Thursday, April 29, 2010

Immutability: You're Doing it Wrong

I recently read a pair of articles for work that concerned prayer and the immutability of God. Each undertook to answer the question: “If God is immutable, in what sense does he answer our prayers?” Reed Lessing (“Pastor, Does God Really Respond to My Prayers?”) opposes the doctrines of classical theism to open theism on the question of God’s immutability and inclines in favor of open theism. In his opinion, a dynamic God, a God who can be changed by our prayers, is greater than the static God of classical theism. Without abandoning completely classical conceptions of God, Lessing (citing Bruce Ware) proposes that we posit a relational mutability in God which will allow Him to be responsive to our prayers. “Constancy is, therefore, a better description for God as opposed to unbending immutability,” in his opinion.

William D. Barrick (“The Openness of God: Does Prayer Change God?”) takes the opposite approach, concluding that prayer actually changes the petitioner, not God. Anything which God appears to have done in response to human petition is merely something that He had predetermined to do all along. God’s supremacy positively forbids any suggestion that He might be mutable and thus susceptible to persuasion by our prayers. Barrick concludes, “Indeed, if man is capable of changing the mind of God, then it might be argued that man knows more about governing this world than God.”

So which author is correct? Neither. They are both wrong and not simply in the conclusions they draw (since both opinions appear to be solidly rooted in the biblical evidence that each marshaled to his defense). More importantly, they haven’t even asked the right question, so it should be expected that they cannot come to a conclusive answer. In those much beloved (at least by me) words of Hans van Campenhausen: “It is the wrong question to ask, and therefore, as one might expect, has no right answer.”

These men, and countless others before them, have artificially integrated the question of whether or not God answers prayers with the theological concept of immutability. In fact, God’s immutability can be accepted or (if one is so inclined) rejected completely apart from what one decides about God’s response to our prayers. In fact, I am of the opinion that God is both immutable and receptive to our prayers, a position which both men would undoubtedly consider self-refuting. But why?

God is immutable in that He does not change, and, defined that way, it is understandable that people should then extrapolate that God is immutable in that He does not change what He has predetermined to do. Unfortunately that confuses a change in what God will do with a change in who God is. God does not grow, does not learn, is never added to, or subtracted from, and in this sense He is unchanging. The immutability of God found critical use in the fourth century trinitarian controversies as a defense against the Arian belief that there was when the Son was not. If there was a time when there was no Son, then there was a time when God was not Father. He was lacking in that key attribute of his nature. Since God can never be said to have been lacking in anything, the Son must always have been with the Father.

Regardless of whether or not you accept that logic for the Son’s co-eternality, it assumes an understanding of immutability that is ultimately concerned with protecting God from any accusation of deficiency, or capability of acquiring deficiency. If God is said to grow, then there was a time when God was not yet fully formed. If God is said to learn, there was a time when God was in some respect ignorant. If God is said to be added to or subtracted from, then there was a time when God was deficient. Suggestions such as these were intolerable to early Christians (and to me for that matter), and thus immutability becomes an inviolable part of God’s character.

It would be an abuse of the above doctrine, it should be fairly obvious, to suggest that to give to humanity when He is asked is to somehow violate the immutability of God and require that He is changing. Just the opposite, the changes which are often seen in Scripture as a result of human petition are an affirmation of what we believe to be the consistent nature of God. In Amos 7, for example, each time God promises calamity for His people and relents of that decision at Amos’ pleading, those changes (and they are real changes in God’s activity) are not changes in who God is. They reveal who God is, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. No less, when He refuses to relent, that shows forth His just character in no way betraying His former “repentance.” That God is responsive to the human condition is an essential aspect of God’s character, one that thankfully cannot change. It is indispensable to the personal character of God (and we do believe that God is God-in-three-persons).

For my part, I see the position of “classical” theism (gross as that misnomer is) that rejects God’s receptiveness to human petition as a perverse form of deism. Instead of the world being a watch that the Watchmaker has set in motion and left to run, God is Himself a watch that He has set and allowed to run, totally unreceptive, totally unresponsive. God becomes no better than an impersonal object which we futilely hope will respond to our needs, like insane people trying to have a conversation with a rock.

The solution is not, however, to throw immutability out with the bathwater. The question of immutability simply has nothing to do with whether or not God answers our prayers. Tying the two together does little more than betray the manifest stupidity of the modern theologian, or at least the historical ignorance. As a concluding analogy – and certainly a flawed one, as all analogies drawn between God and the imagers of God are – let me pose this question: if I am driving home with my wife, and she asks me if we can stop at the grocery story instead of going straight home, do I cease to be me by changing our course? I submit that who I am includes receptivity to my wife’s needs, not just as an accident of my human mutability but as an essential expression of my character. Only when I am no longer in any way receptive to the desires of my wife have I truly and irrevocably changed.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Recommendation: Atheist Delusions

David Bentley Hart's Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies is undeniably the most provocative book that I have ever read. His evaluation of the present in view of his adroit reconstruction of history has revolutionized the way I view the sweeping movements of history and the status of modern man. Here is a sample that I hope will commend the book to you:

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. In general, the unalterably convinced materialist is a kind of childishly complacent fundamentalist, so fervently, unreflectively, and rapturously committed to the materialist vision of reality that if he or she should encounter any problem -- logical or experiential -- that might call its premises into question, or even merely encounter a limit beyond which those premises lose their explanatory power, he or she is simply unable to recognize it. Richard Dawkins is a perfect example; he does not hesitate, for instance, to claim that "natural selection is the ultimate explanation for our existence." But this is a silly assertion and merely reveals that Dawkins does not understand the words he is using. The question of existence does not concern how it is that the present arrangement of the world came about, from causes already internal to the world, but how it is that anything (including any cause) can exist at all. This question Darwin and Wallace never addressed, nor were ever so hopelessly confused as to think they had. It is a question that no theoretical or experimental science could ever answer, for it is qualitatively different from the kind of questions that the physical sciences are competent to address. Even if theoretical physics should one day discover the most basic laws upon which the fabric of space and time is woven, or evolutionary biology the most elementary phylogenic forms of terrestrial life, or palaeontology an utterly seamless genealogy of every species, still we shall not have thereby drawn one inch nearer to a solution of the mystery of existence. No matter how fundamental or simple the level reached by the scientist -- protoplasm, amino acids, molecules, subatomic particles, quantum events, unified physical laws, a primordial singularity, mere logical possibilities -- existence is something else altogether. Even the simplest of things, and even the most basic of principle, must first of all be, and nothing within the universe of contingent things (nor even the universe itself, even if it were somehow "eternal") can be intelligibly conceived of as the source or explanation of its own being...

