Book Review: Trevor Gervase Jalland’s The Church and the Papacy

One of Our Lord’s commands that we have difficulty fulfilling is this one:

But it is not only for them that I am interceding, but also for those who believe in me through their Message, That they all may be one–that as thou, Father, art in union with us–and so the world may believe that thou hast sent me as thy Messenger. (John 17:20-21 TCNT)

No where is that more apparent than the relationship between those who are under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome–the Roman Catholics–and those who are not, whether the latter be Protestant, Orthodox or otherwise.  Most Protestants have brushed off any idea of union with–or certainly under–Rome.  Unless you figure that Protestant and Orthodox churches will simply roll the Roman Catholics–and in some places like Latin America that’s a possibility–sooner or later some accommodation with the See of Peter needs to be considered, or at least the obstacles to that accommodation need to be dispassionately discussed.

A serious discussion of this is Trevor Gervase Jalland’s The Church and the Papacy.  Jalland, Vicar of St. Thomas the Martyr in Oxford and an Anglo-Catholic, delivered the Bampton Lectures at Oxford in 1942.  These lectures became the book.  As such it presupposes a fairly broad knowledge of the history of the church.  Jalland’s main objective is to examine the validity of the claim of the See of Rome to Petrine Primacy, and how that claim has been actualized over the centuries.

The focus of his interest is the period from the New Testament to the end of the sixth century, which takes up most of his narrative.  He brings out three important points which become leitmotifs in the history of the Roman Empire church in general and the Roman see in particular.

The first is that the assertion–and the acceptance–of Petrine primacy for the Roman see was relatively early in its history.  It should be understood that the church’s structure was “looser” at that time and this primacy didn’t mean then what it means now, but primacy it was all the same.

The second is that the principal objective in bishops of Rome exerting this primacy was to insure that the faith which was handed down by the apostles–the paradosis, to use the transliterated Greek term that Jalland employs frequently–was preserved and maintained.  That brought a conservatism to the way Rome responded to the many doctrinal crises that came from the East, a salutary one in most cases.

The third is that this primacy was set in opposition to the Caesero-papism that dominated Eastern church polity.  From Constantine I onward Eastern Roman emperors exerted enormous authority over the calling of and presiding over Church councils and the doctrine which they promulgated.  The See of Rome did not feel that the state really had any business doing this, although they frequently had to express this opinion very diplomatically.  That rivalry was exacerbated by the rise of the see of Constantinople, which had no antiquity (as opposed to that of Rome, Alexandria, Antioch or even Jerusalem) and that rivalry ultimately paved the way to the split between Roman Catholic and Orthodox in 1054.

It’s tempting to observe that, had Rome stuck to the program above, it could have avoided many of the problems that arose later.  Jalland doesn’t really come out and say this, but he does show that many of the changes in the nature of the Papacy in the Middle Ages were due to the increasingly politicized nature of the Papacy itself.  This manifested itself in two forms.  First, the Pope, having sent the Eastern Emperor packing so to speak, felt that he was over the monarchs of the West, and that headship involved political authority.  The second was that, by virtue of Papal territory in Central Italy, the Pope became a secular ruler in his own right, with the political role that accompanied that.  Both of these created conflict between the Pope and secular rulers, and that conflict helped to fuel the Reformation itself both on the Continent and in Great Britain.

Jalland describes two points in Papal history where a major turn of history took place at a point of weakness in Rome.  The first is the Reformation: Jalland describes a Papacy enmeshed in worldly considerations and taking a “deer in headlights” attitude to the oncoming storm in Germany.  The second is Vatican I, where Papal infallibility was proclaimed.  Jalland opined that the crisis occasioned by the reunification of the country and the progressive disappearance of the Papal States lead Pius IX to seek help from above, first in the proclamation of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin in 1854 (a doctrine not well supported in tradition) and his own infallibility in 1870, the promulgation of which provides the “book ends” for the lectures.

Jalland, unusual among Christian historians, has a good grasp on the relationship of doctrine with ecclesiology, and the impact of “church politics” (which includes both politics within the church and its interaction with the state.)  He avoids the kinds of artificial constructs and sweeping generalizations that plague debates within the church these days.  He has an Anglo-Catholic’s aversion to state control of the church, one seen also in Luckock.  That is an appropriate backdrop to one of the most interesting narratives in the book: how Pius VII outlasted Napoleon in spite of the latter’s attempt to use the Papacy for his own purposes, something that Stalin’s successors would have done well to remember.

