Here’s a YouTube video I made a while back about the fourth century. I’ll be teaching fourth-century ecclesiastical history for Davenant Hall this January in my course called “The Theological World of the Nicene Controversy (325-407).” You can sign up for it here! And if you’re not sold that the fourth century is a wild time worth studying, here’s the video:
Richard Hooker and Union with God
My latest YouTube video was made on the commemoration of Richard Hooker on November 3. In it, I discuss his Christology in relation to Chalcedon but most especially in relation to you and your union with God and participation in the divine life. Enjoy!
The theological flow of the 39 Articles
This post is really just me being a 39 Articles fan (stan? Am I a stan? What is a stan?). I’ve been going through some Reformation-era confessions and catechisms for research lately, looking at what they have to say about Christology. It’s interesting, but the results are still forthcoming. One thing I notice is where the article about Christology falls, and it’s often far down the list, or at least after a discussion of the Fall of humans.
And I noticed this because I’ve been mulling over the 39 Articles of the Anglican faith lately, and it puts the Christological article as Article II, right after the Article of Faith in the Holy Trinity. Here’s a Table of the Articles from prayerbook.ca, complete with links to the text:
- Of Faith in the Holy Trinity
- Of Christ the Son of God.
- Of his going down into Hell.
- Of his Resurrection.
- Of the Holy Ghost.
- Of the Sufficiency of the Scriptures.
- Of the Old Testament.
- Of the Three Creeds.
- Of Original or Birth-sin.
- Of Free-Will.
- Of Justification
- Of Good Works.
- Of Works before Justification.
- Of Works of Supererogation.
- Of Christ alone without Sin.
- Of Sin after Baptism.
- Of Predestination and Election.
- Of obtaining Salvation by Christ.
- Of the Church.
- Of the Authority of the Church.
- Of the Authority of General Councils.
- Of Purgatory.
- Of Ministering in the Congregation.
- Of speaking in the Congregation.
- Of the Sacraments.
- Of the Unworthiness of the Ministers.
- Of Baptism.
- Of the Lord’s Supper.
- Of the Wicked which eat not the Body of Christ.
- Of both kinds.
- Of Christ’s one Oblation.
- Of the Marriage of Priests.
- Of Excommunicate Persons.
- Of the Traditions of the Church
- Of the Homilies.
- Of Consecrating of Ministers.
- Of the Civil Magistrates.
- Of Christian men’s Goods.
- Of a Christian man’s Oath.
The flow of the articles is from more important to less important. We begin with the doctrine of God, and then we discuss Christ, including his saving mission, then the Holy Spirit, before moving on to how we know about God — the Scriptures, the knowledge from which is articulated in the creeds. Having established the absolute foundation of our faith — God, the Holy Trinity who saved us through the life of Jesus — and how we have the knowledge of theology — God’s revelation through Scripture as articulated in the creeds — then we can move into other matters.
And now, not as Article 2, but as Article 9, we come to Original or Birth-sin. From here, questions of justification and sanctification are addressed, including stuff like predestination and election. Once salvation and the place of the church and her authorities are in good order, we look at what goes on in church, from speaking in a tongue such as the people understandeth to the sacraments, to excommunication and traditions of the church.
I love that in reading the Articles we are brought face-to-face with the greatest realities of the Christian faith before anything else. The Most Holy Trinity is where to lay our gaze, and then what he did for our salvation (which is wrapped up with those first few articles). Everything else should flow from or be framed by that belief. And the Articles help us be there.
It’s a great corrective to something I’ve witnessed — I’ve been at baptisms where people are asked about their beliefs in the Bible before their beliefs about God. Something is just … off in that ordering. It is disordered.
I’m sure other people have done this better than I have. But here it is. Now — read the Articles and see how Protestantism looks when it’s done properly.
Interview with Dr Alex Miller about my book
Last week I was blessed to be interviewed by my friend Dr Duane Alexander Miller about my book, The Manuscripts of Leo the Great’s Letters. Parts 1 & 2 are available below:
Some thoughts about St Anselm
I had the opportunity to teach about St Anselm last night. Much of the lecture was taken up with investiture, and I’m still sorting that out in my mind — hopefully, thoughts to follow. I also had the opportunity to linger on his Prayers and Meditations. I believe that these are very important for us to understand the whole man of this Archbishop of Canterbury. St Anselm is more than the clear, systematised logic of his philosophical and theological treatises. He is also a man of great “religious feeling” (if you will), a man animated by his love of Christ, Christ’s church, as well as awareness of his own smallness and sinfulness.