...One can, I imagine, consider the nature of reality with genuine probity and conclude that the material order is all that is. One can also, however, and with perhaps better logic, conclude that materialism is a grossly incoherent superstition; that the strict materialist is something of a benighted and pitiable savage, blinded by an irrational commitment to a logically impossible position; and that every "primitive" who looks at the world about him and wonders what god has made it is a profounder thinker than the convinced atheist who would dismiss such question as infantile.

Reading Titus with John Chrysostom (1:5-11)

John's second homily on Titus addresses 1:5-11, the qualifications for elders:

The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer is entrusted with God's work, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain. (NIV)

It should be noted that by John's time the episcopacy has been established for at least three centuries, so that these verses are understood exclusively in episcopal terms. I have used various titles to refer to church leaders below, but it should always be understood that John sees these passages as addressing bishops.

The text of the homily can be found here.

From God Be the Glory

“Retire from the earth, and look to that theater that is in Heaven.”

I found it somewhat ironic that in his exposition on a passage of scripture which gives a man (Titus) the means by which to judge the character of other men (potential elders) John should find the occasions to so vehemently reject the notion that Christians ought to care about the judgments of men. Upon further reflection, however, it seemed quite appropriate if the list of qualifications given is understood not as the human means of judging character but instead God’s. What is presented in Titus is God’s rubric for the character of a man, and that is the only judgment the Christian should consider.

For John there is nothing “so tyrannical, [and] so universally prevalent,” as the wanton pursuit of glory, i.e. human accolades. John sees in his congregation and in the hearts of all men the tendency to act primarily so that others will see and applaud our good works. The glory which is acquired is, nevertheless, utterly worthless. “…human glory is empty, and an imitation of glory; it is not true glory.” Only glory which is from God is true glory, and seeking that glory, according to John, is the only way to overcome the temptations of vainglory.

“When in doing any good thou considerst that it ought to be displayed to men, and thou seekest for some spectators of the action, and art in travail to be seen, reflect that God beholds thee, and all that desire will be extinguished. Retire from the earth, and look to that theater that is in Heaven. If men should praise thee, yet hereafter they will blame thee, will envy thee, will assail thy character; or if they do not yet their praise will not benefit thee. It is not so with God.”

When this true glory from God is understood as the real aim of our virtuous deeds and is sought accordingly, the praise which is received from men becomes meaningless in comparison. Thus, John exhorts us to become “as those who desire gold, but receive clay.” Whatever praise is given by men is to glory from God what dirt is to the most precious material man can imagine.

Having God as the sole judge, living according to His standards, comes at a price. God, who is always watching when a good deed is performed, sees every evil, even the “hidden” evil deep within the heart. For the pious, this is good news, for “thou obtainest glory for thy piety. If thou art truly pious, and conscious of no guilt, thou shouldest rejoice, not because thou are reputed pious, but because thou art so.” On the other hand, “if while conscious of guilt, thou art supposed by all to be pure, instead of rejoicing, thou shouldest grieve and mourn bitterly, keeping constantly in view that Day, in which all things will be revealed, in which the hidden things of darkness will be brought to light.” If God alone is judge, then the need to be pious becomes more important than the need to be seen being pious. If God alone is judge, it is more critical that one avoids being impious than that one avoids being seen to be impious. For this reason, John exhorts “Let us cast away the sheep’s clothing, and rather become sheep.”

In reading a text on the virtue of the leaders of the church, John sees the perfect opportunity (and perhaps justly so) to remind his congregants that the glory which is afforded to the great men of the church is from God alone. Whatever judgments are made in the selection of leaders and whatever honor is accorded to them because of their apparent virtues, the true judgment rests in the hands of God. The best that can be done here and now is to judge ourselves in view of what God requires of us, to find joy in the knowledge that He rejoices in our virtues and to be shamed by the fact that He will make known our vices.

Prescription for Christians from Descriptions of Elders

The elders being selected in Titus 1 are undoubtedly intended to be the pillars of the church, the cream of the crop, so to speak. What Paul offers is a list of qualifications that seem largely descriptive (though they are undoubtedly commands to Titus to select such men). John, however, sees in these ideal descriptions the grounds for which to make a number of practical assertions about everyday life for Christians.

The command that the elder should have only one wife is for John a tacit affirmation of the sanctity of marriage. In a modern context that does not seem all that crucial, but in early Christian times as far back as the New Testament, the question of the validity of marriage in God’s plan was widely questioned. Here, John goes further than many other authors who merely accept marriage either as permissible or inevitable. He declares that “it is not an unholy thing in itself, but so far honorable, that a married man might ascend the holy throne.” Leaders, and therefore all men, should have a high regard for marriage. Entering into a single marriage and never a second shows the high regard for one’s wife that Christ has had for his bride, the church.

John also has a word for absentee fathers based on the section relative to the orderly behavior of an elder’s children. Apparently, as is still the case, there were fathers in ancient times who were “occupied in the pursuit of wealth” such that they had “made [their] children a secondary concern, and not bestowed much care upon them…” This neglect is unacceptable to John, as it should be, and he places the sins of the children on the heads of the fathers (a nice reversal of biblical imagery). “Sins are not so prevalent by nature, as to overcome so much previous care,” John speculates. If fathers would dedicate sufficient time and offer adequate instruction, their children would not be delinquents. A father has not only a great length of time, but the force of laws and nature to inculcate virtue into his children. He must take responsibility for that.

Finally, John has advice for rulers of any sort, advice which seems obvious now but may appear strange given the authoritarian way the government and the church in antiquity are viewed. Beginning with the affirmation that an elder ought not to be “a striker” (NIV, violent), John concludes that “…a ruler without, as he rules by law and compulsion, perhaps does not consult the wishes of those under his rule…if he so conduct himself as to do everything of his own will, and share counsels with no one, makes his presidency tyrannical rather than popular.” Instead, leaders “ought to rule men with their own consent” so that their subjects “will be thankful for his rule.” Authoritarian leaders are not good leaders, a maxim as true in the fourth century as it is now.

It seems perfectly reasonable to me to take these qualifications for leaders and extrapolate them to other areas of life. Certainly the behaviors which are good elders who are fathers are good for all fathers. Surely virtues which are necessary of leaders in the church are necessary for Christian leaders in business, in the community, or even in the home. All men, in fact, ought to aspire to live a life worth of position of elder without the ambition, perhaps, to actually attain that office.

Reading Titus with John Chrysostom (Excursus): An Enlightened Antique

There is a certain perception about exegesis in antiquity which believes that it is lost in a quagmire of dogmatism and allegory. While I never quite adhered to that mentality, it was always hard to dismiss it outright, since much of my readings in antique exegesis had been from Philo, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Didymus the Blind. One can only read that the ark is the church so many times before the phrase "patristic exegesis" begins to ring with the quaint tone of irrelevance.