So now that he has shown the antiquity of Petrine primacy, where did he think things were going with Rome?  In the last lecture he makes the following statement:

The latest tragedy of its history seems to lie in this, that the vain attempt to save what had long ceased to be valuable contributed its failure to appreciate the opportunity for fulfilling its world-wide mission as a centre of unity and order for Christian society as a whole under changed conditions, and led only to a comparatively sterile reassertion of its primatial status.

Jalland was unsure of where all of this was going, both for the Roman Catholics and for everyone else.  Three quarters of a century after Jalland gave these lectures, we really don’t have a clearer picture.  Vatican II had a great deal of promise but its own mandate for change was at once too broad and too narrow, and worse it became the tool of those with a sub-Christian agenda.  The current Occupant of the See of Peter, back to the usual agenda of protecting the Vatican’s turf, currying favor with the “gods of this world” and using the authority of an infallible successor to Peter to make this happen, has left many inside and outside the Church in the lurch.  As for the Protestant world, the Main Line churches, descendants (in the US) for the most part of the state churches (in Europe) that emerged from the Reformation, have lost center stage to the Evangelicals and Pentecostals, whose propensity to splinter makes putting the pieces back together difficult just by the sheer number of the pieces themselves.

What Christianity needs is leadership which is committed to transmitting the paradosis of the Apostles without expanding it.  If the See of Peter ever rediscovers that mission, it will fulfill the final charge which Our Lord gave to Peter:

When breakfast was over, Jesus said to Simon Peter: “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than the others?” “Yes, Master,” he answered, “you know that I am your friend.” “Feed my lambs,” said Jesus. Then, a second time, Jesus asked: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Master,” he answered, “you know that I am your friend.” “Tend my sheep,” said Jesus. The third time, Jesus said to him: “Simon, son of John, are you my friend?” Peter was hurt at his third question being ‘Are you my friend?’; and exclaimed: “Master, you know everything! You can tell that I am your friend.” “Feed my sheep,” said Jesus. “In truth I tell you,” he continued, “when you were young, you used to put on your own girdle, and walk wherever you wished; but, when you have grown old, you will have to stretch out your hands, while some one else puts on your girdle, and takes you where you do not wish.” (John 21:15-18 TCNT)

Communion in the Hand, and Those Pesky Easterners

This, brought to my attention, from Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical Lectures, toward the very end:

Approaching therefore, come not with thy wrists extended, or they fingers open; but make they left hand as if a throne for thy right, which is on the eve of receiving the King.  And having hallowed thy palm, receive the Body of Christ, saying after it, Amen.  Then after thou hast with carefulness hallowed thy eyes by the touch of the Holy Body, partake thereof; giving heed lest thou lose any of it; for what thou losest, is a loss to thee as it were from one of thine own members.  For tell me, if any one gave thee gold dust, wouldest thou not with all precaution keep it fast, being on thy guard against losing any of it, and suffering loss?  How much more cautiously then will thou observe that not a crumb falls from thee, of what is more precious than gold and precious stones?

Then after having partaken of the Body of Christ, approach also to the Cup of His Blood; not stretching forth thine hands, but bending and saying in the way of worship and reverence, Amen, be thou hallowed by partaking also of the blood of Christ.  And while the moisture is still upon thy lips, touching it with thy hands, hallow both thine eyes and brow and the other senses.  Then wait for the prayer, and give thanks unto God, who has accounted thee worthy of so great mysteries.  (Mystagogical Cathacheses, V, 21-22)

One of the hills the Trad Catholics die on is reception of the Host on the tongue.  But as is the case with many things, the Eastern churches, whose sacramental validity has never been challenged, do many things in liturgical practice that haven’t sat well with their Western counterparts.  This is one of them.  Many of the “novelties” that are decried by Anglican and Catholic Trad alike are in reality imports from these churches, and as such are a real nuisance to these trads.

I did a series a few years back on Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical Lectures.  For me, it was an interesting and informative journey, and I commend it again to my visitors.

Scourged and Crucified: A Good Friday Reflection

In all of their glorification of the “giants of the faith,” evangelicals either overlook or ignore the fact that same giants were usually far better versed in the classics of antiquity than is common today.   To some extent this is understandable: study of these works has taken a beating the last fifty years, and we have the ignorant national discourse to show it.  But it is also indicative of Evangelicals’ own narrow view of things.  They learn enough about classical antiquity in order to read the maps in the back of the Bible, and that’s about it.

One giant of the faith who was well versed in them was G.K. Chesterton.  When he looked at the clash between Elijah and the followers of Yahweh and Jezebel and the followers of Baal at Mt. Carmel, he saw more than two competing teams: he saw a civilisational conflict between those who put there trust in the intangible and those who were driven strictly by commercial considerations.  To him the competition between the Romans and the Carthiginians (Carthage was a colony of Tyre) was just the “Western Front” of this war, and archeology has borne this out in a grisly way.

