Archive for ‘truth & prophets’

October 9, 2017

we know that we are dealing with material Paul chanted before he wrote it down

From Patrick Henry Reardon’s book Reclaiming the Atonement: An Orthodox Theology of Redemption (Volume 1 of 3: The Incarnate Word).

[Paul] is commonly—and not inappropriately—thought of as the Church’s earliest theologian. This persuasion, nonetheless, certainly does not mean that the Church had no theology prior to Paul’s conversion. Indeed, on the very day Ananias baptized the Apostle to the Gentiles, there already existed an authoritative body of Christian belief—a paradosis or “tradition”—of which Paul himself became both the appreciative heir and the ardent proponent. As we shall consider presently, his appeal to that authority was both prompt and insistent.

…In what forms did Paul receive this traditional information about Jesus? He received it, first of all, through the teaching ministry of the Church, beginning with the instructions he received from Ananias, the pastor of the congregation in Damascus, when he received Paul into the obedience and sacrament of faith (see Acts 9: 10–18; 22: 12–16). The living Church, this “house of the catholic obedience” (Venerable Bede’s beautiful expression), also conveyed the inherited faith to Paul through the words of her kerygmatic and catechetical material, her basic creedal forms, her hymnography, and her other prayers.

…Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions (paradoseis) you were taught, whether by word or our epistle. (2 Thess. 2: 15)

But we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition (paradosin) which they received (parelabosan) from us. (2 Thess. 3: 6)

Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions (paradoseis) just as I handed them on (paredoka) to you. (1 Cor. 11: 2)

I received (parelabon) from the Lord what I also handed on (paredoka) to you. (1 Cor. 11: 23)

I handed on (paredoka) to you, among the first things, that which I also received (parelabon). (1 Cor. 15: 3)

…The traditions of the Church were inseparable from the forms and content of her worship. Indeed, there is substantial evidence, from her earliest days, that the Church proceeded, at least implicitly, on the premise, “the norm of worship is the norm of belief” (lex orandi, lex credendi). The reasoning supportive of this axiom seems solid: If the Church’s prayer was an expression of her faith, then the words of the prayer must give a good idea of what the Church believed. How do we find this material?

…We don’t know how much non-liturgical poetry the earliest Christians wrote, but we do know they wrote hymns, and we know that many hymns are composed in common poetic forms. Now, if there was one thing perfectly clear about the early Christians, it was their disposition to sing the content of their faith—and not only to sing it, but to sing it together, to chant common texts they all knew by heart. Thus, we find Paul and his companions, in the dark of midnight, “praying, singing hymns (hymnoun) to God” in a Philippian jail (see Acts 16: 25). Whatever hymns they were singing, they were certainly singing them from memory.

…When we find traces of Christian hymnography in the New Testament literature, the discovery is particularly precious; in such instances we know that we are dealing with material Paul chanted before he wrote it down.

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October 6, 2017

Jesus’ own mind was the defining locus of humanity’s capacity to hear and obey the historical summons of God

In other words, the Old Testament and the redemptive work of Christ are not related simply by way of objective semantic reference, but also through the living subjective experience of the Redeemer—Jesus’ own understanding of Holy Scripture. The conjunction of the Sacred Text and the redemptive event was originally discerned in the active, self-reflective understanding (phronesis) of Jesus of Nazareth, who heard in the words of the Hebrew Bible the Father’s personal summons to obedience. Jesus’ own mind was the defining locus of humanity’s capacity to hear and obey the historical summons of God.

…Divine revelation—God’s Incarnate Son included—is available to us only through the specific men and women in whose lives the revelation took place. This fact is most obvious in the Sacred Writings. Our access to the events of Sinai, for instance, comes to us through Moses and the myriad authors, editors, and scribes—Jewish and Christian—who transmitted the experience and content of what took place in the Exodus and the Sinai encounter. Likewise, our historical access to Jesus, the Son of God, comes through Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—and, prior to them, through Peter and Paul and the congregations to which they and their companions ministered. In short, none of this revelation is available to us except through that corporate, historical body: Israel/ the Church.