I was therefore pleasantly surprised to realize the degree of serious scholarship that appears to have gone into John's exegesis of Titus. (Certainly this perceived exegetical superiority is attached in part to the modern preference for the Antiochine school, of which John was a part.) It reminded me that early Christians were capable of commenting intelligently on matters which we continue to debate today, without allowing those facts to become the content of biblical studies (a challenge which we have not, sadly, been able to adequately overcome in my opinion).

John begins his first homily on Titus a section of introductory material, not unlike the kind of introductions which are appended to most modern commentaries. He identifies the recipient of the letter as " approved one of the companions of Paul" and then justifies this description based on the content of the epistle. He notes that many believe that Titus was a young man when this was written, based largely on the reference to Titus as "my son." John, without rejecting the conclusion, notes that this is not sufficient to constitute proof of Titus' age. He mentions the possible reference to Titus at Corinth in Acts 18, but notes that even if there is a Titus here it is not necessarily the same Titus to which the letter is addressed.

He then proceeds to discuss the status of Paul for the writing of the letter. He notes that Paul must certainly have been freed from his imprisonment, and gives two reasons for this. First, he notes that, unlike in many other letters, Paul does not mention any trials or sufferings in Titus. Second, he references 3:12 in which Paul speaks of wintering in Nicopolis as proof that Paul was at large and no longer in prison. Based on the tradition which links Timothy to a second roman imprisonment, John concludes that Titus was written before Timothy.

Finally, he considers the purpose of the letter, which he sees as two fold. First, it is to encourage the Christians in Crete to persevere in virtue "for to learn to what state they had been transferred, and that by grace, and what had been vouchsafed them, was no little encouragement." Second, he targeted Jews who were causing trouble in the church in Crete. John makes a special point not to let this appear to be anti-semitism. He draws a parallel to Galatians 3:1, pointing out that the harsh censure of the Jews, like that of the Galatians, was a labor of love.

It is telling to me how many of these observations continue to be valid (though perhaps not the most popular) even today. Having just heard lectures on the Pastoral epistles, there were a surprising number of parallels between John's and conservatives' positions on the authorship, date, audience, and purpose of Titus. For all our methodological advances (or perhaps metamorphoses is a better, less qualitatively judgmental term), John seems to have been able to discern much of what we now know even in the fourth century. Certainly, whatever we feel about the legitimacy of his interpretation, we cannot pretend that it was arrived at in ignorance. Even knowing "historical-critical" information about the text, John preached what he did.

The question for me then becomes, is it really the wealth of knowledge garnered from historical which precludes ancient interpretation which seem so foreign to us or is it merely a (perhaps artificial) change in hermeneutical presuppositions?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Reading Titus with John Chrysostom (1:1-4)

More and more my reading turns away from both Scripture and the Fathers to secondary literature in my field. This is, unfortunately, unavoidable. As much as I would like to make a life of reading only the Fathers and interacting only with blessed dead, occupational necessity requires that I examine the literature of my contemporaries as well. Thus, in an effort to keep myself devotionally grounded both in the apostolic documents and the Fathers, I am going to (attempt) to read through Titus with John Chrysostom. John preached six extant homilies on Titus while he was a priest in Antioch (386-398) which I hope will help to direct and challenge my own thoughts both on the text and on the early theology of the church.

His first homily concerns Titus 1:1-4

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God's elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness— a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior. To Titus, my true son in our common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. (NIV)
The text of the homily may be found here.

Underserved Grace

“Observe how the introduction is full of the mercies of God, and this whole epistle is especially of the same character…”

This is John’s overarching analysis of the text. It is, for all its other nuances to be discussed at length below, a text about the wonderful gifts of God to His people. Paul himself is a gift; he was made a servant of God not for his own sake or for God’s sake but as a blessing of God for the His elect.

The most glorious of these gifts, however, is that of eternal life, something which is sealed by the very fact of God’s perfection and foreknowledge. Our gift of eternal life is “not now upon a change of mind,” but has been part of God’s plan since before time began and is inviolable since God cannot lie. That this was achieved by foreknowledge rather than by a decision in time further displays the goodness of God to us since it shows “our high origin, in that He did not love us now first, but from the beginning.” John makes a particularly compelling point here that “it is no little matter to be loved…from the beginning.” Consider how much God loves us such that from before the beginning of time He had already begun to love us; before we existed, before anything existed, God had already begun an eternal, inexhaustible outpouring of love for His elect. In this love, he ordained for those elect eternal life with an unbreakable promise.

Paul even concludes, in typical fashion, by praying even greater mercies upon them: “grace and peace” from the Father.

To what end has Paul reminded us of the manifold blessings of God? John suggests “nothing profits us so much as constantly to remember the mercies of God, whether public or private.” The constant reflection on what God has done is a constant inspiration for Christians. In realizing what He has done for us, we are humbled. In realizing what He has done for us, we are stirred to do even greater works of righteousness for him. After all, “if our hearts are warmed when we receive the favors of our friends, or hear some kind word or deed of theirs, much more shall we be zealous in His service when we see into what dangers we had fallen, and that God has delivered us from them all.”

Thus, in this short exposition about God and the work that He has done through Paul for Titus and the church in Crete, we see the picture of a Father who has provided abundantly for His children. Paul in the act of writing it is imitating this example by providing also for his “true son,” Titus so that he might continue to provide for his flock. And we too should seek to live a life of response to the great blessings which have been showered on us, none more great than the promise of eternal life, ordained for us before the ages.

A Theologically Consistent Methodology

John is the beneficiary of a rich, systematized theological tradition which had not yet developed in the time of the apostle Paul. To that end, John presents some interpretations which would undoubtedly seem foreign to Paul had he read this homily and is equally likely to seem forced and eisegetical to modern readers.

For example, that Paul is “a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ” is fundamentally an anti-Arian statement for John. The fact that Paul can be something at the same time “of God” and “of Christ” here suggests that the two are coequal (or, in Nicene-Constantinopolitan language, consubstantial).

He will also develop with regard to this first part of the passage in question a doctrine of the free will activity of man in relation to God in the process of election. He begins by emphasizing that it was through God’s providential activity that the elect were entrusted to Paul. “It was wholly through the effect of His goodness who intrusted [sic] me.” This divine activity of God takes primacy in Paul’s election as an apostle, but it is not the entirety of that election, because “the whole was not of Him, for why did He not intrust [sic] it to others?” Instead, John understand Paul’s election as the act of God followed by the free will response of the apostle. He extrapolates this process onto his readers: “First we are apprehended, and afterwards we apprehend; first we are known, and then we know; first we were called, and then we obeyed.” In doing so, John believes he can at the same time say that it is in no way Paul who merited election as an apostle, that it was solely for “the sake of the faith of God’s elect,” but at the same time Paul is not chosen arbitrarily nor is he appointed apart from his response to God.

