Western Crucifixes

Capello del Crucifisso, Duomo, Milan

Yesterday morning, I stood at the Capello del Crucifisso — Chapel of the Crucifixion — while Ambrosian Rite Morning Prayer was sung in the Choir at Milan’s Duomo. A smallish (medium?) huddle had gathered at the chapel, and the tables in front were laden with candles representing the prayers of Milan’s Catholic populace.

As I looked at this crucifix, I noticed that there was a crown with it. Not a crown on the Lord Jesus’ head, but sort balancing there between him and the cross itself. The crown looks like the sort a Late Mediaeval or Renaissance king would wear.

Calvin criticises crucifixes, and all images of Our Lord, because they cannot show the glory. They are necessarily impious because all you can see is suffering humanity, not the correlative truth of glorious divinity. I imagine that an image of Christ the King in glory would have the opposite problem for John Calvin.

The Eastern Orthodox criticise our crucifixes because Christ is hanging there as just a dead or dying man, not standing as the king in control that he was. They say that the bare history has won over against the theology in western crucifixes.

That crown points to the barrenness of both positions, I think. Christ is King in every western crucifix, and He is glorious.

Later, in the museums found in the Castello Sforzesco, I found a few more carved Jesuses. My favourite was a bearded but bald wooden Christ from the fourteenth century. He looked like a man, like any man, hanging and dying on the cross.

And that is exactly the point, isn’t it?

God became a man, a particular man, but a man who was like any other man (except for sin, of course). And when he was hung upon the tree, he looked like any other man. And he died like any other man. That he rose himself on the third day is evidence that he is not any other man.

But this is precisely the glory of the Christian Gospel. God became a man. If you were alive in Judaea in the first century, you would have seen Jesus as a particular person, and you would not have seen him refulgent with his glory (unless you were Peter, James, and John on Mt. Tabor).

My favourite -- the Bernini Crucifix in the AGO

The glory of God is that he came ‘down’ from heaven and was incarnate as a baby, lived as a man, and died as a criminal. Throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus points to his upcoming crucifixion as the moment of his glory. This act of supreme weakness on the part of the supremely powerful One is his moment of greatest triumph, of most wondrous glory, for he is not a pagan God of old, but the God who loves his people with a neverending, sacrificial love that would give anything.

Contrary to Calvin and the Orthodox, these crucifixes in Milan are, in fact, images of glory. They are images of the greatest glory God has to show us — His Death in the Person of His Son, Jesus.

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The Apocatastasis Project (as if I have time on my hands to do this)

I have blogged about Origen (184/5–253/4, on his impact see here) and the concept of Apocatastasis before (here), in the context of Rob Bell’s book Love Wins and the debate surrounding universalism. At the time, I was unaware of the use of the word apokatastasis by St. Peter in Acts 3:21, and I boldly declared regarding this theological doctrine, ‘No, it’s not in Scripture.’ My flawed research has been taken to task, for which I am grateful, and now I am going to be thorough, sort of for the fun of it.

First, the terms. When referring to the theological concept as espoused by Origen et al., I shall use the Latinised spelling Apocatastasis, capital A, no italics. When referring to the Greek lexical term, I shall use the Hellenised spelling apokatastasis, lower case a, italicised.

Second, the method/outline of this project on Apocatastasis. First, I shall discuss what doctrine it is that we are discussing, exactly. What is Apocatastasis? We shall investigate the teachings of Origen and Evagrius Ponticus (345-399) in particular; one of the questions we shall investigate is why their teachings of this name were condemned in the sixth century and suspect in the late-fourth and early-fifth centuries. Two other illustrious Origenists shall be considered, the Cappadocian Fathers St. Gregory of Nazianzus (329–389/90) and St. Gregory of Nyssa (335–394, Saint of the Week here). We shall see to what extent their eschatological teachings and understanding of Judgement Day align with the “Origenist” teaching on Apocatastasis condemned in later years.

Once we have come to understand what the ancients understood theologically about Apocatastasis, we can consider modern writers and their contemplation of “universalism”. We shall look at Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, Madeleine L’Engle (herself a reader of the Cappadocian Fathers), and George MacDonald (Saint of the Week here, discussion of his “universalism” here).

