Christ is risen from the dead

Medieval image of the Resurrection of Christ, seen in Vatican Museums

It’s not every day that people blog about Leo the Great

I know full well that people don’t blog about Leo every day because I get a Google Alert for ‘Leo the Great’. And usually, when people do, it’s at Christmastide, and they’re just posting a big chunk of Leo’s text as the blog post. However, there was  real, live blog post about Pope St. Leo I in my inbox today! And I even liked it. I hope you will too. It’s at the blog Biltrix, and it’s about the importance of our Lord’s Resurrection appearances for the faith of the Apostles and for ourselves today.

Happy Bible Sunday!

In the days of one united Prayer Book and lectionary, Anglican circles called this Sunday, the Second of Advent, “Bible Sunday” because of the Collect:

Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The epistle reading is similarly Bible-focussed: Romans 15:4-13.

We would do well to pray this collect over and over again, for, like many of Cranmer’s little masterpieces,* it is a sermon unto itself.  We learn first (regarding the Bible; no doubt an entire homily could be preached on “Blessed Lord”):

  • God caused all holy Scriptures to be written

This alone is to give us pause when we recall some of the things we hear, such as that the NT writers were choosy in their selection and not everything in them is historically true.  Like the Virgin Birth.  Or the Resurrection.  Or the very idea of Jesus being God-in-flesh.  If God caused all holy Scriptures to be written, then we should take these passages and doctrines very seriously before moving on to:

  • written for our learning

The purpose of this writing of Scripture was our learning.  The Bible is there to teach us.  We are to learn from it.  How?  Cranmer shows us next:

  • hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them

The Word of God is to be proclaimed and read aloud.  I believe this applies even to today when most of the population is literate.  The spoken word, as an action, has force and power different from the printed word.**  We are also to read it ourselves, though.  Sunday morning is not enough; our involvement with the Scriptures is to be personal.  As we read the words of life, we are also called to mark them, learn them, and inwardly digest them.

That last phrase, “inwardly digest them,” is among my favourite Prayer-Book phrases.  As we study the Scriptures, we aren’t just supposed to observe them critically as we would the Aeneid or the Tome of Leo.  We are to digest them.  They are to enter into our very being and become part of us.  This is a very dynamic, very physical image.  And what is the result of our intimate acquaintance with the Scriptures?

  • by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life

The Scriptures give us patience — endurance through suffering — and comfort — strength.  Through this endurance and this strength, we come to a place where we are able to embrace — again, a very personal verb — and hold fast — imagine someone holding onto a rope so as not to fall into a chasm — the blessed hope of everlasting life.

The Christian hope is not simply the hope of a better world, the hope of temporal joy, the hope of moral improvement but the hope of eternity for those who put their trust in Jesus, in God, Whose character is displayed to us on the pages of the Bible.

And whence does our hope come?

  • our Saviour Jesus Christ

The Christocentrism of Reformational thought (I acknowledge that there was/is much Christocentrism in Catholic thought; I am not speaking of Catholics, though) comes forth.  Our hope of eternity comes from Jesus.  Cling to him whom we have found in the pages of the Scriptures and we cling to our hope, we cling to eternity and escape from death.  This is a good thing.

So we should all read our Bibles, and read them carefully, so that we can come to know better the God who saves us through Jesus Christ and be transformed and cling to the hope of everlasting life.

*I hereby acknowledge Archbp. Thomas Cranmer’s debt to the Gelasian and Gregorian Sacramentaries.  Part of his genius was in selection and translation, part in adaptation of the tradition, part in original composition.

**My own adaptation of Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy.

Letters to Malcolm 17: Pathways to Adoration

This past Tuesday at the Christian Classics Reading Group, we read three of C.S. Lewis’ Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer.  This book is a series of  imaginary letters to an imaginary interlocutor named “Malcolm” (naturally).  They revolve around prayer primarily (naturally).  The letters we read were 17, 18, and 19, if you wish to catch up with us.