Later he will attach the reference to Titus as a “true son” to this question of the free will of man. Sonship, for John, is dependent on one’s behavior, and he cites 1 Cor 9:16 for a list of behaviors which may make one a “spurious” son. What’s more, these categories of true and spurious sonship are not absolute or static but “subject to frequent changes.” “For one who was a true son may become spurious, and a spurious son may become a true one. For it is not the force of nature, but the power of choice, on which it depends…” An example: Onesimus, who John says was a true son, become “unprofitable,” and then was restored again to true sonship. (I wonder to what degree these very early doctrinal beliefs on free will contributed to the fierce reaction to the Eastern Church when Calvinism started creeping into its doctrine.)

Finally, John’s interpretation of “truth that is after godliness” (ESV “truth, which accords with godliness) is intriguing, particularly given my recent studies on Eastern epistemology. According to John, Paul is drawing a distinction here between two types of knowledge of the truth. “For there is a truth in other things, that is not according to godliness; for knowledge in matter of agriculture, knowledge of the arts, is true knowledge.” These natural truths which are acquired naturally (i.e. through intellection and sense perception to borrow later theology) are distinct from truth which is “according to godliness.” The other kind of truth is the truth of faith which transcends rational knowledge: “This acknowledging then is from faith, and not from reasonings.”

This raises the question for the modern reader: to what degree can these four seemingly insignificant verses bear the weight of all of John’s theology? The simple answer: they can’t. But as easy as it would be to write off John’s exegesis with that matter-of-fact evaluation, there is value in his methodology even apart from the immense value of the theology which it betrays. Certainly, Titus 1:1-4 cannot be seen as the definitive text to settle the Arian, Calvinist, and Palamite controversies. (Would that it were that uncomplicated?) Nevertheless, John does provide a stark corrective to the way modern readers might normally treat these verses.

The superscriptions of Paul’s letters, and perhaps of an underappreciated letter like Titus in particular, are generally only glanced at by clergy, laymen, and scholars alike. Yet, of the six homilies recorded in NPNF that John preached on Titus (and they by no means cover the full text of the epistle), this sermon was recorded and saved for generations. John treats this passage not only with dignity and care, but with urgency as if it contained great answers to life’s questions, to the turmoil of the church, and to the personal struggles of his congregants. Each word, each sentence, is richly layered with meaning and importance. It seems to me ironic that while the Bible has assumed a theoretical importance in our day which would probably scandalize most people in the time of John, it is then and not now that we see a great plumbing of Scriptures depths. John takes what has devolved into an insignificant introductory formula and makes it a rich statement of orthodoxy meant to encourage, to vivify the faithful. He is theologically consistent in his treatment of Scripture in that he looks for God in all its parts, not only where He is most evident.

Certainly I am not suggesting that Christians ought to neglect other texts to focus on the introductions and closings of the epistles, nor do I suppose that we can found any great theologies on closer examinations of these texts. We can, however, afford to them the same respect which is afforded to the rest of Scripture and read them with the same theological presuppositions (whatever those happen to be for the reader). Paul is certainly not intending to combat Arianism in Titus 1:1, but that does not mean that his dual reference to God and Jesus does not have theological implications. And what does it mean to be a “servant” and an “apostle” for the faith of others? Is there truth which is according to godliness and how is it distinct from other truth? These are some questions, among countless others, which should be addressed by the minds of the faithful in ways not so unlike John tries to address them here.

“By grace through faith” should not be treated as more inspired than “God who cannot lie.”

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Century of Love in a Day, Pt. 3

3-4. When we misuse the soul’s powers their evil aspects dominate us. For instance, misuse of our power of intelligence results in ignorance and stupidity; misuse of our incensive power and of our desire produces hatred and licentiousness. The proper use of these powers produces spiritual knowledge, moral judgment, love and self-restraint. This being so, nothing created and given existence by God is evil.
It is not food that is evil but gluttony, not the begetting of children but unchastity, not material things but avarice, not esteem but self-esteem. This being so, it is only the misuse of things that is evil, and such misuse occurs when the intellect fails to cultivate its natural powers.

8. …A man dominated by self-love is dominated by all the passions.

10. If a man loves someone, he naturally makes every effort to be of service to that person. If, then, a man loves God, he naturally strives to conform to His will. But if he loves the flesh, he panders to the flesh.

14-15. Do not compare yourself with weaker men but rather apply yourself to fulfilling the commandment of love. For by comparing yourself with the weak you will fall into the pit of conceit, but by applying yourself to the commandment of love you will reach the height of humility.
If you totally fulfill the command to love your neighbor, you will feel no bitterness or resentment against him whatever he does. If this is not the case, then the reason why you fight against your brother is clearly because you seek after transitory things and prefer them to the commandment of love.

17-18. There are three things which produce love of material wealth: self-indulgence, self-esteem, and lack of faith…the self-indulgent person loves wealthy because it enables him to live comfortably; the person full of self-esteem loves it because through it he can gain the esteem of others; the person who lacks faith loves it because fearful of starvation, old age, disease, or exile, he can save it and hoard it. He puts his trust in wealth rather than in God, the Creator who provides for all creation, down to the least of living things.

21-2. God knows himself and He knows the things He has created. The angelic powers, too, know God and know the things He has created. But they do not know God and the things He has created in the same way that God knows Himself and the things He has created. God knows himself through know His blessed essence. And the things created by Him He knows through knowing His wisdom, by means of which and in which He made all things. But the angelic powers know God by participation, though God Himself transcends such participation; and the things He has created they know by apprehending that which may be spiritually contemplated in them.

45. The virtues exist for the sake of the knowledge of creatures; knowledge of the sake of the knower; the knower, for the sake of Him who is known though unknowing and who is beyond all knowledge.

54. …The Son teaches us, “Do not judge so that you may not be judged;” “Do not condemn, so that you may not be condemned.” St. Paul likewise says, “Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes;” and “By judging another you condemn yourself.” But men have given up weeping for their own sins and have taken judgment away from the Son. They themselves judge and condemn one another as if they were sinless. Heaven was amazed at this and earth shuddered, but men in their obduracy are not ashamed.

55. He who busies himself with the sins of others, or judges his brother on suspicion, has not yet begun to repent or to examine himself so as to discover his own sins, which are truly heavier than a great lump of lead…That is why, like a fool who walks in darkness, he no longer attends to his own sins but lets his imagination dwell on the sins of others, whether these sins are real or merely the products of his own suspicious mind.