…For this reason I have always wondered about the adequacy of the expression solus Christus (“Christ alone”). Christ is, in fact, never alone. God’s Son did not simply show up here one day. He came to us through a believing Mother (whose consent in faith was absolutely essential to the event of the Incarnation), and He gathered around Him disciples and apostles, whom He commissioned to evangelize the nations. In the Bible we hardly ever find Jesus alone. He stands always with the saints. We know our Lord—and, in the strict sequence of history, He is certainly our Lord before He is my Lord—through the experiences and writings of the saints.

…Thus, the experience of the saints is essential to the matter and form of the revelation. The Church—the body of the believers, the saints—pertains to the very substance of the Gospel. Those who mediate the Good News are an integral component of the Good News. This is the reason the Creed includes “the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church” within its articles of belief. It is an extraordinary thing to reflect that God reveals Himself to us through the responsive experience of others who preceded us. Their Spirit-given response to God’s revelation became a component of the revelation. Consequently, it is crucial not to mute the historical quality—the sequential and transmitting process—of the revelation. When we speak of the historical, factual nature of revelation and redemption, we mean something very clear and definite: Certain historical events actually constitute the substance of revelation and redemption. Redemption and revelation are identical to those events.

…With respect to the second meaning of “time” (chronos), the aforesaid events took place sequentially, in the formal process of a Tradition (paradosis). They were transmitted—and in the Spirit-given memory of the Church, the very historical identity of the Church, continue to be transmitted—in a specific historical, accumulative sequence; revelation and redemption are chronometric. All of sacred theology, including the theology of salvation, comes through salvation history. It is essential to the Christian faith to insist that at absolutely no point do revelation and redemption lose their historical quality.

From Patrick Henry Reardon’s book Reclaiming the Atonement: An Orthodox Theology of Redemption (Volume 1 of 3: The Incarnate Word).

August 17, 2017

what if education was primarily concerned with shaping our hopes and passions

From Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation by James K.A. Smith:

What if education … is not primarily about the absorption of ideas and information, but about the formation of hearts and desires? What if we began by appreciating how education not only gets into our head but also (and more fundamentally) grabs us by the gut? What if education was primarily concerned with shaping our hopes and passions – our visions of ‘the good life’ – and not merely about the dissemination of data and information as inputs to our thinking? What if the primary work of education was the transforming of our imagination rather than the saturation of our intellect? …

What if education wasn’t first and foremost about what we know, but about what we love?”

July 31, 2017

by considering yourself a victim you but enlarge the vacuum of irresponsibility that demons or demagogues love so much to fill

Whenever you are in trouble, in some scrape, on the verge of despair or in despair, remember: that’s life speaking to you in the only language it knows well. In other words, try to be a little masochistic: without a touch of masochism, the meaning of life is not complete. If this is of any help, try to remember that human dignity is an absolute, not a piecemeal notion, that it is inconsistent with special pleading, that it derives its poise from denying the obvious. Should you find this argument a bit on the heady side, think at least that by considering yourself a victim you but enlarge the vacuum of irresponsibility that demons or demagogues love so much to fill, since a paralyzed will is no dainty for angels.

By Joseph Brodsky [unknown source, posted by friend on social media].

July 2, 2017

public life is not larger than private life, but smaller

From G.K. Chesterton’s “Turning Inside Out” in Fancies vs. Fads, 1923:

The passage from private life to public life … is always of necessity a passage from a greater work to a smaller one, and from a harder work to an easier one. And that is why most of the moderns do wish to pass from the great domestic task to the smaller and easier commercial one. They would rather provide the liveries of a hundred footmen than be bothered with the love-affairs of one. They would rather take the salutes of a hundred soldiers than try to save the soul of one. They would rather serve out income-tax papers or telegraph forms to a hundred men than meals, conversation, and moral support to one. They would rather arrange the educational course in history or geography, or correct the examination papers in algebra or trigonometry, for a hundred childrcn, than struggle with the whole human character of one. For anyone who makes himself responsible for one small baby, as a whole, will soon find that he is wrestling with gigantic angels and demons.