In addition to such unappetising customs, the Carthaginians brought crucifixion to the western Mediterranean.  This grisly combined punishment and execution was Middle Eastern in origin; Herodotus mentions it, probably came from Persia.  It percolated across the Levant and from there to Carthage.  The fact that it combined punishment and execution meant that, in most cases, it was deemed enough by itself.

The Second Punic War (of three) between Rome and Carthage had several classical historians document it and one of those was Livy.  His history from the start of Rome to Augustus is sweeping in its scope.  Much of the history is centred on battles and punishments, and it’s the latter we will focus on.  Although as noted crucifixion was usually considered punishment enough, Livy records two instances during the Second Punic War where people were both scourged and crucified.

The first took place after Hannibal’s victory at Lake Trasimene, in the early stages of his Italian campaign:

He (Hannibal) then ordered a guide to lead him into the territory of Casinum, as he had been informed by people familiar with the country that the occupation of the pass would cut the route by which the Romans could bring aid to their allies.  His pronunciation, however, did not take kindly to Latin names, with the result that the guide thought he said ‘Casilinum’; he accordingly went in the wrong direction, coming down by way of Allifae, Calatia and Cales in the plain of Stella, where seeing on every side a barrier of mountains and rivers, he sent for the guide and asked where on earth he was.  The guide answered he would lodge that day at Casilinum, whereupon Hannibal realised his mistake and knew that Casinum was miles away in a different direction.  He had the guide scourged and crucified as an example to others… (Livy, XXII, 13)

The second took place towards the end of the war, when the Carthiginian general Mago attempted to enter Gades (Cadiz) in southwestern Spain.  Formerly a Carthiginian ally, their change in heart proved deadly for the town’s leadership:

Mago on his return to Gades found himself shut out of the town.  Sailing to Cimbii, which was not far distant, he sent representatives back to Gades to complain of the gates’ being barred against a friend and ally; the people of the town tried to excuse themselves by saying it had been the work of a section of the populace which was enraged because the soldiers had stolen property of their when they went aboard ship; whereupon Mago enticed to a conference the sufetes of the town (the highest sort of Carthaginian magistrate) together with the treasurer, and, once they were in his power, had them scourged and crucified.  (Livy, XXVIII, 37)

The Carthiginians were hard masters, which may in part explain why the Italian allies/subjects of Rome did not bolt en masse after Cannae.  But the Romans, the supreme adapters as they were, made crucifixion part of their arsenal against those who had the bad idea of challenge or revolt against Roman authority.  Our Lord had predicted that he would be the victim of such a treatment:

When Jesus was on the point of going up to Jerusalem, he gathered the twelve disciples round him by themselves, and said to them as they were on their way: “Listen! We are going up to Jerusalem; and there the Son of Man will be betrayed to the Chief Priests and Teachers of the Law, and they will condemn him to death, And give him up to the Gentiles for them to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify; and on the third day he will rise.” (Matthew 20:17-19, TCNT.)

The Romans lived up to his expectations:

Pilate, however, spoke to them again: “What shall I do then with the man whom you call the ‘King of the Jews’?”

Again they shouted: “Crucify him!”

“Why, what harm has he done?” Pilate kept saying to them.

But they shouted furiously: “Crucify him!” And Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas to them, and, after scourging Jesus, gave him up to be crucified. (Mark 15:12-15, TCNT.)

Scourging someone before crucifixion made death on the cross more rapid, something that Pilate, mindful of the Jews’ Passover, may have wanted to take place.

But that scourging, anticipated by Our Lord, had a purpose, as did the crucifixion:

He bears our sins, and is pained for us: yet we accounted him to be in trouble, and in suffering, and in affliction. But he was wounded on account of our sins, and was bruised because of our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and by his bruises we were healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5 Brenton)

In his crucifixion and resurrection Jesus won a victory, not only over sin, death, and the physical pain of this life, but over those who would posit life only as an extended business deal like the Carthaginians who, with Jezebel’s co-religionists, sacrificed their own children as part of their bargain with the gods.

And that’s good news for everyone.

 

Does Anyone Really Believe This Current System is Permanent?