58. Just as parents have a special affection for the children who are the fruits of their own bodies, so the intellect naturally clings to its own thoughts. And just as to passionately fond parents their own children seem the most capable and most beautiful of all – though they may be quite the most ridiculous in every way – so to a foolish intellect its own thoughts appear the most intelligent of all, though they be utterly degraded. The wise man does not regard his own thoughts in this way. It is precisely when he feels convinced that they are true and good that he most distrusts his own judgment. He makes other wise men the judges of his thoughts and arguments --- lest he should run, or may have run, in vain – and from them receives assurance.

79. A true friend is one who in times of trial calmly and imperturbably suffers with his neighbor the ensuing affliction, privations, and disasters as if they were his own.

82. The person who truly wishes to be healed is he who does not refuse treatment.

98. A soul is perfect if its passible aspect is totally oriented towards God.

99. A perfect intellect is one which by true faith and in a manner beyond all unknowing supremely knows the supremely Unknowable…

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Appendix to the Apology: More Quotes on Passion and Impassibility

My presentation of the patristic evidence in my Apologia Apatheia was at best haphazard. More unfortunately, it was incomplete. So, without attempting any kind of deliberate systematization, I would like to offer an additional list of relevant patristic quotations which will hopefully further illustrate my point that impassiblity is primarily a question of the sinlessness of God in the Fathers, not a lack of emotions. I intend to continue to update this post as I, inevitably, find more quotes which support my thesis about the truly classical definition of impassibility.

Maximos the Confessor, Four Centuries on Love, 2.16

Passion is a movement of the soul contrary to nature either toward irrational love or senseless hate of something or on account of something material. For example, toward irrational love of food, or a woman, or wealth, or passing glory or any other material thing or on their account. Or else it can be toward a senseless hate of any of the preceding things we spoke of, or on account of any one.

Gregory Palamas, Triads, II.2.7

To become “insensible” is in effect to do away with prayer; the Fathers call this “petrification.” (This importance of this post is highlighted in a note by the translator which discusses the word for “insensible”: “analgesia – lit. incapability of feeling pain, i.e., spiritual blindness or obtuseness: not to be confused with impassibility, control of the disordered passions, or purity of heart.”)

Triads, II.2.19-20

Impassibility does not consist in mortifying the passionate part of the soul, but in removing it from evil to good, and directing its energies towards divine things…and the impassible man is the one who no longer possesses any evil dispositions, but is rich in good ones, who is marked by virtues, as men of passion are marked by evil pleasures; who has tamed his irascible and concupiscent appetites (which constitute the passionate part of the soul), to the faculties of knowledge, judgment and reason in the soul, just as men of passion subject their reason to the passions. For it is the misuse of the powers of the soul which engenders the terrible passions, just as misuse of knowledge of created things engenders the “wisdom which becomes folly.”

…the prize goes to him who has put that part of his soul under subjection, so that by its obedience to the mind, which is by nature appointed to rule, it may ever tend towards God, as is right, by the uninterrupted remembrance of Him..Such is the way which leads through impassibility to perfect love, an excellent way which takes us to the heights.

The Declaration of the Holy Mountain

If anyone does not acknowledge that spiritual dispositions are stamped upon the body as a consequence of the gifts of the Spirit that exist in the soul of those advancing on the spiritual path; and if he does not regard dispassion as a state of aspiration for higher things that leads a person to free himself from evil habits by completely spurning what is evil and to acquire good habits by espousing what is good, but considers it to be a deathlike condition of the soul’s passible aspect, then, by adhering to such views, he inevitably denies that we can enjoy an embodied life in the world of incorruption that is to come.

For if in the age to come the body is to share with the soul in ineffable blessings, then it is evident that in this world as well it will also share according to its capacity in the grace mystically and ineffably bestowed by God upon the purified intellect, and it will experience the divine in conformity with its nature. For once the soul’s passible aspect is transformed and sanctified – but not reduced to a deathlike condition – through it the dispositions and activities of the body are also sanctified, since body and soul share a conjoint existence. As St. Diadochos states, in the case of those who have abandoned the delights of this age in the hope of enjoying the blessings of eternity, the intellect, because of its freedom from worldly cares, is able to act with its full vigor and become capable of perceiving the ineffable goodness of God. Then according to the measure of its own progress it communicates joy to the body too, and this joy which then fills both soul and body is a true recalling of incorruptible life.

Peter of Damascus, A Treasury of Divine Knowledge, I

[The hesychast] loves the supernatural God with all his soul and imitates His dispassion with all his strength.

A Treasury of Divine Knowledge, XIV

Dispassion is a strange and paradoxical thing: once someone has consolidated his victory over the passions, it is able to make him an imitator of God, so far as this is possible for man. For though the person who has attained the state of dispassion continues to suffer attacks from demons and vicious men, he experiences this as if it were happening to someone else, as was the case with the holy apostles and martyrs. When he is praised he is not filled with self-elation, nor when he is insulted is he afflicted. For he considers that what is pleasant come to him by the grace of God and as an act of divine concession of which he is unworthy, while what is unpleasant comes as a trial: the former is given us by grace to encourage us in this world, while the latter is given us to increase our humility and our hope in the world to be. Such a person is impassible, and yet because of his power of discrimination is acutely aware of what gives pain.

Dispassion is a not a single virtue, but is a name for all the virtues. A man is not merely one limb; for it is the many limbs of the body that constitute a man; and not merely the limbs, but the limbs together with the soul. Similarly, dispassion is the union of many virtues, while the place of the soul is taken by the Holy Spirit. For all activities described as ‘spiritual’ are soul-less without the Holy Spirit, and it is given by virtue of the presence of the Holy Spirit that a ‘spiritual father’ is given this title. Yet if the soul does not reject the passions, the Holy Spirit will not come to it; nor, on the other hand, unless the Holy Spirit is present can one properly speak of the all-embracing virtue of dispassion. And if someone were to become dispassionate without the Holy Spirit, he would really be, not dispassionate, but in a state of insensitivity…The one who attained dispassion becomes impassible out of his perfect love for God.

Diadochos of Photiki, On Spiritual Knowledge and Discrimination, 98

Dispassion is not freedom from attack by the demons, for to be free from such attack we must, as the Apostle says, “go out of the world;” but it is to remain undefeated when they do attack…we can break through the black ranks of the demons if, because of our good works, we are protected by the armor of divine light and the helmet of salvation.
Pseudo-Anthony, On the Character of Men, 89

Evil is a passion adherent to matter, but God is not the cause of evil. He has given men knowledge and understanding, the power of discriminating between good and evil, and free will. It is man’s negligence and indolence that give birth to evil passions, while God is in no way the cause.