Letter 17 is essentially about pathways to adoration.  Lewis reminds Malcolm about a time they were walking in a wood and Malcolm recommended him to start where he was to move towards adoration — with splashing cool water from a spring on his warm face.  From there, Lewis discusses the use of pleasure as a pathway to the worship of Almighty God, saying that he finds it easier to move to adoration from tangible pleasures than from thinking about the doctrines of God.

He makes a good point about “bad” pleasures, that it is not the pleasure itself that is bad, only the method of acquiring it:

It is the stealing of the apple that is bad, not the sweetness.  The sweetness is still a beam from the glory.  That does not palliate the stealing.  It makes it worse.  There is sacrilege in the theft.  We have abused a holy thing.

This is important to consider, although Lewis later in Letter 18 does point out that there are pleasures that are actually bad, such as the pleasure derived from nursing a grievance.  Yet by and large, the pleasures of this life are “patches of Godlight”.  As a paraphrase of G.K. Chesterton says:

Life is like a waking up after a shipwreck and moments of pleasure are remnants washed ashore from the wreckage, pieces of paradise extended through time. We must hold these relics lightly and use them with gratitude and restraint, never seizing them as entitlements.

I believe this is important advice to take hold of.  The world is God’s creation — by nature, it is good, even having been pronounced so by the Almighty in Genesis 1.  In Soliloquy of the Soul, St. Thomas a Kempis contends that the pleasures of this world, being transient, are not to be sought, but that we are, instead, to live lives of self-deprivation (a form of the Way of Negation).

Lewis and Chesterton would vehemently disagree.  Yes, there is pain in this life.  Yes, we are destined for the New Country, for the Kingdom of the Heavens, for the New Heaven and the New Earth, for the Resurrection, for the Recapitulation of All Things.  Yet here we are on Earth.  The present life is transitory, but the pleasures of it are not to be shunned.

And Lewis shows us a way forward, a way to enjoy transient pleasures without compromising the future life — these pleasures are from the God of Glory Himself.  They are moments where the Kingdom of the Heavens breaks through into our transitory lives and shows us a bit of His glory.  They are vehicles of grace and pathways to adoration.

We live in a world of pain and sorrow — pathways to adoration are necessary.

We live in an age where the Church is having something of a crisis around public worship — pathways to adoration are necessary.

We live in an age where materialists tell us that this material thing is all the reality there is — pathways to adoration are necessary.

We live in an age where materialists of a different ilk tell us that the value of this material thing lies within the thing itself — pathways to adoration are necessary.

Seek to worship God daily through pleasure, beauty, theology, hymns, Psalms — follow the paths to the adoration of the Majestic One seated on the Sapphire Throne.

Christ Is Risen!

He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!!

Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ trampled down death with death.  He rose from the grave and is the firstborn from the dead.  We who put our faith in Him shall share in His resurrection and shall one day put on immortal bodies.  Through His crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus took on the powers and principalities.  He defeated death.  He conquered the Devil and his minions.  He took on the curse laid upon humanity and the world since Adam and broke it.  He released the stranglehold that sin had on humanity.

How can we keep silent?  How can we not sing His great praises?  Christ is risen, let us rejoice!

As we sing the great praises of the most high God, as we hymn our Lord Christ, we sing not just of His victory for us human beings but for all creation as well.  He is Christus Victor, a fact demonstrated by His mighty resurrection.  I find that some of the Easter hymns we sang at Little Trinity on Sunday reflect a Christ the Victor mentality.

The chorus of “Up From the Grave He Arose” by Robert Lowry (1826-1899):

Up from the grave he arose;
with a mighty triumph o’er his foes;
he arose a victor from the dark domain,
and he lives forever, with his saints to reign.
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!

The chorus and final verse of “Welcome, Happy Morning,” by Venantius Fortunatus (c. 590), trans. John Ellerton (1868):

“Welcome, happy morning!” age to age shall say:
“Hell today is vanquished, Heav’n is won today!”

Loose the souls long prisoned, bound with Satan’s chain;
All that now is fallen raise to life again;
Show Thy face in brightness, bid the nations see;
Bring again our daylight: day returns with Thee!