One of side “benefits” of being in the Anglican/Episcopal blogosphere is to get to know “Anglicans Unscripted,” the video interview series hosted by Kevin Kallsen, with frequent contribution by fellow Palm Beacher George Conger.  In a recent episode with Kallsen and the Queen’s former chaplain Gavin Ashenden, they discussed a float in Justin Welby’s parade of inept gaffes, namely his statement during a meeting with the Patriarch in Moscow that he lacked freedom to speak out on issues back in the UK.  In the course of discussing this Kallsen makes this observation:

What Kallsen is saying is that, in Russia, the church understands that kings and governments come and go and the church remains.  In the West, however, the church feels that it has to get with the program so that “society” and “culture” will allow the church the right to exist.  I also suspect that, even with the much shorter history of Christianity in China, the Chinese take the same attitude, which explains why Christian churches in China experience the growth they do even in the face of government and party hostility.

For an American to come to this realisation, let alone verbalise it, is amazing, although I’ve found the debate level in the Anglican/Episcopal world to be at a higher level than many other places in Christianity.  Americans take a notoriously short view of history, which more than anything else makes them inherently provincial.  The really sad truth is that, with more than fifty years of “liberation,” world travel and the fire hose of news that the internet affords, they still have the idea that this system of things will not basically change, which only reinforces the baneful provinciality.

That attitude is the one thing that actually unites both sides of our political scene in this country.   In spite of noises such as the abolition of the Electoral College or the institution of a parliamentary system on one side or amendments against abortion or same-sex civil marriage on the other, both sides see their destiny fulfilled in the current system with the current structure.  That’s a major reason both sides carry on as vociferously as they do; they look on success in politics as an existential necessity.

But countries come and countries go, and the way they’re governed goes with it.  Americans are out of touch with reality when they reflexively oppose any kind of secession (including Catalonia, Scotland, and the best one, Calexit.)  Christians in particular should understand that regimes and systems change (just compare those we have now to those in the Scriptures should make that clear) and that the church needs to fulfil the mission Our Lord put it on the earth to accomplish.  One reason why American Christians are having a hard time understanding (let alone supporting) Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option” is that the original Benedict Option was made necessary by the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, an event which is entirely outside the experience of Americans.  (It’s hard to get Americans to understand what the collapse of the other superpower was really like, which is why we have so much foolish prattle about the Russians.)

It’s time for our ministers to earn their keep and set forth the idea that the church needs to really “be the church” (and not just in the way it worships either) and not constantly beholden to a system which is USD20 trillion in debt.  The results of that realisation may not be easy to carry out in this life, but doing so beats the blowback to what we’re doing now on the other side.

Was Augustine Really the Worst for Christian Theology?

One of the real shockers of recent American Christianity was the conversion of Hank Hannegraff, the “Bible Answer Man,” to Greek Orthodoxy.  That was upsetting to many who had followed his Bible answers for many years, but it was especially upsetting to the Reformed types, who basically acted like he had left Christianity.  (That sounds like what Sunni Muslims sound like when describing Shi’a Islam, but I digress…)  I thought that violent of a reaction strange.  Didn’t the Greeks work out the divinity of Christ against the Arians while the West basically watched?  Didn’t they define the two natures of Christ at Chalcedon?  Aren’t the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds of Eastern origin?

Some light on that kind of panic comes from Alexander Viet Griswold Allen’s book The Continuity of Christian Thought: A Study of Modern Theology in Light of its History.  (I’ll bet that Frank Griswold, Sufi Rumi’s disciple and former Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, is a relative, but I haven’t checked it out.)  Allen is today mostly forgotten, but the Anglican world would do well to remember him, both for his good points and his bad ones.

Allen’s basic premise is that Augustine and his theology, with is focus on original sin and depravity, predestination, the eternal state of the blessed and damned, and the role the church in all of this was the finishing touch in making Latin Christianity what it was, which was much different from Greek Christianity.  Today, of course, Reformed types back pedal Augustine’s role in the formation of their idea. But such is somewhere between ignorant and duplicitous, and most of then know it: as this blog points out:

I actually believe that the contrary is true; what Augustine actually taught is being ignored and with the resurgence of Calvinism (an offshoot of Augustinianism) needs to be studied carefully. If you don’t think that’s true I invite you to look for books critical of Augustine. The only ones I have found were originally published no later than 1914.

Allen himself outlines the difference between Greek and Latin Christianity as follows:

The Greek theology was based upon that tradition or interpretation of the life and teaching of Christ which at a very early date had found its highest expression in the Fourth Gospel; while the Latin theology followed another tradition preserved by what are called the synoptical writers in the first three gospels.  The fundamental principle in Greek theology, underlying every position which it assumed, was the doctrine of the divine immanence–the presence of God in nature, in humanity, in the process of human history; in Latin thought may be everywhere discerned the working of another principle, sometimes known as Deism, according to which God is conceived as apart from the world, localized at a vast distance in the infinitude of space.  By Greek thinkers the incarnation was regarded as the completion and the crown of a spiritual process in the history of man, dating from the creation; and by Latin writers as the remedy for a catastrophe, by which humanity had been severed from its affiliation with God.

