Well, as promised I’m going to try to talk about my upcoming oral final exam, an Old Testament homily for my late-vocations class that I’m taking. We were given the task of selecting a OT lection (reading section from the liturgical rubrics) and give an approximately 10 minute homily on that topic. I’ve selected to give a homily on Job 2:1-10, and I might note that being Orthodox we’re using the Septuagint (for that is their Scriptural canon) and the book of Job differs considerably (it’s 400 lines shorter but is longer in some places). The Job 2:1-10 reading is significantly extended in the Septuagint. Many of the changes are not very consequential. However, the final chapter differs in some surprising ways, which indeed might affect one’s interpretations of the story. Read the rest of this entry
Mr Turk makes an interesting point in the conversation about ecumenical conversations, although I’m not entirely sure it’s the point he wants to make. A week or so ago he offered that those of other denominations, specifically the Roman and Easter churches were right with God only if they (accidentally) held to a Evangelical belief/approach to the Gospel. I think this point of view is held far more often by most people in every church/denomination. That is to say that any Christian church X thinks that members of church Y are in the soteriological pink inasmuch as those members in church Y (accidentally) hold to beliefs that are held in church X. That is, Mr Turk as an Evangelical thinks that the Catholic and Orthodox are saved if they hold an Evangelical understanding of the Gospel and those in the Roman hold that the Evangelical and Eastern are likewise correct when and where they (accidentally) hold to the Roman understanding of Gospel. And so on. Now I had been under the impression that I was “above the fray” in this regard. But on reflection, I am not. Read the rest of this entry
Frank Turk, cf this post, is down on wiggly ecumenism. And in this he is right. But it also seems out that he’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater. For there’s an important, and very difficult, first step toward ecumenism that he is not doing very well, especially regarding the East. Different traditions, as part of their growing apart, develop their own terminology. Even where they use the same words, they don’t often have the same meaning. Thus the first step of any ecumenical discussion is to find a common language for communication. This is one thing that one would hope a platform like Evangel and god-blogging in general can accomplish. Read the rest of this entry
Well, this class I’m taking has a mid-term exam. Next week I’m going to post my answers … the answers are due at midnight Saturday. We have to answer 2 of the 3 questions.
Write a short (3-5 pp., single spaced) presentation or sermon on the Genesis lection for the feast of the Birth of the Theotokos. Be sure to consult the text of the service in your attempt to understand the relation of the text of this reading to the celebration. You may also wish to draw from the larger context of the book of Genesis in formulating your answer.
The reading is from Genesis:
Now Jacob went out from Beersheba and went toward Haran. So he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. And he took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to sleep. Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the Lord stood above it and said: “I am the Lord God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants. “Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed. “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!”
Write a short (3-5 pp., single spaced) presentation or sermon on the Exodus lection for the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. Be sure to consult the text of the service in your attempt to understand the relation of the text of this reading to the celebration. You may also wish to draw from the larger context of the book of Exodus in formulating your answer.
The reading is from Exodus:
So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea; then they went out into the Wilderness of Shur. And they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. Now when they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter. Therefore the name of it was called Marah. And the people complained against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” So he cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree. When he cast it into the waters, the waters were made sweet. There He made a statute and an ordinance for them, and there He tested them, and said, “If you diligently heed the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in His sight, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the Lord who heals you. Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve wells of water and seventy palm trees; so they camped there by the waters. And they journeyed from Elim, and all the congregation of the children of Israel came to the Wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they departed from the land of Egypt.
Write a short (3-5 pp., single spaced) presentation or sermon on the 3 Kingdoms (1 Kings) lection for the feast of the Entry of the Theotokos in the Temple. Be sure to consult the text of the service in your attempt to understand the relation of the text of this reading to the celebration. You may also wish to draw from the larger context of the book of 3 Kingdoms (1 Kings) in formulating your answer.
The reading is from 3 Kings:
And it came to pass when Solomon had finished building the House of the Lord, he assembled all the elders of Israel in Zion, to bring the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord out of the City of David, which is Zion. And the priests took up the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord, the Tabernacle of the Testimony, and all the holy vessels that were in the Tabernacle of the Testimony.