Some Miscellaneous Wisdom

Some thought-provoking quotations from three Church Fathers:

Gregory Palamas
Do you not understand that the men who are united to God and deified, who fix their eyes in a divine manner on Him, do not see as we do? Miraculously, they see with a sense that exceeds the senses and with a mind that exceeds mind, for the power of the spirit penetrates their human faculties, and allows them to see things which are beyond us.

It should be remembered that no evil thing is evil insofar as it exists, but insofar as it is turned aside from the activity appropriate to it, and thus from the end assigned to this activity.

God is not only beyond knowledge but also beyond unknowing.

No one has ever seen the fullness of this divine Beauty, and this is why no eye has seen it, even if it gaze forever: in fact, it does not see the totality such as it is, but only a measure in which it is rendered receptive to the power of the Holy Spirit. But in addition to this incomprehensibility, what is most divine and extraordinary is that the very comprehension a man may have, he possesses incomprehensibly.

Not only are man’s knowledge of God and his understanding of himself and his proper rank (which knowledge now belongs to those who are Christians, even those considered uneducated laymen) a more lofty knowledge than natural science and astronomy and any philosophy in these subjects, but also our mind’s knowledge of its own weakness and the search for its healing would be incomparably superior by far to the investigation and knowledge of the magnitude of the stars and the reasons for natural phenomena, the origins of things below and the circuits of things above, their changes and risings, their fixed positions and retrograde motions, their disjunctions and conjunctions, and, in general, the entire multiform relation that results from their considerable motion in that region. For the mind that realizes its own weakness has discovered whence it might enter upon salvation and draw near to the light of knowledge and receive true wisdom which does not pass away with this age.

Maximos the Confessor
The wise man who gives or receives instruction wishes to give or to receive it only in useful matters. However, when the man who appears wise seeks information or is questioned, he advances only more contrived things.

Those who are still timid in the war against the passions and who fear the inroads of invisible enemies should be quiet, that is, not engage in warlike behavior above their strength, but by prayer abandon the care of themselves to God’s concern.

Who knows how God is made flesh and yet remains God? This only faith understands, adoring the Logos in silence.

The one who has joined the body to the soul through virtue and knowledge has become a lyre and a flute and a temple. A lyre, firstly, because he beautifully maintains the harmony of the virtues; next, a flute because through the divine experiences he receives the Spirit’s inspiration; finally a temple because through the purity of his mind he has become the Word’s dwelling place.

John Chrysostom
A drop of grace filled all things with knowledge; through it wonders took place, sins were loosed.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


Christ the Lord is risen today. Hallelujah!

Gregory the Theologian, Oration 1:

It is the Day of the Resurrection, and my Beginning has good auspices. Let us then keep the Festival with splendor, and let us embrace one another. Let us say Brethren, even to those who hate us; much more to those who have done or suffered aught out of love for us. Let us forgive all offences for the Resurrection’s sake: let us give one another pardon.

Yesterday the Lamb was slain and the door-posts were anointed, and Egypt bewailed her Firstborn, and the Destroyer passed us over, and the Seal was dreadful and reverend, and we were walled in with the Precious Blood. To-day we have escaped from Egypt and from Pharaoh; and there is none to hinder us from keeping a Feast to the Lord our God—the Feast of our Departure; or from celebrating that Feast, not in the old leaven of malice and wickedness, but in the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth, carrying with us nothing of ungodly and Egyptian leaven.

Yesterday I was crucified with Him; today I am glorified with Him; yesterday I died with Him; to-day I am quickened with Him; yesterday I was buried with Him; to-day I rise with Him. But let us offer to Him Who suffered and rose again for us—you will think perhaps that I am going to say gold, or silver, or woven work or transparent and costly stones, the mere passing material of earth, that remains here below, and is for the most part always possessed by bad men, slaves of the world and of the Prince of the world. Let us offer ourselves, the possession most precious to God, and most fitting; let us give back to the Image what is made after the Image. Let us recognize our Dignity; let us honor our Archetype; let us know the power of the Mystery, and for what Christ died.

Let us become like Christ, since Christ became like us. Let us become God’s for His sake, since He for ours became Man. He assumed the worse that He might give us the better; He became poor that we through His poverty might be rich;2537 He took upon Him the form of a servant that we might receive back our liberty; He came down that we might be exalted; He was tempted that we might conquer; He was dishonored that He might glorify us; He died that He might save us; He ascended that He might draw to Himself us, who were lying low in the Fall of sin. Let us give all, offer all, to Him Who gave Himself a Ransom and a Reconciliation for us. But one can give nothing like oneself, understanding the Mystery, and becoming for His sake all that He became for ours.

Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures:

Rejoice, O Jerusalem, and keep high festival, all ye that love Jesus; for He is risen. Rejoice, all ye that mourned before, when ye heard of the daring and wicked deeds of the Jews: for He who was spitefully entreated of them in this place is risen again. And as the discourse concerning the Cross was a sorrowful one, so let the good tidings of the Resurrection bring joy to the hearers. Let mourning be turned into gladness, and lamentation to joy: and let our mouth be filled with joy and gladness, because of Him, who after His resurrection, said Rejoice. For I know the sorrow of Christ’s friends in these past days; because, as our discourse stopped short at the Death and the Burial, and did not tell the good tidings of the Resurrection, your mind was in suspense, to hear what you were longing for.

Now, therefore, the Dead is risen, He who was free among the dead, and the deliverer of the dead. He who in dishonor wore patiently the crown of thorns, even He arose, and crowned Himself with the diadem of His victory over death.

Venatius Honorius, On Easter:

O Christ, Thou Saviour of the world, merciful Creator and Redeemer, the only offspring from the Godhead of the Father, flowing in an indescribable manner from the heart of Thy Parent, Thou self-existing Word, and powerful from the mouth of Thy Father, equal to Him, of one mind with Him, His fellow, coeval with the Father, from whom at first the world derived its origin! Thou dost suspend the firmament, Thou heapest together the soil, Thou dost pour forth the seas, by whose government all things which are fixed in their places flourish. Who seeing that the human race was plunged in the depth of misery, that Thou mightest rescue man, didst Thyself also become man: nor wert Thou willing only to be born with a body, but Thou becamest flesh, which endured to be born and to die. Thou dost undergo funeral obsequies, Thyself the author of life and framer of the world, Thou dost enter the path of death, in giving the aid of salvation. The gloomy chains of the infernal law yielded, and chaos feared to be pressed by the presence of the light. Darkness perishes, put to flight by the brightness of Christ; the thick pall of eternal night falls. But restore the promised pledge, I pray Thee, O power benign! The third day has returned; arise, my buried One; it is not becoming that Thy limbs should lie in the lowly sepulchre, nor that worthless stones should press that which is the ransom of the world. It is unworthy that a stone should shut in with a confining rock, and cover Him in whose fist all things are enclosed. Take away the linen clothes, I pray; leave the napkins in the tomb: Thou art sufficient for us, and without Thee there is nothing. Release the chained shades of the infernal prison, and recall to the upper regions whatever sinks to the lowest depths. Give back Thy face, that the world may see the light; give back the day which flees from us at Thy death. But returning, O holy conqueror! Thou didst altogether fill the heaven! Tartarus lies depressed, nor retains its rights. The ruler of the lower regions, insatiably opening his hollow jaws, who has always been a spoiler, becomes a prey to Thee. Thou rescuest an innumerable people from the prison of death, and they follow in freedom to the place whither their leader approaches. The fierce monster in alarm vomits forth the multitude whom he had swallowed up, and the Lamb withdraws the sheep from the jaw of the wolf.