The chorus of “Thine Be the Glory,” by Edmond Budry (1884), trans. Richard Hoyle (1923):

Thine be the glory, risen conquering Son,
Endless is the vict’ry, thou o’er death hast won.

When we see the debates about Christus Victor, people talk as though NT Wright were doing something new, or introducing into Western theology something long missing.  Robert E. Webber says that Christus Victor or the theory of recapitulation are often lacking in Western theology (see Ancient-Future Faith and Worship Old And New).  However, the hymnists of the 1800’s seem to see something of this theme of Christ’s triumph over his foes.  And it is not hard to see this great triumph extending not only to sin in humans but the brokenness of the entire world.

Finally, Christus Victor does not supplant the idea of Christ as victim, despite what some of its Western detractors and Eastern supporters may say.  They are two concepts that help bring out the fullness of what Christ did for us through his passion, death, and resurrection.  Indeed, if we are to look at the atonement fully, we will find it lacking if we support only one of these two views, Latin or Classic.

Christ is the victor!  He has triumphed over his foes!  He vanquished Hell!  He set free the imprisoned souls!  He defeated Satan!  He won an endless victory over death!  This is the glorious reality of the Easter miracle when a dead Man regained life.  That life is now life for us all.

Last Night: Creeds (my notes)

Last night was the second meeting of the small group.  We discussed the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds.  Some good thoughts were shared and expressed, which I hope to give you along the way this week.  But to keep things short, I’ll just start with my notes in this post and move on to the fruit of the night later.

As I worked through my notes, we discussed various questions pertaining to church history and Arianism and why Arius was a heretic — that sort of thing.  Things that came up along the way were baptism, the Donation of Constantine, the Resurrection of the Dead, Mozilla being a charity, etc.   Being here in person is clearly the preferable way to encounter this stuff.

The Nicene Creed

The origins of the Nicene Creed lie in the early fourth century.  An Alexandrian priest named Arius said, responding to his bishop Alexander who saw Jesus as having being begotten of the Father before all ages, “En pote hote ouk en.”  “There was when he was not.”  This became the slogan of his party who were termed “Arians.”  (Since he was only a priest, some of the Arian bishops didn’t like this, but when you’re a heretic, you don’t choose your label.)

Arianism is not traditional Christology, whatever certain Archbishops of Canterbury might tell you.*  In Arianism, Jesus, the Word, was considered to be other than the Father and lesser than the Father for a few reasons, including the verse in Proverbs in which Divine Wisdom says that it was created by Father first.  Many ancient theologians interpreted “Divine Wisdom” to be the same as “the Word” of John 1.  Therefore, by Arius’ reckoning, Jesus was a created being, as in Colossians he is called, “the firstborn of all creation.”  Besides this, Arianism tried to follow a certain amount of Aristotelian logic.  Jesus is called the Son or the Word, whereas the Father is called the Father or God.  A difference in name, as with apple and tree, necessitates a difference in essence or nature.  Therefore, Jesus’ essence is not the same as that of God the Father.  They do not share a “substance” but are two entirely different beings.  Jesus the Word, because he is always following the Father’s will, is allowed to be called “divine” and “God”.

One of the major problems with Arianism is the fact that every Sunday, they, along with everyone else, would worship Jesus.  If Jesus is not God, you cannot worship him.  As well, Arianism runs counter to the plain sense of John 1.  If “the Word was God,” the Word wasn’t other than God.  The Word wasn’t a lesser being.  The Word was God.  This is what it means.  Nicene orthodoxy takes that verse at its face value and uses it to interpret Proverbs, not the other way around.  The Proverbs verses aren’t necessarily about Jesus in a prophetic sense anyway.  Wisdom may simply be a type of the Word.  Typology is important to keep in mind.

To have Arius running around saying all that stuff would not do.  A council was called in Antioch which condemned him.  This wasn’t quite enough — Arius kept at it, so a general council, a council of the whole inhabited world was called.  The word for this is “ecumenical”; thus you will hear church historians and the Eastern Orthodox talking about the “ecumenical councils,” of which there were eight.  This council met in Nicaea, which is in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) near the Bosporus, opening on June 19, 325.  The Emperor Constantine convened the council, believing that it was important for the security and fabric of his newly united Empire that the Church also be united.  Bishops came from all over the East, from Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Arabia, Persia, Libya, Greece, Armenia, Cyprus.  From the West, Orosius of Cordoba, Spain, came as did delegates from Silvester, Bishop of Rome.