And the King and all Israel went before the Ark. And the priests brought the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord to its place, into the Oracle of the Temple, into the Holy of Holies, under the wings of the cherubim. For the cherubim spread out their wings over the place of the Ark so that the cherubim made a covering above the Ark and its holy things above. There was nothing in the Ark except the two tablets of the Covenant which Moses put there at Horeb, when the Lord had made a Covenant.
And when the priests came out from the holy place, a cloud filled the house. And the priests were unable to stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord God Almighty filled the house.
One of the side effects of the late vocations classes I’m taking (currently on the Old Testament), is that after each session I return with wonderful kernels of ideas from which to expand a (hopefully) interesting essay based on the discussions we have in class. Last week one of the books we read was Isaiah.
Isaiah 7 … and particularly Isaiah 7:14 has been a lighting rod for messianic interpretations.
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin
shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
This verse and the surrounding few verses, Christians have traditionally taken as a sign-point identifying the virginity of the Theotokos. Much modern commentary focuses on defending the use of the word virgin. The Masoretic text (MT), which is the primary source for the Western canon (apparently) uses a term which is more ordinarily translated as young or unmarried girl … not virgin. The LXX text however both originates much earlier, might have used a separate strand of source text than the MT, and unambiguously uses a Greek term which translates as virgin. However, that isn’t the core problem. For even if you either buy the somewhat contorted arguments for translating the MT term “virgin” or just use the LXX itself as your base text there remains a problem (of course if you’re going to use the LXX here, then you’ve a problem explaining why you’ve decided to dropped half a dozen or more books from the canon … additionally one of the oldest complete extant LXX copies the Codex Alexandrinus also contains first and second Clement in the New Testament).
The occasion of the Manhattan declaration has been one in which a number of evangelicals, the very active Frank Turk at Evangel, has decided that the primary reason he will not sign is that it was done in concert with Roman Catholics, and apparently even worse than that, with the Eastern Orthodox. His point of view, and in fact his very reason for not signing has a number of prominent bloggers and those who self-label as Evangelicals who share his point of view. He writes:
I’ve said it elsewhere, so it should be no surprise when I say it here that I am sure there are Catholics who are saved, and likewise for the occasional Eastern Orthodox you may run into who exercises an Evangelical (large “E” intended) understanding of Jesus and the consequences of Him; but to throw out the wide blanket and just call all of these groups “Christian” in an overly-broad sociological sense, and to call all of them “believers” in the sense required to make the rest of the reasoning in this document is much.
This, to my ears, sounds very Pharisaic. Here we have Mr Turk standing in judgement of the whole of Catholicism and Orthodoxy and finding them wanting … except those few who secretly are “Evangelical.” Well, fortunately (apparently) for me, Mr Turk is not my judge, for I have a Judge already. It seems to me the Gospel has a few things to say about those trying to put themselves in the place of that Judge. Read the rest of this entry
If one were to attempt to continue the conversation about the Church in late modernity started by Matthew Lee Anderson here, there are a few avenues one might pursue. In the comments, there are suggestions of following threads from CS Lewis Abolition of Man. One might also suggest Michael Polanyi’s Personal Knowledge, or Huxley’s Brave New World. In the following, the endeavor is made to both step off that beaten track and to ask a question.
As an outsider looking in at the modern protestant (non-liturgical) evangelical church, one thing which strikes me which is synch with the secular enlightenment culture which Mr Anderson highlights is a personalization of the notion of the sacred and a loss of an exterior idea of Holiness. One of the aspects of the enlightenment which is entwined with the Protestant separation is the de-emphasis of the liturgical expression in favor of or over and above the interior spiritual experience.
From Biblical narratives there is no small emphasis of Holiness. “Take off your sandals for the ground on which you stand is Holy” is repeated in Exodus and Joshua. Other examples abound of how being in a Holy place or the presence of God … one changes one’s mode of presentation and practice. A place is Holy not because of Moses (or Joshua’s) interior spiritual experience, but because of a thing outside of either, that is the presence of God was being there, at that place and time.
At Emmaus the disciples knew Jesus when he broke the bread, and the Church through the ages took that to mean that in the Eucharist God is present in the sharing of bread and wine. One of the common features of liturgical churches like the Catholic, the Anglican, and the Orthodox is that their worship experience expresses and reflects a sense of a sense of Holiness which is not primarily to attain an interior spiritual effect akin but more in line with the taking off of one’s sandals for one is in the presence of the Holy. The Eucharist is a singular Holy event taking place in each Sunday liturgy, and their various liturgical celebrations express this in different ways.