In another way there is something of illusion, or of irresponsibility, about the purely public function, especially in the case of public education. The educationist generally deals with only one section of the pupil’s mind. But he always deals with only one section of the pupils life. The parent has to deal, not only with the whole of the child’s character, but also with the whole of the child’s career. The teacher sows the seed, but the parent reaps as well as sows. The school-master sees more children, but it is not clear that he sees more childhood; certainly he sees less youth and no maturity. The number of little girls who take prussic acid is necessarily small. The boys who hang themselves on bed-posts, after a life of crime, are generally the minority. But the parent has to envisage the whole life of the individual, and not merely the school life of the scholar. …Everybody knows that teachers have a harassing and often heroic task, but it is not unfair to them to remember that in this sense they have an exceptionally happy task. The cynic would say that the teacher is happy in never seeing the results of his own teaching. I prefer to confine myself to saying that he has not the extra worry of having to estimate it from the other end. The teacher is seldom in at the death. To take a milder theatrical metaphor, he is seldom there on the night. But this is only one of many instances of the same truth: that what is called public life is not larger than private life, but smaller. What we call public life is a fragmentary affair of sections and seasons and impressions; it is only in private life that dwells the fullness of our life bodily.

June 11, 2017

it is built primarily on the double rhythm of preparation and fulfillment

Of Water and the Spirit: A Liturgical Study of Baptism by Alexander Schmemann.

We must realize first of all that preparation is a constant and essential aspect of the Church’s worship as a whole. It is impossible to enter into the spirit of liturgy, to understand its meaning and truly to participate in it without first understanding that it is built primarily on the double rhythm of preparation and fulfillment, and that this rhythm is essential to the Church’s liturgy because it reveals and indeed fulfills the double nature and function of the Church herself.

On the one hand the Church herself is preparation: she “prepares” us for life eternal. Thus her function is to transform our whole life into preparation. By her preaching, doctrine and prayer she constantly reveals to us that the ultimate “value” which gives meaning and direction to our lives is at the “end,” is “to come,” is to be hoped for, expected, anticipated. And without this basic dimension of “preparation” there simply is no Christianity and no Church. Thus the liturgy of the Church is always and primarily a preparation: it always points and tends beyond itself, beyond the present, and its function is to make us enter into that preparation and thus to transform our life by referring it to its fulfillment in the Kingdom of God.

Yet, on the other hand, the Church is also and essentially fulfillment. The events which gave her birth and which constitute the very source of her faith and life have taken place. Christ has come. In Him man was deified and has ascended to heaven. The Holy Spirit has come and His coming has inaugurated the Kingdom of God. Grace has been given and the Church truly is “heaven on earth,” for in her we have access to Christ’s table in His Kingdom. We have received the Holy Spirit and can partake, here and now, of the new life and be in communion with God.

It is in and through liturgy that this double nature of the Church is revealed and communicated to us. It is the proper function of the liturgy to “make” the Church preparation and to reveal her as fulfillment. Every day, every week, every year is thus transformed and made into this double reality, into a correlation between the “already” and the “not yet.” We could not have prepared ourselves for the Kingdom of God which is “yet to come” if the Kingdom were not “already” given to us. We could never have made the end an object of love, hope and desire if it were not revealed to us as a glorious and radiant beginning. We could never have prayed “Thy Kingdom come!” if we did not have the taste of that Kingdom already communicated to us. If the liturgy of the Church would not have been “fulfillment,” our life could never have become “preparation.” Thus this double rhythm of preparation and fulfillment, far from being accidental, constitutes the very essence of the liturgical life of the Church, of the liturgy not only in its totality but also in each of its component parts—each season, each service, each sacrament.

March 20, 2017

destroying sin through the instrumentality of death

There is a whole lot in my paltry readings of Maximus the Confessor that I don’t understand. However, I continue, and Maximus rewards patience time and again.

Here’s a recent example. Maximus says that Jesus came to give human death a new purpose. He made death into a weapon that we can use against our own sin. This confused me a lot at first, so let me set up the theological background a little more.

Death is simply a natural result of sin. We sometimes read Genesis as if God proclaimed that death would be the punishment for sin. In fact, God was not “assigning a consequence” but simply pointing out a reality about life. Death is fair (or just) because it is a natural extension of sin. This is because sin is turning away from God who is the loving source of life.

Moreover, death became tied up with human nature because our first sin caught us all in bonds of pain and pleasure. Our first sin left us serving a vicious tyranny of the urgent, always fleeing a pain or pursuing a pleasure that seemed more near-at-hand than God’s presence. It became natural for humans to pursue anything but God, and mortality became a human characteristic. It is terrible to think of death as natural to those made in God’s image, but we all learn to see each other in this world as destined for death instead of God. Socrates takes it as an axiom that “man is mortal.”