The last point is crucial, because in converting to Orthodoxy Hannegraff had (whether he realised it or not) inverted his whole idea of man’s relationship with God from the Augustinian/Reformed concept.  Little wonder the latter thought he had left the faith.

Allen’s solution to this problem was to shift back to a more Greek (sometimes called Athanasian) idea, and the road he chose was through Schliermacher.  Unfortunately for Allen and those who thought like him, this sunny concept of life and Christianity received a cruel blow in the trenches of World War I.  Also, its open endedness is a setup for passing outside of Christianity of any kind, something that liberal Episcopalians were blind to and which facilitated another catastrophe, namely the crisis of the 1960’s and beyond and the exodus from the church that followed.

Allen himself admits that Augustinian/Reformed types put a lot of starch in their shirts:

Once more in the history of Christianity, in our own age, an ecclesiastical reaction has been and still is in progress, which is based on the same principle that inspired Augustine and Loyola.  To the mind of a writer like De Maistre, seeking to impose again on the modern world the authority of an infallible pope as the highest expression of the will of God, the theology of Aquinas, even though illustrated with the brilliancy of Bossuet’s genius, seemed like shuffling, vacillating weakness.  Carlyle, who at heart remained as he had been born, a sturdy Calvinist, presents in literature the spectacle of one who finds no institution that responds to his ideal: everywhere appears weakness, disorder and confusion, accompanied with shallow talk about liberty; he bewails the absence of the “strong man” upon whose portrait in history he gazed with fascinated vision, whose coming he invoked as the one crying need of the time.

We see such attitudes coming back into fashion in #straightouttairondale Catholicism and the resurgence of the Reformed types.  But is this dichotomy which Allen describes all we have to choose from?  The answer is no.

Allen suggests an old antithesis, namely that God is either imminent or transcendent.  That was put in front of me growing up Episcopalian.  But it’s a false dichotomy, especially for someone who was converted in this way.  The simple truth–one I discovered in Aquinas–is that the omnipresent God is not created and we are.  That, in turn set up the compelling reason that God himself should enter his creation as a man and win our salvation, because his uncreated goodness is enough and our created goodness isn’t.  We don’t need total depravity for us to need God, we just need to lack the resources to get to God, which we do.

Allen rightly observes that, with the Augustinian/Reformed idea of absolute predestination, Jesus Christ is in many ways unnecessary, as long as God wills it.  (If that sounds Islāmic, it should.)  Some people who inherited the separation of the Reformation have tried to fix that problem, most prominently John Wesley, starting as he did with Anglicanism’s loophole, to say nothing of this.

To answer the original question, “Was Augustine the worst for Christian theology,” the answer is no.  He has his faults but he has his strong points as well.  In the same vein, as we commemorate the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing the 95 Theses on the door, we need to recognise that the Reformation is in itself not a completed work.  It was not the end of making the Church right but only the beginning.

The Five Lessons of Creation

From Philo Judaeus, On the Creation of the World, LXI:

And in his before mentioned account of the creation of the world, Moses teaches us also many other things, and especially five most beautiful lessons which are superior to all others.

  1. In the first place, for the sake of convicting the atheists, he teaches us that the Deity has a real being and existence. Now, of the atheists, some have only doubted of the existence of God, stating it to be an uncertain thing ; but others, who are more audacious, have taken courage, and asserted positively that there is no such thing; but this is affirmed only by men who have darkened the truth with fabulous inventions.

  2. In the second place he teaches us that God is one; having reference here to the assertors of the polytheistic doctrine men who do not blush to transfer that worst of evil constitutions, ochlocracy, from earth to heaven.

  3. Thirdly, he teaches, as has been already related, that the world was created; by this lesson refuting those who think that it is uncreated and eternal, and who thus attribute no glory to God.

  4. In the fourth place we learn that the world also which was thus created is one, since also the Creator is one, and he,making his creation to resemble himself in its singleness, employed all existing essence in the creation of the universe. For it would not have been complete if it had not been made and composed of all parts which were likewise whole and complete. For there are some persons who believe that there are many worlds, and some who even fancy that they are boundless in extent, being themselves inexperienced and ignorant of the truth of those things of which it is desirable to have a correct knowledge.

