And the winner is …

Thanks to those of you who voted in my Lent book poll. The results are in, and the winner is The Philokalia, Vol. 1, with 6 votes. Runner up is Living Wisely with the Church Fathers by Christopher A. Hall with 5 votes. Andrew Murray, With Christ in the School of Prayer only got one vote, which tells you something about the audience of this blog, I guess.

I am also interested in reading all three recommendations, each different in its own way:

Hans Boersma, Scripture As Real Presence

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way

In 2018, setting aside what I read for work, I’m trying only to read books I own and not buy new ones, and I don’t own any of these or need them for work (although I could probably justify Boersma’s at some level), so, d.v., they’re on hold for 2019!

Let’s see what wisdom I meet in the rest of The Philokalia, vol. 1.

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Trinity Sunday

Trinity Knot

Repost from elsewhere a few years back.

Today is Trinity Sunday, so here are some quotations on this Subject of subjects (since I’m a quote collector):

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.
-AW Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy

Eternal Trinity, you are a deep sea, into which the more I enter, the more I find, and the more I find the more I seek.
-Catherine of Siena

If Jesus was the idealistic founder of a religion, I can be elevated by his work and stimulated to follow his example. But my sins are not forgiven, God still remains angry and I remain in the power of death. . . . But if Jesus is the Christ, the Word of God, then I am not primarily called to emulate him; I am encountered in his work as one who could not possibly do this work myself. Through his work I recognize the gracious God. My sins are forgiven, I am no longer in death but in life.
-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christology

You should point to the whole man Jesus and say, “That is God.”
-Martin Luther

But the divine substance is form without matter, and, therefore, is one and is what it is. (or is its own essence.)
-Boethius, De Trinitate

God — if I may use my own jargon — is what happens between Jesus and the one he called Father, as they are freed for each other by their Spirit.
-Robert W. Jenson

What we can say is that, given our knowledge of the Trinity, personhood is tied up intimately with community, and with complementarity of Persons: the Trinity, a communion of irreducible Persons in complementarity and love, is our bedrock understanding of what it is to be alive. This leads us back to our understanding of Christian spirituality: authentic spirituality is the characteristic of a person in Christ who has enough wisdom and insight regarding self and others, and enough love and strength through the Spirit, that he or she can dare to be “ek-static” and so to enter into true intimacy with “the other,” an intimacy that will include both word and silence.
-Edith M. Humphrey, Ecstasy and Intimacy

Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee;
Holy, Holy, Holy! Merciful and Mighty,
God in Three Persons, Blessed Trinity!

Holy, Holy, Holy! all the saints adore thee,
casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,
Which wert, and art, and evermore shalt be

Holy, Holy, Holy! though the darkness hide thee,
Though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see,
Only thou art holy; there is none beside thee
Perfect in power, in love, and purity.

Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth and sky and sea;
Holy, Holy, Holy! Merciful and Mighty!
God in Three Persons, Blessed Trinity!
-Bishop R. Heber

WHOSOEVER would be saved / needeth before all things to hold fast the Catholic Faith. 2 Which Faith except a man keep whole and undefiled, / without doubt he will perish eternally. 3 Now the Catholic Faith is this, / that we worship one God in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity; 4 Neither confusing the Persons, / nor dividing the Substance. 5 For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, / another of the Holy Ghost; 6 But the Godhead of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one, / the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal.

7 Such as the Father is, such is the Son, / and such is the Holy Ghost; 8 The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, the Holy Ghost uncreated; 9 The Father infinite, the Son infinite, the Holy Ghost infinite; 10 The Father eternal, the Son eternal, the Holy Ghost eternal; 11 And yet there are not three eternals, but one eternal; 12 As also there are not three uncreated, nor three infinites, / but one infinite, and one uncreated.

13 So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, / the Holy Ghost almighty; 14 And yet there are not three almighties, but one almighty. 15 So the Father is God, the Son God, the Holy Ghost God; 16 And yet there are not three Gods, / but one God. 17 So the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, / the Holy Ghost Lord; 18 And yet there are not three Lords, / but one Lord.

19 For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity / to confess each Person by himself to be both God and Lord; 20 So are we forbidden by the Catholic Religion / to speak of three Gods or three Lords. 21 The Father is made of none, / nor created, nor begotten. 22 The Son is of the Father alone; / not made, nor created, but begotten. 23 The Holy Ghost is of the Father and the Son; / not made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. 24 There is therefore one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; / one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.