So, as an outsider to the community noted above, (the non-liturgical protestant ones), I have a question. Where is Holiness to be found in your parish? How is it treated? How is it expressed? What does the term Holy mean for your church?
Mark Horne offers some arguments why “he can never be a Roman Catholic.” I’m not a Roman Catholic … but it seems like a number of these reasons are not valid criticisms. I’m going to concentrate on one (and mention one more). Mr Horne offers:
Necromancy is almost as huge a sin and praying to the departed saints is necromancy. See #1 above. People raised thinking bigamy is Christian may be true Christians, but people who know better are living in sin and without hope of eternal life unless they repent of such behavior.
Praying to Saints by Catholics is not because Catholics believe that “some other intercessory agency between themselves and God” is required. Examine their liturgy and the prayers they pray. They pray to directly to Father, Son, and Spirit. So they are not asking Saints (or Mary) to pray for them because they think it is required. Something else is going on here, they do it because they think it is efficacious. My understanding of the way prayer to Saints is seen not as a required intermediary but as being equivalent to your asking a friend, acquaintance, or even some Christian you don’t really know, to pray for you. That is it. Just in the same way that Protestants (and every Christian) thinks that the prayers of others on our behalf is beneficial, likewise Catholics (the East and the original Reformers for that matter) think that the dead can pray for us … after all they are not dead but are with God. You are asking that this Saint, asleep in the Lord whom you believe is “now” outside of time participating in God’s presence (no longer seeing through a glass darkly), to pray for you. How is that akin to bigamy and living a life of sin?
There are two pieces to this that I think give the American evangelical cause to pause. The first is that the notion that a saint from a country far away and centuries removed will be aware of my request that he (or she) pray for me and that furthermore that he (or she) might do so. The second is that in our American notions of egalitarianism and equality Americans find the notion that we are not equal in the eyes of the Lord, a difficult one to master. To the latter, when the disciples were having a debate about who would be seated at Jesus right hand when he came into his glory, Jesus rebuke was not that “nobody would be sitting there” as we are equal in the afterlife, but that they were not the ones to be seated there.
Yet that isn’t really the question.
The real question is why is asking for the intercession by a deceased hero of the Church not adiaphora? And this has a counter question for the East and the Roman Catholic, why is not asking that the Saints intercede for us also not adiaphora?
A final remark Mr Horne objects:
Nowhere are Christians required to do a genealogical study to see if they are members of the true Church.
I for one, have no clue what is he talking about here. Any guesses?
John Mark Reynolds in a comment to my (first!) post at Evangel offered:
A child would view Favre well . . . but a real man would see him better. He would glory in his manly exploits as an image of excellence and be provoked to go and do likewise in his own chosen profession.
This is in short hoping a hope (or a recognition) that Favre (or pick your favorite athlete) and his exploits might do good in us by inspiring the Greek virtue arete in us. However that leads to the question … can one find support for the type of excellence of the sort Mr Favre would inspire … as being good (or Good) in Scripture (or enlarge that to church tradition for the non-sola-scriptura crowd). I think the answer is … no … but I might like to be convinced otherwise. Read the rest of this entry
Well, some time ago, I offered that in discussions with American protestants about celibacy, monasticism, and asceticism might be best approached if they first start Scripture. It is my contention that the early fathers also started with Scripture (and some of the earlier ones of course also had face to face conversations with Apostles which we lack). The point of view I’m trying to confront here is that married life “in the world” is normative and that Jesus via the gospels, Paul and the other New Testament writers, Peter, James, etc, teach present this as the highest or first calling for the Christian life. I’m going to confront this, not by the writings of the Fathers, or by reference to the fact that not seeing asceticism as normative is a very modern (Protestant) idea but instead I’ll attempt to refer just to Scripture. So, for now … I’ll give that a shot and to start, I’ll just look at the life of Jesus and the Gospels.
Now in the Gospels, there are a number of narrative threads running through the start to the climax of Jesus’ life. One of the primary ones is a anti-temple narrative. However, there is also one supporting the ascetic life. So here are some essential narrative and/or elements to Jesus life and example that support asceticism.