  5. The fifth lesson that Moses teaches us is, that God exerts his providence for the benefit of the world. For it follows of necessity that the Creator must always care for that which he has created, just as parents do also care for their children. And he who has learnt this not more by hearing it than by his own understanding, and has impressed on his own soul these marvellous facts which are the subject of so much contention namely, that God has a being and existence, and that he who so exists is really one, and that he has created the world, and that he has created it one as has been stated, having made it like to himself in singleness; and that he exercises a continual care for that which he has created will live a happy and blessed life, stamped with the doctrines of piety and holiness.

I would suggest that you (especially if you’re NEC) read this in light of this piece.

Anger in God

Something to consider, from Philo Judaeus, On the Unchangeableness of God XI:

And this is what follows:  “I will destroy,” says God, ” the man whom I have made from off the face of the earth, from man to beast, from creeping things to the fowls of the air, because I have considered and repent that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:7) Now, some persons, when they hear the expressions which I have just cited, imagine that the living God is here giving away to anger and passion; but God is utterly inaccessible to any passion whatever. For it is the peculiar property of human weakness to be disquieted by any such feelings, but God has neither the irrational passions of the soul, nor are the parts and limits of the body in the least belonging to him. But, nevertheless, such things are spoken of with reference to God by the great lawgiver in an introductory sort of way, for the sake of admonishing those persons who could not be corrected otherwise. For of all the laws which are couched in the form of injunction or prohibition, and such alone are properly speaking laws; there are two principal positions laid down with respect to the great cause of all things: one, that God is not as a man; the other, that God is as a man. But the first of these assertions is confirmed by the most certain truth, while the latter is introduced for the instruction of the many. In reference to which, it is said about them, “as a man would instruct his son.” (Deuteronomy 1:31) And this is said for the sake of instruction and admonition, and not because he is really such by nature.  For of men some are attached to the service of the soul, and others to that of the body; now the companions of the soul, being able to associate with incorporeal natures, appreciable only by the intellect, do not compare the living God to any species of created beings; but, dissociating it with any idea of distinctive qualities (for this is what most especially contributes to his happiness and to his consummate felicity, to comprehend his naked existence without any connection with figure or character), they, I say, are content with the bare conception of his existence, and do not attempt to invest him with any form.

There are two concepts here, both of which are, unfortunately, out of fashion right at the moment.

The first, to cut to the chase, is Philo’s idea that anger in God is an anthropomorphism, i.e., a human attribute spoken of in God to aid our understanding but which is not literally there.  We use this referring to such things as God’s hand, foot, etc., although God is incorporeal.  (The Mormons are not able to get that far, as they posit that God has a body, which cans his omnipresence, among other things.)  In the Greek view that Philo expresses, the passions of the soul (anger, lust, etc.) are connected with the body, while the rational soul, whose task it is to control these passions, is above this.  To attribute to God literal anger is to lower God, and there’s enough of that going on.

The second is that much of the Scriptures, and especially the Old Testament (which is all Philo had,) were written in an instructional way.  As anyone who has taught knows, it is necessary to sometimes simplify the material to get the students to initially grasp it.  Given the first proposition, saying that God is angry is likewise a teaching tool.  Saying that things in the Old Testament are such isn’t restricted to Philo or God’s anger: “Thus the Law has proved a guide to lead us to Christ, in order that we may be pronounced righteous as the result of faith.” (Galatians 3:24 TCNT)

To come back and say that this only exists in liberal Christianity is simply not so: this line of thinking pervades the Fathers of the Church and the medievals, including St. Thomas Aquinas.  And it is really different from liberal Christianity in that liberals do not think that God is angry for sentimental reasons.  The ancients and medievals accepted the fact that bad things happen and that bad things come when we transgress God’s way.  The question is whether we think that God, like the referee in a football game, simply calls the penalty and moves the ball back, or whether the angels duck to avoid the stuff that gets thrown from the throne room.

Today, of course, we’re supposed to be perpetually passionate and worked up, and we have the crazy society to prove it.

Sometimes It Pays to Think

Like in this, from A.B. Bruce’s The humiliation of Christ, about Eutyches, the Monophysite fanatic:

It is plain from those representations that Eutyches had no distinct definite conception of the constitution of our Lord’s person. He felt rather than thought on the subject of Christology. He did not pretend to comprehend the mystery of the Incarnation, but rather gloried in proclaiming its incomprehensibleness. He knew that God and flesh were altogether different things, and he believed that Christ s flesh was real; but the divinity bulked so large in his eye, that the humanity, in comparison, vanished into nothing. And if compelled by fact to admit that the humanity was still there, not drunk up like a drop of honey by the sea of the divinity, he refused, at all events, to regard it as on a level with ordinary humanity: reverence protested against calling Christ s divine body consubstantial with the bodies of common mortals.