Met. Kallistos is a living Eastern Orthodox Bishop (website here) and patristics scholar who, like most Eastern Orthodox, could easily be considered “conservative”. Madeleine L’Engle was a popular Anglican author of the last half of the twentieth century (website here), most famous for her children’s/young adult novels such as A Wrinkle in Time. The only reason anyone has ever called her heretic is over the question of universal salvation; she is, nevertheless, very popular amongst Christians with a firm belief in eternal damnation. The third is George MacDonald, a nineteenth-century Congregationalist pastor and novelist, the grand inspiration and “teacher” of popular “conservative” Anglican novelist, literary critic, and amateur theologian C S Lewis.

I have chosen these three because I believe they highlight different approaches to the question of universal salvation and Apocatastasis as well as pushing us to question the borders of orthodoxy, for all three are popular amongst conservative, orthodox believers, despite the unpopularity in such circles for theology of universal salvation (as we saw in the furor over Rob Bell).

We will then have set the stage for understanding this doctrine and how it has persisted to this day in differing guises. Having a clear understanding of Apocatastasis, we can then turn to the Scriptures and see whether or not Apocatastasis is in Scripture. This will be time to play with the writers of the Patristic, Mediaeval, and Reformation eras, part of the point of this blog.

We shall look at the occurrences of the word apokatastasis in Scripture, especially in Acts 3:21, but also in the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament used by the writers of the Apostolic and Patristic ages, including not only Sts. Peter and Paul, but also Origen (who composed a document called the hexapla that put various editions of the Septuagint in parallel columns with the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew) and the Cappadocians, as well as our friend Met. Kallistos.

Our interpretation shall at one level be lexical, giving the basic definition and nuances of the word bare of any text. Then we shall approach each text using the Talmudic exegetical method outlined by Weekend Fisher here. This approach is not entirely suited to the New Testament but will not be profitless. We shall also consider the ancient grammarians’ technique of textual interpretation that believes that the text interprets itself; taking holy Scripture as the entire text – something done early by the Fathers (as recounted by Lewis Ayres in a paper given at the University of Edinburgh in Autumn of 2010) – we shall consider what apokatastasis means both in its immediate context and in the rest of Scripture.

Having thus sought to understand the question and passages at hand in their own right, we shall turn to our forebears in the faith. What do they say about the passage? For the Acts passage, we shall look at St. John Chrysostom, the Venerable Bede, and others, relying in part on IVP’s Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture because life is short and I don’t necessarily have time to scour the library for resources. The relevant Medieval commentators shall be considered as well as the famous Reformation commentators Calvin and Luther. From these considerations, we shall sound out the mind of the Great Tradition as to what St. Peter envisages when he refers to apokatastasis.

My hypothesis is that St. Peter’s apokatastasis, his “restoration”, will be similar to St. Irenaeus’ anakephalaiōsis, his “recapitulation.” If so, we shall move the discussion of Apocatastasis into a discussion of Recapitulation and what exactly the difference is. By so doing, we shall re-cover the ground concerning Origen/Origenism, the doctrine of Apocatastasis, and the modern adherents to related ideas.

Having done all of this, we will be able to make conclusions about Apocatastasis and whether it is in Scripture, and whether, if not in Scripture, it is compatible with Scripture. By so doing, we shall see what all the fuss was about in the old disputes and what the fuss is about in the new disputes, and we shall get to try out the older ways of reading the Bible advocated on this website. It will be Classic Christianity in action.

It will also take up a lot of posts; I have thus created a new category called “Apocatastasis Project” to be able to check them out quickly.

In Light of Bible Sunday …

Since yesterday was Bible Sunday (see my post here), I’ve decided to post a catena (Lat. for “chain”) of quotations about the Bible; it is not patristic, especially given the presence of Asimov of all people!  If you want to read more of my thoughts about the Bible, I’ve got a list of posts at the bottom.  Here we go (in vaguely chronological order):

Lord, inspire us to read your Scriptures and meditate on them day and night.  We beg you to give us real understanding of what we need, that we in turn may put is precepts into practice.  Yet we know that understanding and good intentions are worthless, unless rooted in your graceful love.  So we ask that the words of Scriptures may also be not just signs on a page but channels of grace into our hearts. –Origen