25 And in this Trinity there is no before or after, / no greater or less; 26 But all three Persons are co-eternal together, / and co-equal. 27 So that in all ways, as is aforesaid, / both the Trinity is to be worshipped in Unity, and the Unity in Trinity. 28 He therefore that would be saved, / let him thus think of the Trinity.
-from the so-called Athanasian Creed

Saint of the Week: St. Athanasius

A few weeks ago, I had the “opportunity” to stand in a doorway and discuss the Bible and Christology with a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses as the floodgates of Heaven opened outside.  What stood out to me as we talked was how truly Arian their Christology is.  They encouraged me to read Proverbs 8:22-31 (“The LORD possessed me [Wisdom] at the beginning of his way …”) and tried convincing me that when the Word of John 1 is called “god” this doesn’t mean the same thing as the God with whom the Word is.

I did my best to pull out some St. Athanasius — Jesus is the only-begotten Son of the Father.  If like begets like (“Do you have a son? Is he of the same nature as you?”), and the Father is God, then God begets God, so the Son must be God.  I also used the analogy of the sun and its rays being different but the same and one being incomplete without the other.  That analogy breaks down — as well it should, for God is the Creator and entirely different from His creation.  St. Athanasius was an appropriate choice to use in debate with the Jehovah’s Witnesses because he spent most of his ecclesiastical career arguing against the heresy of Arianism.

St. Athanasius (c.296-373) is one of the Four Doctors of the Eastern Church.  He was born of Christian parents of Egyptian, not Greek, descent, and educated in the Greek Christian catechetical school in Alexandria.  He was present at the Council of Nicaea in 325 as a deacon and witnessed firsthand the debates about the divinity and eternity of Christ (Arius’ famous one-liner: “There was when he was not.”).  This is the Council that gave us that famous Creed that forms the basis of what we recite in churches around the world today (my translation here).  St. Athanasius was to spend the rest of his life combatting the teachings of the Arians and the Semi-Arians (or “homoiousians“), especially following his consecration as Bishop of Alexandria in 328.

He did his best to be a pastoral bishop, but constantly found himself running into heretical Arians or schismatic Meletians who were out to get him.  These run-ins, such as the Council of Tyre, had a tendency to end up with him in exile.  He was in exile in Trier (335-7), Rome (339-46), and the countryside around Alexandria (356-61, 362-3, 365-6).  While in exile within Egypt itself, he had occasion to take refuge with the nascent monastic movement that was flourishing at this time (ie. The Desert Fathers), encountering St. Antony about whom he would write one of the most influential works of hagiography (available in Carolinne D. White, Early Christian Lives).

His time spent in the West meant that the links between East and West were strengthened.  The Bishops of Rome during his episcopate (St. Sylvester I, St. Marcus, St. Julius I, Liberius, and St. Damasus I) were supportive of his teachings and polemic against Arianism.  Much of St. Athanasius’ work was translated into Latin, and he is one of the better-known Eastern Fathers in the West as a result of his time there and papal connections.

His theological works are focussed largely on the Person of God the Son, as seen in De Incarnatione Verbi Domini (On the Incarnation) and in his famous Contra Arianos.  One result of St. Athanasius’ reasoning about the Person of God was the statement that the Bible names God as Father.  This means that ontologically (ie. at the very root of Who God Is) God is Father.  Since God is eternal and unchanging, He will always have been Father.  One cannot be a father without offspring; God, therefore, begets the Son in eternity; God the Son is therefore eternal.  The implications for understanding Who God Is and what personhood is are far-reaching (see J.D. Zizioulas, Being As Communion, chh. 1-2).

St. Athanasius, like most of the Fathers, was not just a theologian, not just a pastor, not just a preacher.  He was also a believer in the life of holiness.  This was the root of his support of the monastic movement, for it is with the monks that we see the enduring persistence of costly grace (see D. Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, ch. 1).  We are reminded that orthodoxy and orthopraxy are not to be divorced.  We are to think holy thoughts and live holy lives, worthy of the calling to which we are called.

St. Athanasius fell asleep on May 2, 373.  May we be half as vigorous in our defence of Truth as he.

Further Reading: Christopher A. Hall’s two books Reading Scripture With The Church Fathers and Learning Theology With The Church Fathers both deal with St. Athanasius.  I also recommend reading On the Incarnation as an entrance both to Athanasius and Patristic theology.