The result of this was a mess:

It would have been well had the course of events permitted such a man to pass his life in obscurity. But it was otherwise ordered. Eutyches became the representative of a theory which engaged the attention of three Synods ; being condemned by the first, approved by the second,  and re-condemned and finally disposed of as a heresy by the third, the famous (Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon…)

The criticism Bruce levels against Eutyches has also been directed against the Orthodox in general.  Unfortunately Eutyches’ approach has its counterparts in other parts of Christianity.  And, in this emotionalistic age we live in, even the “rational” places are driven by the same kind of lack of thinking.

You Really Can Do Biblical Preaching From a Lectionary

Recently my wife and I ventured to Regent University for me to deliver a paper.  While there we got the chance to view one of the University’s new acquisitions, namely a Torah scroll from Yemen.The fact that a Christian university could acquire such a donation is a sign of the times: Evangelicals are about the only reliable Gentile group the Jews have for support, in spite of the attempt by BDS types to worm their way into the system.

A New Testament passage that prominently features a synagogue reading (not from the Torah) is this one:

Coming to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, Jesus, as was his custom, went on the Sabbath into the Synagogue, and stood up to read the Scriptures. The book given him was that of the Prophet Isaiah; and Jesus opened the book and found the place where it says– ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, For he has consecrated me to bring Good News to the poor, He has sent me to proclaim release to captives and restoration of sight to the blind, To set the oppressed at liberty, To proclaim the accepted year of the Lord.’ Then, closing the book and returning it to the attendant, he sat down. The eyes of all in the Synagogue were fixed upon him, And Jesus began: “This very day this passage has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21 TCNT)

The curator noted that, when Jesus was asked to read from the scroll, the reading was not of his immediate choosing, but came from a cycle of readings–a lectionary–that the synagogues employed.  He was told what to read, he read it and then interpreted it (not entirely to their liking, I might add…)

Lectionaries are the stock in trade of liturgical churches such as the Roman Catholic Church, Anglican/Episcopal churches, Orthodox churches and the like.  But Evangelicals avoid such constraints like the plague.  A good example of this came to me when I was in undergraduate school at Texas A&M.

One of the nice things that ministerial associations promote is pulpit exchanges, where ministers from different churches preach in other places.  For a Catholic church, this can be problematic, but in the 1970’s things were easier.  Our exchange was with a Baptist church; the Baptist pastor and our priest were good friends, shown by their mutually swelling waistlines.  (Gluttony, I might point out, was a sin for the Catholic, but a way of life for the Baptist.)

So the time for the Gospel reading came, and the Baptist preacher got up and, ignoring the fancy three-year lectionary cycle introduced by the Novus Ordo Missae, read from John 15.  His subsequent sermon on “love one another” was different: he observed that “the Aggies love the Aggies and the Catholics love the Catholics, but the Baptists don’t always love the Baptists.” (Subsequent experience would bear that out.)  That alone was probably worth the side trip from the lectionary, but it still was a side trip.

As was the case here, Evangelicals are loath to follow any kind of lectionary or reading pattern for the Scriptures. There are two main arguments against the practice.

First, some will say that it smacks of “formalism,” which is their objection for the liturgical concept.  But there’s no evidence that using a lectionary is a more “formal” way of doing things than doing it ad hoc every Sunday.

Second, Pentecostals and Charismatics will argue that it “blocks the move of the Spirit” if they are forced to preach out a set pattern of the Scriptures.  However, if it was good enough for Our Lord to not only read from a lectionary but to proclaim the fulfilment of prophecy, are we any better?

The major downside of doing it without a lectionary–assuming, of course, the lectionary is comprehensive in its coverage of the Scriptures–is that our ministers tend to develop a very limited repertoire of scriptures and sermons.  And didn’t Our Lord having something to say about repetition?

And, of course, special occasions pretty much demand a lectionary type of choice.  The first funeral I ever helped preach was for a former employee down in Georgia.  We got to the graveside, and the credentialed minister actually asked me what scripture to use.  (The answer can be found in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.)

So my advice to Evangelicals and Pentecostals is this: don’t disparage those who follow a lectionary, it just might improve what you are doing.

After the Resurrection, Did Our Lord Need Purification?