Wherever you go, always have God before your eyes; whatever you do, have [before you] the testimony of the Holy Scriptures. –St. Antony the Great

All of Holy Scripture is bound together, and it has been united by one Spirit.  It is like a single chain, one link attached to another, and when you have taken one, another hangs from it. –St. Jerome

For my part I declare resolutely and with all my heart that if I were called upon to write a book which was to be vested with the highest authority, I should prefer to write it in such a way that a reader could find re-echoed in my words whatever truths he was able to apprehend.  I would rather write in this way than impose a single true meaning so explicitly that it would exclude all others, even though they contained no falsehood that could give me offence. –St. Augustine

Constant meditation upon the holy Scriptures will perpetually fill the soul with incomprehensible ecstasy and joy in God. –St. Isaac the Syrian

If you do not love the blessed and truly divine words of Scripture, you are like the beasts that have neither sense nor reason. –St. Nilus of Antioch

Read this book.  It contains everything.  You ask for love?  Read this book of the Crucified.  You wish to be good?  Read the book of the Crucified, which contains everything good. –Savonarola

The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold on me. –Martin Luther

We owe to Scripture the same reverence that we owe to God. –John Calvin

Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. –39 Articles of the Anglican Religion

Unity must be according to God’s holy word, or else it were better war than peace.  We ought never to regard unity so much — that we forsake God’s word for her sake. –Hugh Latimer

Time can take nothing from the Bible.  It is the living monitor.  Like the sun, it is the same in its light and influence to man this day which it was years ago.  It can meet every present inquiry and console every present loss. –Richard Cecil

The Bible was not given to increase our knowledge.  It was given to change lives. –Dwight L. Moody

The English Bible, the first of national treasure and the most valuable thing this world affords. –King George V

Sir Arthur St. Clare … was a man who read his Bible.  That was what was the matter with him.  When will people understand that it is useless for a man to read his Bible unless he also reads everybody else’s Bible?  A print reads a Bible for misprints.  A Mormon reads a Bible and finds polygamy; a Christian Scientist reads his and finds we have no arms and legs … –Fr. Brown by GK Chesterton

The Character of the Christian’s experience of god is determined by the reality of God who has spoken his word and who continues to speak his Word. –John Woodhouse

I have found nothing in science or space exploration to compel me to throw away my Bible or to reject my Saviour, Jesus Christ, in whom I trust. –Walter F. Burke

The infliction of literalism on us by fundamentalists who read the Bible without seeing anything but words is one of the great tragedies of history. –Isaac Asimov

The church may not judge the Scriptures, selecting and discarding from among their teachings.  But Scripture under Christ judges the church for its faithfulness to his revealed truth. –Montreal Declaration of Anglican Essentials

Classic Christianity never asserts either scripture against tradition or tradition against scripture.  Rather, it understands itself as the right remembering of the earliest testimony of scripture to God’s self-disclosure in history. –Thomas C. Oden

Scripture became written in order that the events attested in preaching might be more accurately preserved and remembered.  A written text was obviously more stable than an oral tradition, which might always be controverted by another alleged oral tradition.  A text, if drafted faithfully, did not distort memory but stabilized it in writing.  The written Word of canonized scripture was assumed to consistent with its anteceding oral expressions, and its transmission stood under the protection of the Holy Spirit, who accompanied the apostolic witness. –Thomas C. Oden

The Gospels were not just written to describe events in the past.  They were written to show that those events were relevant, indeed earth-shattering, worldview-challenging, and life-changing in the present. –Tom Wright

God’s Word does not breed quarrels and divisions.  It brings the simple truth and love of Jesus, who heals and unites.  It brings salvation. –John Michael Talbot

the Bible is the unique, infallible, written Word of God, but the word of God is not just the Bible.  If we try to dignify the Bible by saying false things about it — by simply equating the word of God with it — we do not dignify it.  Instead we betray its content by denying what it says about the nature of the word of God. –Dallas Willard

The Bible is a finite, written record of the saving truth spoken by the infinite, loving god, and it reliably fixes the boundaries of everything he will ever say to humankind. –Dallas Willard

In the modern world we seldom looked at the Bible as a composite picture revealing a cosmic vision of the world; we were too busy with the details to see God’s narrative whole.  We were too concerned with analyzing its parts, with literary criticism, historical verification, and theological systems. –Robert E. Webber