- After being Baptised by John at the Jordan what does Jesus do? He goes into the desert, into a time of solitude for 40 days … facing down the devil and temptations.
- When the rich man who was fulfilling all the commandments asked what more he might do, the reply “sell all you have and follow me” was given.
- In Matthew 18 and 19 Jesus repeatedly offers that those who do not become as children will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
- When the disciples had been sent out, they failed to confront and cast out some demons. Jesus remarked, “this sort of demon can only be cast out through prayer and fasting.”
- Mary and Martha receive Jesus. Mary sits at Jesus feet and ignores home and hospitality. Martha is put out, but Jesus replies, “Mary has chosen the good portion.”
Demons for the early church in a large part meant those forces and temptations to sin. This is something all of us face. How then are we taught to confront sin? Jesus’ first response is fasting, prayer. What did he do? Fast and pray and retreat to the desert, to solitude. When a wealthy man is asked what to do, sell all you have and follow me (where? to a life of fasting and prayer?). John himself was an Essene. A desert ascetic feeding on locusts and honey teaching a life of repentance. That this man would be the one to validate and announce Jesus ministry, does this not validate and highlight John’s lifestyle to a degree. Finally, with Mary and Martha the two sisters might be seen as representing the life of the world vs and the life of prayer. Jesus does not rebuke Martha for her choice but he also says that Mary’s choice “is the good portion.” Finally, what is like a child? Humility and not being concerned with the cares of the world … might be the answer. How might an adult do this?
For the early church (and for that matter the church as a whole until the Protestant movement came about) found asceticism to be one of the primary messages from Scripture.
This summer, as regular readers of this blog likely know, I took a spirituality class this summer. The reading was extensive and there were no papers or written work to submit during the class. As a final effort however, we have been asked to produce a short paper (which is below the fold) listing some short quotes from the readings that had personal relevance along with short remarks about that included quote. And so we begin. Read the rest of this entry
David at (as?) the Thirsty Theologian writes on sex (while married) and the Puritans. I had written an mid-length reply to our short conversation on that, which got lost. Or so I thought … as my reply did in fact show up (as I check later as I write this). To clarify what is being discussed here.
- David’s post is about how the Puritans have been misread by history (as is so common in history) the “conventional wisdom” regarding the Puritan attitude toward sex has it backwards. That is, that Puritans enthusiastically encouraged and celebrated sex within marriage. I think this is right and is right. That is to say, I think that it is correct that the historical reading has it wrong and that celebration of sex within marriage is the right attitude. I would only temper that with what Fr. Isaiah taught this summer, that as marriage continues into old age the (Orthodox) expectation is that the seeking of dispassion by the married couple will lead ultimately to celibacy within marriage.
- David starts (as well) pointing out Augustine, who he feels is highly regarded (?) within the Reformed community, felt that celibacy was a higher calling … and that this was wrong. David feels that Sola Scriptura is the only criteria by which normative Christian behaviour is to be measured.
David in his last exchange writes:
Since you claim to agree with the patristic tradition because it agrees with scripture, then you’re not really going counter to my statement dismissing tradition “if scripture says something else,” are you? We just disagree about what scripture says. So, if the fathers could really argue the superiority of celibacy from scripture, you should be able to do the same.
And on this I wish to write a little more. The full argument for the superiority of the monastic life and celibacy in particular from Scripture is derivative, for indeed the New Testament itself (obviously) does not lay out anything like the monastic example or teachings like St. John Cassian, St. Basil the Great, or St. John Climacus. So how did this conclusion come about. For this I think the key point is not to specifically single out celibacy or any other particular other monastic practice but the general practice of apatheia (dispassion) within the ascetic life (to which we are all called but the monastics single out as their primary focus in life). The writers noted just previously all assumed the necessity of apatheia. Apatheia in Christian writings and teaching is found as early as in Clement (AD 30-100) Stromata. At Clement’s time gnosticism and stoic influences were readily apparent, but by the time of those noted above that had long since gone through the wringer and the non-Christian influence weeded out. Take for example the later writer, Evagrius, and look at his work Praktikos. The Protestant claim is that this writing does not follow Scripture, yet scan the opening pages of the Praktikos, you will not find references to Scripture a rare thing. He uses Scripture to support and explain why dispassion is necessary and how to come by it. Once you have accepted dispassion as necessary to the Christian life … celibacy as a higher calling and exceptional way of life is unavoidable. Look at any of the early Christian writers. These writings form and explain Christian tradition and, lo, they are in fact heavily if not “solely” dependent on Scripture for inspiration.