Of all of Jesus Christ’s post-resurrection appearances, this one is, in many ways, the most intriguing:

Meanwhile Mary was standing close outside the tomb, weeping. Still weeping, she leant forward into the tomb, And perceived two angels clothed in white sitting there, where the body of Jesus had been lying, one where the head and the other where the feet had been. “Why are you weeping?” asked the angels. “They have taken my Master away,” she answered, “and I do not know where they have laid him.” After saying this, she turned round, and looked at Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. “Why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” he asked. Supposing him to be the gardener, Mary answered: “If it was you, Sir, who carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away myself.” “Mary!” said Jesus. She turned round, and exclaimed in Hebrew: “Rabboni!” (or, as we should say, ‘Teacher’). “Do not hold me,” Jesus said; “for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my Brothers, and tell them that I am ascending to him who is my Father and their Father, my God and their God.” (John 20:11-17 TCNT)

There have been many explanations of Jesus’ statement “Do not hold me” to Mary Magdalene; in this piece I’ll look at two of the oldest interpretations, from Origen.  Both of these date from the first half of the third century.  The first one we’ll look at is probably the earliest, from his Commentary in John, VI, 37:

 And having by His passion destroyed His enemies, He who is strong in battle and a mighty Lord required after His mighty deeds a purification which could only be given Him by His Father alone;  and this is why He forbids Mary to touch Him, saying, “Touch Me not, for I am not yet ascended to My Father; but go and tell My disciples, I go to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.”

This is a pretty bold statement about someone who, as we saw last week, was sinless.  Origen was given to bold statements, which got him in trouble in life and in death.  But Evangelicals routinely blurt out stuff like “Jesus took on our sin,” so how did he get rid of it?  That’s a question that most evangelicals, as is often the case, don’t have a good answer for.

Simply put, Origen looks at Jesus’ death, resurrection and victory as a very high form of spiritual warfare, from which Jesus emerged victorious for himself and the rest of us.  Some kind of “recovery” after the battle is natural to posit.  It was in this situation that he told Mary Magdalene not to touch him.

Later in life he had the chance to discuss this issue again.  Origen wasn’t above changing his mind about things (as was the case with the transmigration of souls) and in his Dialogue with Heraclides he states the following:

If the spirit was put into the hands of the Father, he gave the spirit as a deposit. It is one thing to make a gift, another thing to hand over, and another to leave in deposit. He who makes a deposit does so with the intention of receiving back that which he has deposited. Why then had he to give the spirit to the Father as a deposit? The question is beyond me and my powers and my understanding. For I am not endowed with knowledge to enable me to say that, just as the body was not able to go down to Hades, even if this is alleged by those who affirm that the body of Jesus was spiritual, so also neither could the spirit go down to Hades, and therefore he gave the spirit to the Father as a deposit until he should have risen from the dead. . . . After he had entrusted this deposit to the Father, he took it back again. When? Not at the actual moment of the resurrection, but immediately after the resurrection. My witness is the text of the gospel. The Lord Jesus Christ rose again from the dead. Mary met him and he said to her: “Touch me not.” For he wished anyone that touched him to touch him in his entirety, that having touched him in his entirety he might be benefited in body from his body, in soul from his soul, in spirit from his spirit. “For I am not yet ascended to the Father.” He ascends to the Father and comes to the disciples. Accordingly he ascends to the Father. Why? To receive back the deposit.

Allegorists like Origen are criticised for playing “fast and loose” with the literal meaning of scripture.  But in reality they often “nit-pick” the scriptures for fine points, and do so better than more “literal” interpreters.  That is the case here.

Origen, in common with both the New Testament and Philo, considered human nature in three parts: body, soul and spirit.  “Then Jesus, with a loud cry, said: “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.” And with these words he expired.” (Luke 23:46 TCNT) Origen doesn’t simply take Jesus’ words as a figure of speech: he states that Our Lord placed his spirit up with his Father on a temporary basis.  The body then went to the tomb and the soul, with his divine nature, “…went and preached to the imprisoned spirits, who once were disobedient, at the time when God patiently waited, in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared; in which some few lives, eight in all, were saved by means of water.” (1 Peter 3:19-20 TCNT)

But that wasn’t the end of it: “And referred to the resurrection of the Christ when he said that ‘he had not been abandoned to the Place of Death, nor had his body undergone corruption.'” (Acts 2:31 TCNT) The Resurrection was simply the beginning of putting the pieces back together; the body was reunited with the soul, and then the Father returned his spirit to the Son.  But in Mary Magdalene’s early encounter, Our Lord had not been reunited just yet.

God is timeless; the Incarnation, like anything else in the material world, took place in time.  The fact that the process is not instantaneous should not surprise us.  The thing that we should never take for granted is not that it happened in time, but that it happened at all.

Much of this article is based on Crehan, J. H.. (1950) “The “Dialektos” of Origen and John 20:17″ Theological Studies, 11, 368-373.