Melito of Sardis, On Pascha:

But he arose from the dead and mounted up to the heights of heaven. When the Lord had clothed himself with humanity, and had suffered for the sake of the sufferer, and had been bound for the sake of the imprisoned, and had been judged for the sake of the condemned, and buried for the sake of the one who was buried, he rose up from the dead, and cried aloud with this voice: Who is he who contends with me? Let him stand in opposition to me. I set the condemned man free; I gave the dead man life; I raised up the one who had been entombed.

“Who is my opponent? I,” he says, “am the Christ.”

“I am the one who destroyed death, and triumphed over the enemy, and trampled Hades under foot, and bound the strong one, and carried off man to the heights of heaven, I,” he says, “am the Christ.”

“Therefore, come, all families of men, you who have been befouled with sins, and receive forgiveness for your sins. I am your forgiveness, I am the Passover of your salvation, I am the lamb which was sacrificed for you, I am your ransom, I am your light, I am your saviour, I am your resurrection, I am your king, I am leading you up to the heights of heaven, I will show you the eternal Father, I will raise you up by my right hand.”

This is the one who made the heavens and the earth, and who in the beginning created man, who was proclaimed through the law and prophets, who became human via the virgin, who was hanged upon a tree, who was buried in the earth, who was resurrected from the dead, and who ascended to the heights of heaven, who sits at the right hand of the Father, who has authority to judge and to save everything, through whom the Father created everything from the beginning of the world to the end of the age. This is the alpha and the omega. This is the beginning and the end–an indescribable beginning and an incomprehensible end. This is the Christ. This is the king. This is Jesus. This is the general. This is the Lord. This is the one who rose up from the dead. This is the one who sits at the right hand of the Father. He bears the Father and is borne by the Father, to whom be the glory and the power forever. Amen.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Holy and Great Saturday

The Sabbath is the day of rest, when in the beginning God did not merely complete creation by passively ceasing to create but by actively declaring finality. It would not suffice to create man on the sixth day and then proceed immediately into the daily business of the cosmos. God positively declared completion, and with that completion rest.

But creation was by no means complete. Humanity was by no means complete. God, who had once reached His hand into the dust to form man and into the breast of man to form woman, would have to interject Himself into the world even more profoundly to rescue man from his own corruption. Rather than merely picking up the stuff of man in order to create him, God took on the very nature of man in order to recreate him.

So when Jesus cried out on the cross "It is finished" and gave up his spirit, we know that there is still something yet to come. Just as in Genesis 1, God takes a day of rest after His work comes to fruition, and we wait as he lays in the tomb for the recreation that we yearn for.

It is not, however, an idle passing of time awaiting an inevitable conclusion. It is an active time of preparation. We have heard the promises, and we believe. While Christ descends into death, we await with bated breath and focused hearts for the moment of his triumphant conquest over the tomb. We gird up our loins, so that at the moment of his return we may be found ready.

To this, I add the sentiments of the fourth century bishop and poet Synesius:

All-glorious Thou with many a crown!
Thou didst to wretched earth come down,
To dwell with man by death assailed,
Thyself in mortal body veiled;
And Thou dark Tartarus didst tread,
Midst countless nations of the dead,
Then Hades, ancient-born, amazed,
Did shudder as on Thee he gazed;
And the all-devouring savage hound
Backward recoiled with frightened bound.
But lo! to holy souls, oppressed
With direful woes, Thou gavest rest,
That they in chorus led by Thee,
To praise the Father might be free.

We interrupt this Easter for a word from our sponsors...

I am not normally political. The mixing of church and state is repugnant to me on the deepest levels of my conscience. That is why I do not inject my religion into politics, and why I am infuriated this morning to read how President Obama has injected politics into my faith. Regardless of the merit of health care or education reform, the politicization of Easter is utterly meritless. The death of Christ Jesus is not a tool to be employed for our devices, but an implement of God’s divine will meant to act on humanity. To that end, I have a few correctives I would like to apply to the presidents heinous speech:*

"On this Easter weekend, let us hold fast to those aspirations we hold in common as brothers and sisters, as members of the same family — the family of man."
But there is no “family of man,” because a family united by our humanity is nothing more than an evolutionary accident. It is a family without a father, and without the Father there is nothing which binds me to you as a brother. We are one in the “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Work is important to people's security and dignity, Obama said. “…as human beings, we seek not only the security, but the sense of dignity, the sense of community, that work confers.”

But as Christians, and at Easter most of all, we remember that our security comes in the unmitigated sovereignty of he who died for us, our dignity is derived from association with his majesty, and our community is one formed in and cemented by the blood of one Lord, with one hope and one faith and one baptism.

“Our health is the rock upon which our lives are built, for better and for worse.”
“Who is the Rock except our God?” If my life is built upon the rock of my health, then everything that I am and everything that I touch really is “just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” My life must be founded on a firmer rock; rocks greater than the ones that trembled and split at the moment of my savior’s death, and much greater than the stone which tried in vain to contain the Lord of Hosts in his tomb. My rock is the “Rock of Israel.” “The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”

“All of us are striving to make a way in this world; to build a purposeful and fulfilling life in the fleeting time we have here. A dignified life. A healthy life. A life, true to its potential. And a life that serves others. These are aspirations that stretch back through the ages – aspirations at the heart of Judaism, at the heart of Christianity.”

The true aspiration of Christianity and the true message of Easter is one that transcends, even contravenes, human striving. It cries out against human self-sufficiency, our ability to achieve anything, be it dignity, healthy, or a truly fulfilling life. With the same voice it triumphantly announces that we may expect greater things than we ever imagined we could by our futile human striving, through one whose ways are ineffably higher than our own. This is the one who said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

“Do you believe this?”