To suggest that only Christians of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have been and are capable of understanding the Bible is to deny the Bible’s universality — that it is addressed to all people of all times, not only to the learned of a particular time — and consequently to reduce Christianity to a kind of modern gnosticism. –Boniface Ramsey

A faithful reading of scripture . . . means that we seek to understand how the passages that we are reading at the moment, and the questions that we are presently asking, fit into this forgiving, healing, and life-giving drama that has been initiated by God himself. –Edith M. Humphrey

If you have the Spirit without the Word, you blow up.  If you have the Word without the Spirit, you dry up.  If you have both the Word and the Spirit, you grow up. –I never wrote down the name

Pocket Scroll posts on the Bible:

How are we to interpret the Bible?

The Allure of Eastern Orthodoxy

John Wesley on Spiritual Reading

Killing Enemies & Bashing Babies on Rocks: Reading the Difficult Psalms, Pt. 1 and Pt. 2

Reading the Bible (pt. 1)

Why Read the Bible? Unspiritual Reason #1: Books

Unspiritual Reason to Read the Bible #2: Everything Other Than Books

The Third Unspiritual Reason to Read the Bible

Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.

Tomorrow: John Calvin on the Holy Trinity

Somehow, poor John Calvin has his name associated with a certain breed of hardheaded, argumentative, internet-addicted, theological-nitpicking jerk.  This is really too bad because John Calvin (though I personally would not go so far as to say that he completed the Reformation that Martin Luther started) was a brilliant man who wrote insightful Bible commentaries and sound, orthodox theology.  Besides that, lots of people of the Reformed/Calvinist position aren’t jerks and are open to thoughtful discussion of their beliefs, including things besides predestination again.

I’m not saying I agree with everything John Calvin ever wrote, especially regarding icons, and I’m not overly committed to the mechanics of predestination, but he is worth reading.  And worth reading for more than predestination.

So if all you think of when you hear, “John Calvin,” are those hardheaded jerks and endless arguments about predestination, please read his words on the Holy Trinity here (for those with their own print copies of The Institutes of the Christian Religion, it’s Book I, Chapter 13).

There you will find defense of the word “person” as well as a very brief history of it and its use (nothing as mind-crushing as Zizioulas’ in Being As Communion), a defense of the divinity of both the Son and the Holy Spirit, and a discussion of how the Unity in Trinity runs down the middle course between Arianism on the one hand (only the Father is God) and Sabellianism on the other (all three are different “modes” of God’s being).

For those who are thinking, “You say The Shack isn’t really theology, but where do I turn?”  Turn here!  It is briefer than Augustine’s On the Trinity, more modern than Boethius.  Here you will find the true, orthodox doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity expounded.  It is honey and sweetness to your ears, balm to your soul!  Read it and praise the Father, praise the Son, praise the Spirit — Three in One!

Saint of the Week: John Wesley (Pt. 1)

Today is the feast day of John and Charles Wesley  in the Anglican calendar.  John Wesley (1703-1791) is the more famous of the two famous Wesley children.  He is quite famous these days for being an “Arminian”, and thus figures in the endless theological debates you will find out in the internet.  Nevertheless, just as Calvin was more than predestination, so Wesley was more than freewill.  So if you are a Calvinist, read on.

John Wesley studied at the University of Oxford and was ordained to holy orders within the Church of England in the year 1728.  He spent a brief time helping out his father, also an Anglican priest, before returning to Oxford.  At Oxford, he discovered that his brother Charles had begun a “Holy Club.”  It is my understanding that this club consisted of young men who met together to read the Greek New Testament and to life lives of holiness.  Their standard of holy living was set so high and their lifestyle so reflected a holy method of living that they were called “Methodists.”*

John Wesley’s “method” of life ran thus:

  1. Begin and end every day with God; and sleep not immoderately.
  2. Be diligent in your calling.
  3. Employ all spare hours in religion as able.
  4. All hollidays [should be devoted to religion].
  5. Avoid drunkards and busybodies.
  6. Avoid curiosity, and all useless employments and knowledge.
  7. Examine yourself every night.
  8. Never on any account pass a day without setting aside at least an hour for devotion.
  9. Avoid all manner of passion.