This positioning of Anselm through the Prayers and Meditations helps us see that true Christian theology is always done in Evagrian mode: “If you truly pray, you are a theologian; if you are a theologian, you will truly pray.” The logical treatises, such as De Casu Diaboli are not detached from the saint’s life and worship. This is also a perspective potentially gained from the Life of St Anselm by Eadmer as well, which is why I chose to assign a portion of that text to my students.
A second approach to St Anselm requires us to grasp foundational truths that St Anselm affirmed. I say this because Anselm is famous today for two things:
- The ontological argument for the existence of God (in the Proslogion)
- Penal substitutionary atonement (in Cur Deus Homo — check out The Major Works)
The second of these is often misunderstood, most famously and egregiously as “divine child abuse.” To understand why Anselm’s atonement theory of satisfaction is not “divine child abuse”, it is worth knowing both what Anselm believes about God, and second, what penal substitutionary atonement theory actually teaches.
Anselm is a traditional, western Trinitarian. He believes that God is/has one essence/substance in three persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The three are co-equal and co-eternal. And one of these three, who is Himself fully God, chose to become human and die. Once you catch a glimpse of the historic doctrine of the Trinity, the idea that penal substitutionary atonement theory is “divine child abuse” is untenable, because it is not a father forcing or sending a son to die for other people because the father is angry. It is God choosing to take his own anger upon Himself in order to save other people.
I’m not saying this is an argument for why you ought to agree with St Anselm — it’s simply an argument that should make you set aside this caricature.
The theory itself is this: In Cur Deus Homo, St Anselm argues that offence against God requires balance, it requires an equitable return, something proportional to the offence. This is a basic principle of law and justice. Since God is infinite, offence against God carries with it infinite weight. No human being can redress the balance of sin against God. In the courtroom of heavenly justice, we will always be found guilty of infinite offence and thus sentenced to infinite punishment, eternal damnation. Therefore, God, in his mercy, chooses to condescend Himself to our weakness, take our flesh upon Himself, and take our place as a substitution by dying on the cross. This substitution of an infinite, perfect, good God in place of finite sinners, redresses the balance and pays the penalty for our sin in our place. By removing the penalty of sin from us, God makes it possible for us to be oned (to use the later language of Julian of Norwich), united, to him and participate in the divine life.
Penal substitutionary atonement theory has fallen out of fashion today. It was first articulated by St Anselm, and it came to dominate western theological discourse about the atonement until Aulen’s book Christus Victor in the 20th century. A quick example of this theory’s dominance is that it is the model of the atonement used by Edmund Spenser in A Hymn of Heavenly Love.
A final point on Cur Deus Homo. I read it and found it convincing. This does not mean that I do not also believe in the classic or Christus Victor model found in fathers like Athanasius and Leo. The two theories are not mutually exclusive but, rather, complement one another. Perhaps western theology lost sight of one for a while and thereby suffered — but this does not mean that rejecting Anselmian atonement theology redresses the balance.
In closing, St Anselm was a deep, profound thinker, steeped in prayer, in scripture, and in the tools of logic and dialectic from the classroom at Bec. He made two original and lasting contributions to theology as well as some important gains in the king-bishop relationship (but that’s perhaps for another post). Read his devotional works, read his theology, read his life.
The grace of God can make you a better Christian thereby.
Why the Council of Chalcedon is (still) my favourite ecumenical council
As a final question to my students in “The Seven Ecumenical Councils in Historical Context”, I asked which council was each person’s favourite. Votes came in for Nicaea, Ephesus, Constantinople II, and Chalcedon. I affirmed that I still prefer Chalcedon. One student asked who the greatest theologian we’d read in the course was. I’ll save that for another post…
Why do I still like the Council of Chalcedon after all these years?
- I like the Chalcedonian definition of the faith, which I’ve translated here. It did not solve the Christological can of worms opened by Nestorius by any means, and potentially just opened up another can and poured the new worms on top of the Nestorius-Cyril worms. But I still think it is beautiful and balanced, so long as interpreted correctly.
- The Council of Chalcedon empowers theologians like St Maximus the Confessor to do wonderful stuff. That’s reason enough for me.
- I like Pope St Leo the Great and his theology. It’s nice to see traditional Latin Christological formulations showcased at an ecumenical council and enshrined as dogma. As I’ve said on a lot of job applications, I am a Latinist (I can certainly do Greek as well, but my interests and deep knowledge tend more to Rome than Athens).
- This might be 3a, actually — whether you like Leo or not, it’s an historically interesting fact that traditional Latin Christological formulations from Hilary of Poitiers and Augustine of Hippo are enshrined in an ecumenical council. The councils are usually dominated by eastern/Greek concerns, eastern/Greek formulations, eastern/Greek bishops, and eastern/Greek ideas. This, at least, makes the Council of Chalcedon an interesting object of study.