The bishops met for several days, arguing about the doctrines professed by Arius and believing that a document should be produced to which bishops would have to subscribe if they were to avoid excommunication and anathematisation.  They also discussed various other matters, from how to consecrate bishops to ordaining castrated men.  The creed to which all had to subscribe was based upon the baptismal formula of Caesaria with a few alterations and was as we have it, with the following differences.  It ends with, “And the Holy Spirit,” then launches into:

And those that say ‘There was when he was not,’ and, ‘Before he was begotten he was not,’ and that, ‘He came into being from what-is-not,’ or those that allege, that the Son of God is ‘Of another substance or essence’ or ‘created,’ or ‘changeable,’ or ‘alterable,’ these the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes.

The specifically anti-Arian statements are bundled together:

Begotten of the Father before all worlds; God, of God; Light, of Light; Very God, of very God; Begotten, not made; Being of one substance with the Father;

Since the Arians called Jesus “God” without believing him to actually be God, the most important statements are the first and last.  Jesus was “begotten of the Father before all worlds,” as opposed to the Arian assertion that he was created within time.  And he is “of one substance with the Father,” as opposed to the Arian idea that Jesus is a different, lesser being than God the Father.  The Greek word is, “homoousios”, the Latin, “consubstantialis.”  (I object to the modern translation that says, “of one being with the Father,” because it obscures the theological debates of the creed’s origin and does not make it very clear in what way Jesus and the Father are one, whereas “of one substance” is a proper translation of the theological idea that Jesus and the Father share an essence; furthermore, “of one being” allows for the ancient heresy of Sabellianism.)

The bits about the Holy Spirit come from at the Council of Constantinople in AD 381 to combat people who say that the Holy Spirit isn’t God but is something like an angel or who say that he isn’t his own person.  From that point forward, the creed was only ever affirmed at Church Councils and no ecumenical council has meddled with it.

At a synod in Spain, to battle a heresy which I believe was called Priscillianism, they added one little Latin word to the creed, filioque.  Thus, the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.  Charlemagne liked the Spanish usage and sought to unify the liturgy of the whole Frankish Empire, so they used filioque although the Pope was not in favour.  He believed in dual procession of the Holy Spirit; but you don’t mess with the creed without asking.  Eventually, later popes got on board with this idea, and it is in the Nicene Creed as said in the Church of Rome to this day.

The Eastern Orthodox don’t like this (see T. Ware, The Orthodox Church, 1st ed., pp. 218-223).  In part, they don’t like it because no ecumenical council agreed to it.  In part, they don’t like it because most of them don’t believe in a dual procession of the Holy Spirit.  In part, they don’t like it because it was done in the West (OK, that last one may be harsh, but I’m always amazed at the strongly eastern flavour of so-called “ecumenical” councils, esp. the last one which dealt with a specifically eastern issue, and at which no western bishops were present).

The Apostles’ Creed

The Apostles’ Creed is the baptismal formula of the Church of Rome.  The legend, however, is that the 12 Apostles were all sitting around one day and thinking, “What do we believe?  What should the new disciples agree to at baptism?”  Each of them contributed a different bit and, hey, presto! The Apostles’ Creed!  This creed is the basis for the Anglican baptismal rites; modern ones work it into a series of questions, whereas the BCP (1962)** has the parents or one to be baptised recite it in full.  You can see its basis in the baptismal rite found in the 3rd-century Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus as well.

When we see these two creeds side by side, we see why I prefer the Nicene.  It is fuller, more complete.  Part of this fullness comes from its origins in the Arian controversy, but not all, such as the statement that God is the creator of the visible and the invisible.

*See Robert W. Jenson, “With No Qualifications: The Christological Maximalism of the Christian East,” in Ancient & Postmodern Christianity.  He doesn’t deal with Williams but he does deal with Arius.  The whole essay is available on google books.