At Oxford, the Wesleys also encountered the Church Fathers, classical literature, Thomas a Kempis’ Imitation of Christ, Jeremy Taylor’s Holy Living and Holy Dying, and the recent bestseller A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life by William Law (see my post here).

In the Fathers, Kempis, Taylor, and Law, the Wesleys will have found a high call, a call to live holy lives centred upon Christ and his love for us, lives of faith that produces good works.  In his sermon on fasting, we see that John Wesley strove to steer a course between the extremes of those who believe that good works are nothing and those who believe they are everything.  He believed that they were the result of faith but that faith is what saves us.

After graduation, he went to Georgia where he met with little success.  In 1738, after his return to Britain, he started hanging out with the Moravians, and at a Moravian Love Feast on May 24, his “heart was strangely warmed.”

Wesley now knew that none of his holy living, no amount of partaking of communion, none of his prayers, none of his theology, no success as a missionary would or could save him.  All that could save John Wesley was Jesus Christ and his gift of grace freely given.**  He was truly converted to Christ.

And so, from 1739 to the end of his long life in 1791, John Wesley was committed to evangelism, to bringing this Good News of Jesus Christ to the people of England, and to waking up the Church of England.

More on John Wesley to come . . .

*I have also heard people say that Wesley was called a “Methodist” because of his method of organising the movement he started.  Somehow that is less convincing.

**To people who want to argue against Arminianism with some Augustinian arguments about grace being inescapable and therefore freewill illusory — not here.  Not now.  Embrace Wesley as a brother, see how much like you he is.

Things That Go Over Heads: Grace & Freewill

One of my friends commented that my last post went over his head.  So, let’s try to sort out the content of said post.

We begin with the discussions of Grace & Freewill.  In our minds, as we look at theology in the West during Cassian’s day, two large figures arise surrounding this question: Pelagius, the heretic in favour of our ability to be saved by our own free will, and St. Augustine of Hippo, champion of salvation by the predestined grace of God.

Pelagius and his followers (some of whom went farther than he), as I understand it, taught that we only inherit Adam’s sin by bad examples.  We are born sinless and we can, through moral striving and ascetic effort, live a sinless, spotless, perfect life.  Our will is incapable of doing wrong; only our reason can do so.  We will wrong things only because we reason incorrectly.  Furthermore, of our own free will, not only can we live a perfect life, we can turn to God in faith.  God does not help the believer in this regard; to do so would be to obliterate his free will.  Since our wills are entirely good, we don’t even need God’s help!  God’s grace does not help the Christian turn in faith and be saved.

That is a heresy.  It is called Pelagianism; it is the heresy of pulling yourself up into heaven by your bootstraps.

St. Augustine, on the other hand, preached that God has predestined His elect for salvation.  We cannot will the good, since our wills are tarnished by the stain of Adam’s sin — for in Adam, as St. Paul says, all die.  Yes, we are saved through faith, but this faith is still bolstered by grace.  God’s grace enables us to have the faith whereby we are justified.  God is sovereign to save, and we are not.  No amount of effort and moral striving will save us from our sins; we are saved only by God’s grace, the grace that, in fact, enables us to live moral lives.

This is orthodoxy.  It is called predestination and is common to John Calvin and Martin Luther.

John Cassian, however, acknowledges that the Bible seems to say that we can, of our own free will, turn to God.  He also acknowledges that, due to our utter sinfulness, we require grace to be saved.  Throughout his works, as I mentioned, he runs counter to Pelagianism by stating the necessity of Grace in the ascetic life and that the monk must needs turn to God and his grace to be able to live as he should.  He gets into trouble, nonetheless, for stating that there is the possibility that someone could have the seed of faith and of turning to God of his own free will.  He qualifies this by saying that the grace of God takes this little seed and helps it germinate in the life of faith.  Cassian warns against Pelagianism on the one hand and extreme forms of predestinarianism (such as predestination unto death) on the other.

Cassian is accused by his opponent Prosper of Aquitaine — one of the men who helped forge Mediaeval “Augustinianism” — of directing many attacks against St. Augustine despite publicly approving of the African bishop.  Prosper is wrong.

Today, John Cassian is accused of being a “Semipelagian.”  Semipelagianism is half Pelagianism.  I don’t think it exists.