A Most Serious Call

Thus far, in our journeys for 2010, the Classic Christian small group has sought out God in the story of Martin Luther in film; we have seen His revelation to us in the Bible with John Cassian as guide; we have seen God’s particular revelation to St. Paul and been exhorted to read and apply the Scriptures by John Chrysostom; we have encountered God in the liturgy of Sarum, the incense, the music, the Eucharist; and we have seen that the fullness of His revelation to humanity has come in these last days in the Person of His Incarnate Son, Jesus, fully God and fully Man, as explained by Pope St. Leo the Great.

Standing with this knowledge of the living God whom we have encountered, the small group stepped forth into Lent this past Tuesday.  And stepped forth into our considerations of the disciplined life, for our Lord Jesus Christ tells us to take up our cross daily, then come and follow him, and to deny ourselves.  He says that if we love him, we shall obey his commands.

St. James says that faith without works is dead, that we are saved by faith and works, that the true religion God accepts is looking after widows and orphans.  Thus, while we have already in this group affirmed the teaching of Martin Luther that we are justified by faith alone, still we cannot avoid the call to live a disciplined life.

Bonhoeffer assures the readers of The Cost of Discipleship that to exhort people to live the disciplined, obedient life will not be to lay a still heavier burden on people, for “Jesus asks nothing of us without giving us the strength to perform it.”  Here he echoes John Wesley’s sermon “On Working Out Our Own Salvation.”

And thus William Law (1686-1761) stands up and makes his Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, the first chapter of which we read on Tuesday.  Law was a high church Anglican clergyman who spent most of his career tutoring Edward Gibbon, Sr,* and living in a semi-monastic community giving help to the poor, educating women, and building housing for destitute widows.  A trained philosopher and theologian, he engaged frequently in the intellectual debates of his day, defending traditional views of Scripture and God as well as calling people to live holy lives.

And what a call it is!  Behold paragraph 2 of chapter 1:

He, therefore, is the devout man, who lives no longer to his own will, or the way and spirit of the world, but to the sole will of God, who considers God in everything, who serves God in everything, who makes all the parts of his common life parts of piety, by doing everything in the Name of God, and under such rules as are conformable to His glory.

William Law leaves no room for waffling, no room for compromise with the world.  He proclaims that the majority of seemingly pious people, although devoted to attendance at public prayer, have the same cares, concerns, loves, fears, hatreds, friendships, pastimes, ways of spending money, ways of wasting time, as the general heathen public of England.

He protests this, saying,

It is as great an absurdity to suppose holy prayers and Divine petitions, without a holiness of life suitable to them, as to suppose a holy and Divine life without prayers.

Indeed, he argues, “If we are to follow Christ, it must be in our common way of spending every day.”  My comment on this last night?  BAM!  William Law pulls no punches.  How unpopular this would be for a society that wanted its religion and its frivolity too!  How harsh this would sound to the ears of the aristocrat who was at Church every feast day yet still paraded around town in the finest beaver-felt top hat and shining brass buttons, puffed up with pride for all to see, giving money only occasionally and only to the Worthy Poor?

Yet is not the call of Christ something this radical?  I have been reading not only Law but also Bonhoeffer of late, let alone all the monks in my past.  The call of Christ is this radical.  He strikes at the root of our loves, fears, lives.  Everything about our lives is to be subordinated to his easy yoke and light burden — from our rising in the morning to our resting at night, from our spending money to our spending time, from how we read to what we read to when we read.

Jesus calls us to follow him.  Are you truly able to drop your nets, leave your plough in your field, walk away from the tax collecting booth, sell all your possessions and follow?  Count the cost.  It is high, yet the rewards are higher.

*Father of Jr, the historian.

Cheap Grace

Liam and I are currently reading The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer together.  In the first chapter, Bonhoeffer teaches against “cheap grace”, that grace by which we see our sin justified but not ourselves as sinners, that grace which does not produce holy living and true discipleship.  But more on Bonhoeffer later.

The day before we met for discussion last week, I was doing my weekly readings from the Holy Bible: Mosaic, and there I found the following from August Hermann Francke (German, 1663-1727):

Most people when they hear that it is not possible for us by our powers to follow Christ, that man cannot from his own nature do so, use this masterfully as an excuse and if one admonishes them to follow Christ they say, “Yes we are poor weak men who can do nothing but sin; there is nothing in our own power able to bring forth or even think of good.”  But listen, dear man, God the Lord will not accept this excuse.  For because of this Christ has come that he might help us in our weakness, that he might raise us up through his divine power in our feebleness, that he might awaken us in a spiritual manner from death and make us alive.  (p. M 71)