In the discussion which followed last night’s post on the New Monastics, I offered relay the advice St. John Climacus had in the first step of the Ladder for the laity:
Some people living carelessly in the world put a question to me: “How can we who are married and living amid public cares aspire to the monastic life?”
I answered, “Do whatever good you may. Speak evil of no one. Rob no one. Despise no one and carry not hate. Do not separate yourself from church assemblies. Show compassion to the needy. Do not be a scandal to anyone. Stay away from the bed of another, and be satisfied with what your own wives can provide you. If you do all of this, you will not be far from the kingdom of heaven.”
In class, Fr. Elijah offered that general Orthodox belief that for everyone, not just the unmarried, celibacy is ultimately where we end up. For the married couple, celibacy and the celibate calling arises as one gets older.
Yesterday, a new (and hopefully returning) commenter, Michele remarked on an older post in which I was reading some theologically inspired economic ideas which originated with one Chad Myers. I disagreed strongly with these ideas. Michele offers:
I wanted to mention New Monasticism: http://www.newmonasticism.org/It is my understanding that Chad Myers is read by many people involved in this. Whatever Chad Myers is pushing for, it seems to have had a good outcome. These new monastics are out there taking the commandments of Christ to help the poor and share with each other. They are a fine group of people. There are a lot of singles in these groups as well. They may marry later, but I’m really impressed with what they are doing. Many people spend their 20’s trying to find spouses and building their careers. This is on the back burner for many of these people.
Before I begin my short remarks on this, I want to make clear that the web site above does not give very much detail (that I could find) of the actual details of how the new monasticism movement described above conforms. It may be that the assumptions that go into the remarks I make below are entirely wrong-footed and based on incorrect assumptions. Yet, Michele sought my comments and my opinion … so here goes. (below the fold) Read the rest of this entry
I’ve begun reading John Behr’s (so far) two volume series (three are reported as planned) subtitled Formation of Christian Theology. The first volume, in soft cover from SVS Press, is entitled The Way to Nicaea. This books covers aspects of the formation of Christian theology, focusing on the development of the answer to Jesus query to the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Volume 2 is split into two books and covers in some detail the controversies surrounding the two councils which developed the Nicene creed.
The first chapter of this book begins with a look at how the Scriptural canon for the Christian church developed and was set. There were a lot of alternative canonical choices at the end of the second century when the canon was set. But the result, to summarize Behr, was that two key criteria were used to select what books and epistles were included in the New Testament canon. They are that the books chosen were “according the the Scriptures” and that the cross (the passion) was central. The phrase “according the the Scriptures” meant specifically that the acts and narrative account in the selected book connected these actions with the accounts and prophecies of the Old Testament. This meant that books like the Gospel of Thomas and other gnostic works were excluded. Behr defends his interpretation of this development of canon by examining the methods and arguments used by St. Irenaeus in discussing various heresies of his day at the close of the 2nd century.
David Schraub blogging at the Debate Link, dislikes the term “Judeo-Christian”. This term admittedly can be misused. The above historical notes demonstrate how this term is at the same time correct and how the traditions diverged. For certainly in the context of investigating first and second century theological currents and ideas that term is relevant. Throughout the first century the majority of Christians were Jews who felt that Jesus was in fact the awaited Messianic figure, the fulfillment of Scriptural promise. At the same time, there is here a key difference which will form the basis possibly for the contention that this term does not make sense. Christians over the centuries following embarked on a program to reinterpret the Jewish Scriptural canon through the “lens of the cross”, i.e., via the life and passion of Jesus. That is they re-examined and reinterpreted, often as “type”, events and prophecies of Scripture to be interpreted specifically in the context of Jesus message, and his crucifixion and resurrection. Christian theology at the end of the second century defined itself and its theological methods in the light of Jewish writing. At the same time however, it was beginning to highlight the differences by beginning a program of returning to and examining that same canon in a radically different way (although it might be noted that “different” way was himself a 1st century Jew).