Maximus also points out that death and suffering are merciful because they keep us from going too far off course while we wander between increasingly extreme fears of pain or desires for pleasure. Although death is merciful in a way, God did not impose death on us as either a kindness or a punishment (most fundamentally). Death is simply reality apart from life with God. As love and the source of life, God hates death.

Moving a step further, human death attacks the core of God’s purpose in creation. Humans were made uniquely to ensure that all creatures would enjoy and display God’s love. By sinning (turning from God to pursue another source of goodness), the image bearers of God tangled up their own natures with death itself, entrapped there by pain and pleasure. Instead of promoting and protecting life in all creation, God’s image became connected to death by our sin. God’s image brought death to the world.

To set up a little background, I’ve wandered from Maximus’ main point (and wandered into a few points of my own, no doubt). Maximus is focused on explaining exactly how salvation is accomplished by Jesus Christ within this situation. Because God’s image became connected to death by our sin and brought death to all creation, Maximus shows how Christ becomes a human and used human death as an ingenious weapon against sin. Maximus says that Jesus Christ “turned death from a weapon to destroy human nature into a weapon to destroy sin.” This attack on our sin gives us a new weapon and opens a way for the curse on all of creation to be undone. Christ surprised the devil and death itself by giving this new purpose to human death. By becoming human and repurposing death, God restored to humans a way to serve again as the image of God.

Maximus explains at length how this was possible. Christ fully took on our own human desires for pleasure and our fears of pain, all the realities of our sins, while remaining free from committing any sins of his own. Therefore, death was not a natural or just consequence for Christ. The normal purposes of death did not apply to Christ, and he was able to give death a surprising new purpose. I won’t go into further details, but this surprise move required all that Jesus Christ was (as fully God and fully human).

This noble use of death to restore life with God is full of profound encouragements and implications regarding how to suffer and to carry our own cross with Jesus Christ each day in this life, even into our own eventual deaths. Amazingly, Maximus claims that “the baptized acquires the use of death to condemn sin.” Christ has now given death to each of us to use as a weapon against our own sin. Christ changed the function of death for all of those who unite themselves to Christ. In Christ, humans can learn to accept everyday experiences of suffering and death in ways that free us from our sin. Maximus is giving a theological basis for the Christian practices of asceticism and mortification (which are very easily abused and misunderstood).

Pointing continually to the work of Christ, Maximus points us to the only perfect example of how to use death as a weapon against sin. However, Maximus the Confessor, as a follower of Christ, is himself a profound example. All those tortured for Jesus Christ were called “Confessors.” In Maximus’ case, he insisted on confessing the truth even when they promised to cut out his tongue and remove his right hand for preaching or writing one more word about who Jesus was. That didn’t stop him.

Here are some passages from Maximus himself (from Ad Thalassium 61 “On the Legacy of Adam’s Transgression”):

For if the deviance of free choice [by Adam] introduced passibility, corruptibility, and mortality in Adam’s nature, it only followed that in Christ, the immutability of free choice, realized through his resurrection, introduced natural impassibility, incorruptibility, and immortality.

…He exhibited the equity of his justice in the magnitude of his condescension, when he willingly (κατὰ θέλησιν) submitted to the condemnation imposed on our passibility (τὸ παθητόν) and turned that very passibility into an instrument for eradicating sin and the death which is its consequence—or in other words, for eradicating pleasure and the pain which is its consequence. For it was in human passibility that the power of sin and death (the tyranny of sin connected with pleasure and the oppression associated with pain) all began. Indeed, the rule of pleasure and pain over our nature clearly originated in the liability to passions. Wanting to escape the oppressive experience of pain we sought refuge in pleasure, attempting to console our nature when it was hard-pressed with pain’s torment. Striving to blunt pain’s spasms with pleasure, we merely sanctioned against ourselves a greater debt (cf Col 2:14) of pain, powerless to disconnect pleasure from pain and its toils. But the Lord exerted manifest strength of transcendent power by inaugurating for human nature a birth unchanged by the contrary realities (of pleasure and pain) which he himself experienced. For having given our human nature impassibility through his Passion, remission through his toils, and eternal life through his death, he restored that nature again, renewing the habitudes of human nature by his own deprivations in the flesh and granting to human nature through his own incarnation the supernatural grace of deification.