- So much evidence survives. For someone who wants to dig into the primary sources for ecclesiastical history, Chalcedon has them in abundance.
- The actual transpiring of the council is interesting, even entertaining, to read. The acts of the council have embedded in them both the acts of the Second Council of Ephesus (449) and the portions of the acts of the Home Synod of Constantinople of 448 relevant to Eutyches.
- The flurry of activity leading up to the council survives, documented chiefly in Leo’s letters.
- The fallout from the council is interesting to read about — monks take of Jerusalem! Bishops get killed in the streets over this! It’s crazy stuff. Historically interesting, whether morally appropriate or not.
I think any other reasons would come in as subsidiaries to these. But these are the reasons why the Council of Chalcedon of 451 is my favourite ecumenical council.
This January I’ll be teaching The Historical Context of the Seven Ecumenical Councils
Boy, that’s possibly the longest title I’ve given a blog post yet! But it’s true! This January I’ll be teaching “The Historical Context of the Seven Ecumenical Councils” for Davenant Hall (the Davenant Institute’s teaching wing). If you’re already excited enough, you can register for the course here. If you need more convincing, read on…
Do you believe in the Trinity? Do you believe that Jesus is fully God and fully human, perfect and entire in each, without getting it all mixed up and turning him into a divinised man or a man adopted by a god or a god who merely uses a human body like an avatar or something?
Do you kiss icons?
If you have an answer to any of these (yes, no, what?), then the outcomes of the Seven Ecumenical Councils should interest you! These seven councils met between 325 and 787. All were called by emperors. All dealt with church-rupturing theological issues. All also dealt with some canon law, except for 5 and 6, so a special council was called after number 6 that we call the Quinisext Council. It’s exciting already, isn’t it?!
These seven councils were admitted by the imperial church to provide the dogmatic boundaries for orthodox thought and worship. They come to be considered as having universal jurisdiction in doctrine and canon law. These seven, and only these seven, hold such a status in the Eastern Orthodox Church. These seven plus a bunch of later ones hold such a status in the Roman Catholic Church. Three of these, if I understand aright, are embraced by the Oriental Orthodox. And I’m not sure if the Church of the East formally embraces any of them, but they espouse the doctrine of the first two.
Protestants tend to explicitly endorse the first four, but I see no reason not to embrace five and six as well, whereas many Reformed Christians reject the seventh because of its acceptance and promotion of holy images (icons). I, personally, accept all seven. I’ve been told that I am what they call, “based”.
These seven councils are:
- Nicaea (325): Jesus is of one substance with the Father
- Constantinople (381): Reaffirms Nicaea and pushes towards the full divinity of the Holy Spirit
- Ephesus (431): Jesus is only one person, fully human and fully divine
- Chalcedon (451): Jesus exists in two natures, one human and one divine
- Constantinople 2 (553): Jesus’ two natures come together in what we call the “hypostatic union”
- Constantinople 3 (680/1): Jesus has two wills
- Nicaea 2 (787): Images of Jesus and the saints are good
In my class, we are going to explore the events leading up to and the aftermath of each council. Some of them had some pretty crazy stuff going on at them (particularly Ephesus and second Constantinople), so we’ll look at how (or how not!) to run a church council. We’ll look at why these seven but not other ones (why not Serdica in 343? Why not the Lateran Council of 649? What about the council of 869?). And we’ll examine the writings of one major theologian associated with the teaching of each council.
It’s going to be a fun ride, and hopefully it will help you appreciate even more the glory of the Most Holy Trinity and the Person of Jesus Christ our Saviour and His work of redemption in becoming man.
The Gospel is Jesus, so these questions matter.
And for a foretaste, check out my December 16 lecture, “The Christmas Councils”.
The Christmas Councils
In two weeks, I am giving the Davenant Fellows lecture. My title is, “The Christmas Councils: Upholding Christ’s Humanity in the Ecumenical Councils, 451-787AD.” The official blurb and registration are here–it’s free! You don’t need to have watched my lecture from last December, entitled “Christmas and the Cross in the Ancient Church” and about Sts Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria, but this one does pick up the chronology where that one left off. It’s on YouTube at this link.
