is no less a work of the Creator than human beings are, whatever dispositional distinctions we make between humanity and creation relative to the divine. This earth is no less God's handiwork, and the respect which Christians in particular show for it reveals the respect we have for God's work.

The Patriarch's statement was not without detractors, members of the Orthodox community who for one reason or another met the article with palpable scorn. Some comments are beneath notice (e.g. "If he continues on this path I would not be surprised if, a couple of years from now, we’ll hear from the EP that Salvation will come through some UFO saviors") except perhaps for the purpose of gentle mockery, but other comments have some legitimacy. The Patriarch quite clearly did not get the memo that much of the scientific literature on global warming has been challenged (though notably vindicated within its own circles). More importantly, the question is raised as to whether or not this is the appropriate focus for the Ecumenical patriarch. Certainly no one would deny that environmental ethics is out of bounds for religious discussion, but is it really the place of the Ecumenical Patriarch with all his duties and responsibilities to weigh in on hot button political issues? Consider, for example, this accusation:

Most disturbing however is the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s subordination of human freedom to the fashionable fundamentalism of the environmental movement. Orthodox Christians have not forgotten the 2004 visit of Patriarch Bartholomew to Havana that saw His All Holiness praise Fidel Castro as an environmentalist while showing indifference to the regime’s laundry list of crimes and personally neglecting Cuba’s dissidents. How is it that the souls imprisoned by one of history’s great butchers are not worthy of pastoral concern?

More crucially, the Patriarch bestowed on the communist leader the Order of St. Andrew in a move which greatly angered many Orthodox worldwide. Yet the Patriarch action was justified - as part of his explanation for his entire visit - thus: "[the Patriarch comes] bringing the same message that Jesus Christ brought 2,000 years ago. It’s the same message of peace, the message of reconciliation.” The church the Patriarch had come to consecrate had been paid for in part by a Cuban government that has been increasingly tolerant in its religious policy.

One may rightly ask if peace and reconciliation are the appropriate course, just as one could easily argue that the pope gains nothing by dwelling on the sex abuse scandal. Yet, it is hard to avoid the feeling that, in a time when the community of faith is truly in dire need of spiritual leadership, Christian leaders of the highest order are two engrossed with personal denial and pet projects to respond to the needs of the people. Then again, if they could get their act together, would Christians even still listen?