*This post quotes, in addition to Scripture, the presidential address and the news article which alerted me to it.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Holy and Great Friday

“Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” – 1 Petet 2:21b-24

Today God died. Churches and their keepers are robed in black. Christians fast and mourn. If we learned our own humility in response to God through the humility of God in the past two days, how much more should we be humiliated that by our own self-gratifying volition we have chosen for the innocent to suffer. We should weep at the depths of our depravity and the cost of our sin.

And yet, in my heart I secretly glory at the thought of it. How ironic it is, how divinely ironic, that at God’s weakest, at His most vulnerable, that He should win His greatest victory. And on my behalf no less. As much as it pains me, infinitely more it causes me to rejoice. We ought to weep today - the whole earth who mourned the death of God on the cross – but we also ought to be able to taste the ecstasy of Easter already. Like children who know how the story ends, we should rush headlong in our hearts to the triumph of God with praise on our lips and elation in our hearts.

Cyril of Jerusalem (selections from his Catechetical Lecture "On the Words 'Crucified' and 'Buried'"):

Every deed of Christ is a cause of glorying to the Catholic Church, but her greatest of all glorying is in the Cross; and knowing this, Paul says, But God forbid that I should glory, save in
the Cross of Christ.

For wondrous indeed it was, that one who was blind from his birth should receive sight in Siloam; but what is this compared with the blind of the whole world?

A great thing it was, and passing nature, for Lazarus to rise again on the fourth day; but the grace extended to him alone, and what was it compared with the dead in sins throughout the world?

Marvelous it was, that five loaves should pour forth food for the five thousand; but what is that to those who are famishing in ignorance through all the world?

It was marvelous that she should have been loosed who had been bound by Satan eighteen years: yet what is this to all of us, who were fast bound in the chains of our sins?

But the glory of the Cross led those who were blind through ignorance into light, loosed all who were held fast by sin, and ransomed the whole world of mankind. And wonder not that the whole world was ransomed; for it was no mere man, but the only-begotten Son of God, who died on its behalf. Moreover one man’s sin, even Adam’s, had power to bring death to the world; but if by the trespass of the one death reigned over the world, how shall not life much rather reign by the righteousness of the One? And if because of the tree of food they were then cast out of paradise, shall not believers now more easily enter into paradise because of the Tree of Jesus? If the first man formed out of the earth brought in universal death, shall not He who formed him out of the earth bring in eternal life, being Himself the Life? If Phineas, when he waxed zealous and slew the evil-doer, staved the wrath of God, shall not Jesus, who slew not another, but gave up Himself for a ransom, put away the wrath which is against mankind?

Let us then not be ashamed of the Cross of our Saviour, but rather glory in it.

Take therefore first, as an indestructible foundation, the Cross, and build upon it the other articles of the faith. Deny not the Crucified; for, if thou deny Him, thou hast many to arraign thee.

Judas the traitor will arraign thee first; for he who betrayed Him knows that He was condemned to death by the chief-priests and elders. The thirty pieces of silver bear witness; Gethsemane bears witness, where the betrayal occurred; I speak not yet of the Mount of Olives, on which they were with Him at night, praying. The moon in the night bears witness; the day bears witness, and the sun which was darkened; for it endured not to look on the crime of the conspirators.

The fire will arraign thee, by which Peter stood and warmed himself; if thou deny the Cross, the eternal fire awaits thee. I speak hard words, that thou may not experience hard pains. Remember the swords that came against Him in Gethsemane, that thou feel not the eternal sword.

The house of Caiaphas will arraign thee, showing by its present desolation the power of Him who was erewhile judged there. Yea, Caiaphas himself will rise up against thee in the day of judgment, the very servant will rise up against thee, who smote Jesus with the palm of his hand; they also who bound Him, and they who led Him away.

Even Herod shall rise up against thee; and Pilate; as if saying, “Why deniest thou Him who was slandered before us by the Jews, and whom we knew to have done no wrong?” For I Pilate then washed my hands. The false witnesses shall rise up against thee, and the soldiers who arrayed Him in the purple robe, and set on Him the crown of thorns, and crucified Him in Golgotha, and cast lots for His coat.

Simon the Cyrenian will cry out upon thee, who bore the Cross after Jesus.

From among the stars there will cry out upon thee, the darkened Sun; among the things upon earth, the Wine mingled with myrrh; among reeds, the Reed; among herbs, the Hyssop; among the things of the sea, the Sponge; among trees, the Wood of the Cross;

The soldiers, too, as I have said, who nailed Him, and cast lots for His vesture; the soldier who pierced His side with the spear; the women who then were present; the veil of the temple then rent asunder; the hall of Pilate, now laid waste by the power of Him who was then crucified; this holy Golgotha, which stands high above us, and shows itself to this day, and displays even yet how because of Christ the rocks were then riven

Thou hast Twelve Apostles, witnesses of the Cross; and the whole earth, and the world of men who believe on Him who hung thereon. Let thy very presence here now persuade thee of the power of the Crucified. For who now brought thee to this assembly? What soldiers? With what bonds wast thou constrained? What sentence held thee fast here now? Nay, it was the Trophy of salvation, the Cross of Jesus that brought you all together…that we may glory, exulting in the Cross, worshipping the Lord who was sent, and crucified for us, and worshipping also God His Father who sent Him, with the Holy Ghost:

To whom be glory forever and ever.


Thursday, April 1, 2010

Holy and Great Thursday

The name in Western churches today is Maundy Thursday, derived from a Latin reference to Jesus washing of the disciples feet. Continuing the theme of humility begun yesterday, there could hardly be a more appropriate image on which to focus. The vast differences in human responses to God have been considered, ranging from self-abasement at the feet of God to the greatest hubris whereby the created presumes to destroy the Creator . Yet, Jesus Christ, in God's infinitely wise ways, loves us before we loved him and humbles himself to us before we humbled ourselves to him. He provides for us an example for all time. When Mary anointed Jesus' feet at Bethany she gave him infinitely less than was his due. When Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, he lowered himself to a position so diametrically opposed to his actual station that to consider it ought to be laughable to us.

Nevertheless, God's "folly" has given us a profound lesson in humility. Our humility is not to be the result of a calculated appraisal of our worth relative to others. We do not realize that we are less than God, and be humble towards him, only to decide that we are better than some of our peers and feel justified in our arrogant treatment of them. Jesus has demonstrated that humility is a state of being before God, a commitment to the service of God through the service of His entire creation. It isn't based on our quantifiable worthlessness but on his unquantifiable worthiness.

Thus, Augustine exhorts:

Pride is the source of all diseases, because pride is the source of all sins...Therefore, that the cause of all diseases might be cured, namely pride, the Son of God came down and was made humble. Why are you proud, o man? God was made humble for you. Perhaps you would be ashamed to imitate a humble man; at least imitate a humble God.*
*Quoted from Joseph M. Hallman's The Descent of God.