This lecture will cover the period of the last four ecumenical councils (I’ll be teaching all seven for Davenant Hall this January — you can register here — it’s not free), but the focus will actually skip the Fifth Ecumenical Council, the Second Council of Constantinople of 553. In good, Protestant sermon fashion (or like a five paragraph essay), I’ll have three main points to explore:
- Leo the Great and the Council of Chalcedon (451)
- Maximus the Confessor (d. 662) and the Third Council of Constantinople (680/1)
- John of Damascus (d. 749) and the Second Council of Nicaea (787)
Each of these men articulated the theological vision that was approved at the respective council. And each of them was fighting to maintain a full vision of the humanity of Christ, a humanity at risk of being swallowed up by divinity in Eutychianism in Leo’s day, a humanity at risk of being diminished to having no will in Monothelitism in Maximus’ day, a humanity at risk of being detached from history and becoming a mere point of dogmatic assent in Iconoclasm in John of Damascus’ day.
The teachings of this era in church history help us orient our hearts and minds to the God Word Incarnate with ramifications for our worship, our ethics, and our witness to the world around.
Jesus is the Gospel, so it matters if we get these things right or not.
Register for the lecture for free here.
Register for my 10-week class starting the week of January 10 here.
Sermon on Matthew 9:18-26 (Trinity 24)
Derived from notes for a sermon I preached at the Urban Abbey, Thunder Bay, November 14, 2021.
This Gospel reading is a familiar story. Jesus performs two miracles, and, in Mark and Luke, one of them is almost by accident! I think the Mark-Luke version of events is more what we are used to, sort of as told here in Tatian’s Diatessaron which is a combined version of all four Gospels that tells the events in order, put together in the 100s:
And a man named Jairus, the chief of the synagogue, fell before the feet of Jesus, and besought him much, and said unto him, I have an only daughter, and she is come nigh unto death; but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live. And Jesus rose, and his disciples, and they followed him. And there joined him a great multitude, and they pressed him.
And a woman, which had a flow of blood for twelve years, had suffered much of many physicians, and spent all that she had, and was not benefited at all, but her trouble increased further. And when she heard of Jesus, she came in the thronging of the crowd behind him, and touched his garments; and she thought within herself, If I could reach to touch his garments, I should live. And immediately the fountain of her blood was dried; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her plague. And Jesus straightway knew within himself that power had gone out of him; and he turned to the crowd, and said, Who approached unto my garments? And on their denying, all of them, Simon Cephas and those with him said unto him, Our Master, the multitudes throng thee and press thee, and sayest thou, Who approached unto me? And he said, Some one approached unto me; and I knew that power went forth from me. And that woman, when she saw that she was not hid from him, came fearing and agitated (for she knew what had happened to her), and fell down and worshipped him, and told, in the presence of all the people, for what reason she touched him, and how she was healed immediately. And Jesus said unto her, Be of good courage, daughter; thy faith hath made thee alive; depart in peace, and be whole from thy plague.
And while he was yet speaking, there came a man from the house of the chief of the synagogue, and said unto him, Thy daughter hath died; so trouble not the teacher. But Jesus heard, and said unto the father of the maid, Fear not: but believe only, and she shall live. And he suffered no man to go with him, except Simon Cephas, and James, and John the brother of James. And they reached the house of the chief of the synagogue; and he saw them agitated, weeping and wailing. And he entered, and said unto them, Why are ye agitated and weeping? the maid hath not died, but she is sleeping. And they laughed at him, for they knew that she had died. And he put every man forth without, and took the father of the maid, and her mother, and Simon, and James, and John, and entered into the place where the maid was laid. And he took hold of the hand of the maid, and said unto her, Maid, arise. And her spirit returned, and straightway she arose and walked: and she was about twelve years of age. And he commanded that there should be given to her something to eat. And her father wondered greatly: and he warned them that they should tell no man what had happened. And this report spread in all that land.
I wanted to read this story out loud in this version not only because it’s worth seeing how we all tend to think of these famous Bible stories, but also because it’s worth it just to hear the Scriptures over and over again, to allow them to penetrate our hearts, as in the meditative reading of Scripture from the medieval monasteries called Lectio Divina today.
I think there are some interesting questions to ask about why Matthew isn’t the same as the other two, but I’m not going to. What we see in any version, though, is the power of God at work in the lives of those around Jesus, and Jesus is the epicentre of that power.
What stands out to me first when I read it in the Matthew version is that the leader says, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” Unlike the others and the Diatessaron, the girl is already dead. Recently dead, yes. But dead nonetheless. And yet this man comes to Jesus expecting that Jesus will be able to heal his daughter.
When the Son of Man returns, will he find such faith on earth?
How deep does our faith go?
Think on that.
Jesus goes to see this girl. He goes because He has come from heaven, the God Word himself, to make everything sad come untrue. He is life, as the Gospel of John says. This is God’s rescue plan, and death is the final enemy who, because of Jesus’ victory, will lose its sting through the cross and resurrection at Easter. Indeed, for us here now, death already has lost its sting.