**1662 the priest recites it and they agree to believe it.

The F Word

ie. Fundamentalism

I once heard Peter Kreeft give a lecture, and he said that when the newspapers refer to “fundamentalist Muslims”, all they are really doing is using the F word.  We should be careful of our words and how we use them.  Newman Theological College has been accused of being fundamentalist.  But what is a fundamentalist?  Are Roman Catholics fundamentalist?  Can they be?  Was John Henry Newman?  Are you?  Am I?

Historically, fundamentalist Christians were people, apparently Baptists and (of all things) Presbyterians, who reacted against the developments in modernist theology and biblical studies.  They got together in 1909-12 and produced the following five fundamentals, whence comes their name:

-the Virgin birth
-the physical resurrection of Jesus
-the inerrancy of the Scriptures
-the substitutional atonement
-the physical second coming of Christ

Of course, not everyone who believed or believes these doctrines is a fundamentalist.  Any orthodox Christian, mainline Protestant, evangelical Protestant, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, would subscribe to all of these except the inerrancy of Scripture over which there is still some debate, and the Eastern Orthodox would argue with you about the meaning of the atonement.

What marks the modern fundamentalist is not simply a belief in these five fundamentals as per 1912.  Since they first reacted in 1909, Christian fundamentalists have had a century to continue reacting to the world around.  They are typified both by what they believe but also, very importantly, how they believe these things.

Before I list any of the things you might find a fundamentalist believing, I must note the matter of how.  Numerous Christians will believe in various things that fundamentalists believe.  A major difference between the fundamentalist and the average theological conservative is the fact that the fundamentalist will say that his belief in x, y, or z is among the fundamentals.  If you do not agree with him, then you are not a true Christian and probably a heretic.  Thus, the fundamentalist Calvinist will declare forcefully that everyone who does not believe in his hyper-Calvinistic double predestinarain views is fit for nothing but eternal damnation and is probably also a moron (this is probably an exaggeration, but you get the point).

Amongst the issues that most Christians would consider secondary but are primary for fundamentalists, we find a few interesting creatures.

First, if you doubt the complete, literal inerrancy of Holy Scripture, then you are a heretic and, worse, a liberal who has succumbed to the modernising tendencies of the secular world.  The Bible is not only correct on matters of life and doctrine, but also on matters of history and cosmology.

Therefore, the universe is 6000 years old.  You must believe in a historical Adam and Eve in order to be a true, saved Christian with a living relationship with God.

Do not dance, drink, smoke, play cards, listen to rock music, get a tattoo, body piercing, or go to most Hollywood movies.  Not even Christian rock is okay, since rock music is fleshly and will likely lead you to dancing, which is but one step away from fornication.

Some do not allow women to wear trousers or make up.

Do not spend too much time with people who aren’t Christians.  This is a bad idea; they will corrupt the purityof your faith.

Since most fundamentalists are Protestants, be warned that Roman Catholics and most mainline Christians are not really Christians and are heretics destined for hell.  The Eastern Orthodox probably are too; they can’t tell you much about them, but they look kind of like Papists, so damnation is likely for them as well.

Some fundamentalists I found doubt the faithfulness of CS Lewis due to his interest in Taoism.

Many, if not most, believe that the Authorised Version, or King James Version, of the Bible from 1611 is the only authoritative translation of the Bible.  They do not trust textual critics and decry modern scholarly editions of the Greek New Testament, some of them even warning you that the Pope endorses these editions.

Of the above, some people go so far as to say that Jesus spoke in King James English.  This is because all science is man-made, including historiography, textual criticism, and historical linguistics.  Therefore, the Greek texts cannot be trusted, soiled as they are by the human sciences involved.  The only version in any language that we can trust is the 1611 Authorised Version.

Denominationalism.  Many fundamentalists, over the 100 years of culture wars in which they have been losing ground both within and outside of the church (outside their take-over of the Southern Baptist Convention, although I have read some excellent non-fundamentalist things from Southern Baptists), have declared their denomination the last bastion of true Christianity.  If you are not part of their church, you are probably emperilling your soul.

No doubt there are many more doctrines that fundamentalists believe.  But, again, the big distinguisher is the fact that they will tell you that what they believe is essential to Christianity.  The fundamentalist takes his views on biblical inerrancy and the authority of the church to such extremes that there is no longer room for discussion or opposition to what he and his church say.

Fundamentalism is the conservative religious reaction to the culture around them.  Fundamentalists will pull away and create marks to distinguish the sheep from the goats.  They will say that their interpretation of every portion of Scripture is the correct one.  They will try to freeze their church at one moment in history and get angrier and more frustrated as the world and large portions of the church keep moving along without them.

The worst fundamentalists are those who have ended up on the defensive for so long that everything is a quarrel, and God probably just hates all of you hopeless morons.  Thus Westboro Baptist (from the USA, not associated in any way, shape, or form with the like-named church in Ottawa) which declares that not only does God hate fags but God, in fact, hates the world.  You can watch a video of their choir sing the latter if you wish.

The sort of Classic Christianity which is espouse on this blog cannot include fundamentalism.  Fundamentalism does not allow room for the diversity of the Great Tradition, nor does it allow room for a generous orthodoxy.  Both of these are essential, in my mind, for a healthy view of Christianity.

So, what about Roman Catholics?  Are they/can they be fundamentalists?  Perhaps; however, a Roman Catholic fundamentalism would declare that all Prots are damned heretics and that we all need to turn more and more to the Scriptures and sacred tradition.  Although the Church has no position on this, they would likely be young-earth creationists.  I am not sure if they would believe in the inerrancyof Scripture the same way the Prot fundies do; Rome’s position is that the Bible, as being the revelation of God about God, is only considered inerrant regarding the Godhead and how to live — it might be right about other stuff, but the Church leaves room for discussion.  They would abhor Vatican II and laud Pope Benedict XVI.  They would pray the rosary.  They would worship in Latin, the women covering their heads and wearing long skirts.  Again, though, they would say that everything that they do is necessary for salvation, from the rosary to the statues to the Latin Mass; those who don’t do these things, even fellow Catholics, are endangering their eternal souls.

Now we turn to Newman Theological College.  Is it fundamentalist?  No.  It is neither fundamentalist in my conjectured Roman Catholic sense nor in the Protestant sense by any means.  In their About NTC page, they state several things that demonstrate their lack of a fundamentalist position.  First, they demonstrate a sensitivity to diversity not only within the Catholic tradition but also to other, non-Catholic Christians as well as the need for “knowledge of and dialogue with other world religions.”  Second, they say much about the need for the use of reason while working with Scripture and Tradition.  Third, they are fond of John Henry Newman (unsurprisingly) who was far from “fundamentalist” (although certainly not “liberal”).  Fourth (elsewhere on their website), there is a woman on their staff.  Indeed, if you know what fundamentalism looks like and you look at what the staff specialise in, there can be no reasonable accusation of fundamentalism here.

Therefore, let us be cautious of the words we use and how we use them.  Let us also avoid drawing debates away from where they belong and pitching them in an entirely different light.  If the federal government is giving $4 000 000 to Newman Theological College, it is not well to say they are giving the money to a “fundamentalist ‘school'”.  In fact, since there is no law against the government in Canada assisting religious organisations in need (and Newman is in need, as they are still $11 000 000 short of their requirements to rebuild), then the question is not, “Is it right for the government to fund a religious college?” but, “Is it right for the government to fund this religious college?” or, “Is it right for the government to find private colleges?”

I know I’m going on really long, but if you’re concerned with fundamentalism, you can skip this.  If your concern is how the federal government uses its money, think on the following.  If it is right for the government to give money to private colleges, then religious colleges should not be ruled out.  Religion has been and is a large part of Canadian life and of the lives of many Canadians.  If a private religious college is helping to ensure that Canada has a robust, healthy, religious life, if it has a good reputation, if it is accredited, then it should be eligible for the government’s assistance.  For the government to avoid giving assistance to religious institutions is, in fact, to cast a vote against religion, rather than to cast a vote in favour of no religion in particular.