…Therefore death, in its dynasty, dominates all of human nature because of the transgression. …But the Lord, …naturally willed to die…. Clearly he suffered, and converted the use (χρῆσις) of death so that in him it would be a condemnation not of our nature but manifestly only of sin itself.

The baptized acquires the use of death to condemn sin. …Such will ensue if indeed the saints, for the sake of truth and righteousness, have virtuously finished the course of this life with its many sufferings, liberating their nature within themselves from death as a condemnation of sin and, like Christ, the captain of our salvation (Heb 2:10), turned death from a weapon to destroy human nature into a weapon to destroy sin.

From the translator’s notes:

Maximus repeats here his slightly earlier affirmation that Christ “converted the use of death” (τὴν τοῦ θανάτου χρῆσιν ἀντέστρεψιν) so as to condemn sin and not human nature itself. We already see in Ad Thal. 42 (translated above) Maximus’s larger perspective on Christ’s assumption of human passibility in its fullness, becoming the “sin” which is a consequence of the fall (but not the “sin” committed in moral acts) and so for our sakes taking on the mortality which is its condemnation. Recalling here the christianized Stoic idiom of “good use” of the human passions (cf Ad Thal. 1), Maximus describes Christ “using” death, the ultimate “passion” and the end of human passibility, as a redemptive instrument. Elsewhere, Maximus speaks of Christ’s blameless use of the fear of death (Disputation with Pyrrhus, PG 91:297B), for Christ alone turns it into a “voluntary” fear that encourages the Christian faithful in their own confrontation with death (Opusc. 7, PG 91:80D; cf Comm. on the Lord’s Prayer, CCSG 23:34, 135–35, 142).

…Maximus is insistent that the Christian appropriates Christ’s own good “use” of the ultimate passion of death (see note 9 above) by his or her own discipline of mortification. One should not overlook his important distinction between destroying death and destroying sin through the instrumentality of death.

March 7, 2017

souls often harden during the course of life

From Eugene Vodolazkin’s Laurus:

Leave her here, wept Arseny’s soul, she and I have become entwined. Get used to separation, said Death, it is painful, even if it is only temporary. Will we recoginze each other in eternity? asked Arseny’s soul. That depends in large part on you, said Death, Souls often harden during the course of life, and then they barely recognize anyone after death. If your love, O Arseny, is not false and does not fade with the passage of time, one might ask, why would you not recognize each other there, where there be not illness, not sorrow, not groaning, but where there shall be everlasting life? Death patted Ustina’s soul on the cheek. Ustina’s soul was small, almost childlike. Her response to the affectionate gesture was more likely fear than gratitutde. This is how children respond to those who take them from their kin for an indefinite period: life (death) for them will, perhaps, not be bad, but it will be completely different from what they are used to, lacking the former stucture familiar events, and turns of speech. As they leave, they keep looking back and seeing their frightened reflections in the teary eyes of their kin.

December 29, 2016

wisdom is found on the desolate hillside

From “The Story of El-ahrairah and the Black Rabbit of Inlé” (chapter 31) in Watership Down: A Novel by Richard Adams:

El-ahrairah went along the hedgerow to the wood and sat alone under a nut bush, looking out across the fields. As the light began to fail, he suddenly realized that Lord Frith was close beside him, among the leaves.

“Are you angry, El-ahrairah?” asked Lord Frith.

“No, my lord,” replied El-ahrairah, “I am not angry. But I have learned that with creatures one loves, suffering is not the only thing for which one may pity them. A rabbit who does not know where a gift has made him safe is poorer than a slug, even though he may think otherwise himself.”

“Wisdom is found on the desolate hillside, El-ahrairah, where none comes to feed, and the stony bank where the rabbit scratches a hole in vain.”

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December 17, 2016

eight days before the Kalends of January

Hippolytus of Rome (202 AD):

The first coming of our Lord, that in the flesh, in which he was born at Bethlehem, took place eight days before the Kalends of January, a Wednesday, in the forty-second year of the reign of Augustus.

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