Along the way, embedded in this other miracle narrative, another person seeks Jesus out. This woman has spent all of her money on doctors. Some preachers will tell you these men were basically quacks. I’m not one of those preachers. Some probably were. But others had real knowledge, even if the theory was not sound. But it doesn’t matter; they couldn’t heal her. And that was a problem in Jewish life, because a woman during her period was ritually unclean, and so there were all sorts of things she couldn’t do, including certain forms of normal human interaction and religious practice. The clean/unclean distinction is part of many ancient religions, and I know a Hindu whose mother had a completely separate room to sleep in during her period. That’s the kind of life this woman had been leading. All she wants is to be a bit normal. She wants healing deep in her soul, and she believes Jesus can give it to her.
What do you want from Jesus today?
In the other Gospels and the Diatessaron, Jesus feels the power go out of Himself. He queries, “Who touched me?” Here, Jesus knows. He knows who has touched him. So he turns, and there she is. He looks at her.
Jesus Christ is God come down to meet with us. The incomprehensible, almost inaccessible King of the Universe, the Logos, the Word, who makes and orders all things, came down as Jesus of Nazareth to liberate his beloved people from sin, death, and the devil. He became man because of his unutterably deep love for us. “Jesus turned,” the Gospel says, “and seeing her he said…”
This is a simple, straightforward historical truth about a specific moment in the earthly life of our Saviour. He saw her and spoke to her.
Let me tell you something else. This is a powerful, cosmic truth about every moment in our earthly life with our Saviour. He sees you. He sees me. And he speaks to us.
And when he speaks to the woman with the issue of blood, he says, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” Faith, at its root, is trust. Trust is a great English word, related to tree and truth and tryst. Sturdy, dependable. Trustworthy. Her pistis, her relying on Jesus, her trust in him, made her well. Jesus healed her instantly in response to her faith. This is the truth and beauty of divine compassion let loose upon the world in Jesus the Christ, the God Word enfleshed for our salvation. Trust him. He will heal you—of course, last week our main pastor already noted that our physical afflictions may not always be healed. But what endures, Jesus can and does heal that. Your deepest wounds, sins, scars, soul, eternal self. This is healed and prepared to be raised up at the last day to reign with Him.
So Jesus looks at her. At you. At me. And he speaks, and he says, “Take heart, child; your faith has made you well.”
He continues on his way. And he comes to the home of Jairus, where the girl is dead. Here the mourners, some of them possibly professionals, have gathered already to make the public display of the family’s grief. Jesus sends them away with the astonishing, laughable words, “Depart; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.”
They laughed at Jesus. Ridiculed him. Once again: How do you respond to the God of the universe when He speaks? With faith, like the woman with the issue of blood, or with ridicule, like the professional mourners? Sometimes the things he says seem crazy.
Nonetheless, he came, took the girl by the hand, and she arose.
Jesus is the resurrection and the life. He is the way, the truth, and the life. In him is life. He came so that we might have life, and life abundantly. Nothing can stop him. Not even death. And there’s something really cool about how Jesus performs these miracles that a friend of mine wrote about in a book. Here, and in all the miracles of Mark, Jesus just performs miracles. He doesn’t pray for God to intervene or use some other agent like Aaron’s staff, as the prophets in the OT had. He doesn’t say, “In the name of God…” like how the Apostles say, “In the name of Jesus Christ.” He just heals.
No one else in ancient history about whom miracle tales are told does this. They always defer to God if they’re Jewish or Christian, or maybe they use magic or a pagan deity or demon if they aren’t. But they don’t just go around performing miracles on their own power. The only person who does that is God. The weight of miracle upon miracle upon miracle in Matthew’s Gospel—the next story, just so you know, is Jesus performing a miracle—presses us to realise this beautiful, glorious truth, that sometimes we Christians take for granted. And this truth is:
God is Jesus.
Hence the power of the Jesus Prayer prayed by the monks of Mount Athos that gave them such grace:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.
[NB: I preached this on the feast of St Gregory Palamas.]
This takes us right back to the Colossians passage I read earlier in the service, showing us what the miracles teach us about Jesus as God. This is the cosmic dimension of the Gospel we are baptised into, the glorious reality we grasp when Jesus looks at us, speaks to us, and we have faith in him:
Colossians 1:9-23 NIV
9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of[c] your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
Sermon for the Feast of Christ the King
Yesterday was the Feast of Christ the King. I preached, then later made this video based on various things I said at the front of church, calling us all to allegiance to King Jesus: