Friday, August 18, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Apse mosaic, Santa Prudenziana, Rome, c. 415

Thus says the Lord: “Keep justice, and do righteousness; for My salvation is about to come, and My mercy shall be revealed.… And I will give it to the strangers that attach themselves to the Lord, to serve Him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be to Him servants and handmaids; and as for all that keep My Sabbaths, from profaning them, and that take hold of My covenant, I will bring them to My holy mountain, and gladden them in My house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be acceptable upon My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations,” says the Lord that gathers the dispersed of Israel; “for I will gather to him a congregation.” (Is 56:1, 6–8)

Heresies and schisms spring from the source of evils, and, therefore, whoever comes to unity returns from vice to nature; for just as it is natural for many to become one, so is it a vice to avoid the sweetness of brotherly love. Let us, then, with our whole hearts lifted up in joy that Christ has restored His friendship in a single Church the people who had perished from love of strife. In this Church, the harmony of love will again receive them. Of this Church, the prophet foretold, saying: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” And again, he said: “In days to come, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it; many people shall come and say: ‘Come let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob.’” [Is 2:2–3] Now the mountain is Christ, and the house of the God of Jacob is His one Church, toward which the concourse of nations and assembly of peoples is moving by this pronouncement.

Leander of Seville, Sermon on the Triumph of the Church

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Are You a Heretic?


American Christians have a mixed relationship with creeds ranging from “Creeds are on equal standing with Scripture” to “No creed but Scripture.” Regardless of where one stands on this spectrum, there is an acknowledgment that creeds formed in the early centuries of the church are important. As heresy entered, statements were formed that documented what the Church believed, taught, and confessed. Because they correctly summarized Scripture, they are now considered standards upon which modern belief is built and, therefore, useful for study. However, too often the average Christian, whether pastor or layman, believes this knowledge is suitable only as an historical curio or point of academic discussion, but not useful for common life and practice. As a result, both pedagogue and pupil can mistakenly cling to heresy. To demonstrate the propensity to error, we will look at the Niceno-Constantinopolitan (or Nicene) Creed. Drafted at the First Council of Nicea (325) and later amended at the First Council of Constantinople (381), this creed has three major parts, coïnciding with the three Persons of the Trinity.
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only‐begotten Son of God, begotten of His 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, by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried. And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets. And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins, and I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.
As a centuries old statement of faith, this creed has stood the test of time. In my circles of Christian fellowship, someone would read through this and say, “Yes, that’s exactly what I believe,” without another thought. Probably you would as well. In fact, I would say that every person and organization identifying as an evangelical would affirm this creed while in actuality they do not believe it completely.

At this point you are probably reviewing the creed to see if something jumps out where you might be off base. God, the Father, created all things? Check. Jesus is of same essence as the Father? Check. Born of the Virgin Mary? Check. You get the picture—all well and good. Now move down to the third section.  Same essence glory as the Father and Son. Check. Source of Church unity through all ages. Check. Baptism remits sin. Wait. Baptism remits sin? Yes, the Nicene Creed affirms that baptism remits or cancels sin.

Conspiracy theorists will want to opine that the church was in such disarray that the council representatives did not know what they were doing, or possibly Rome had already corrupted the fourth-century church into accepting what every good Christian knows to be unbiblical doctrine. Church history tells us differently as demonstrated by two examples preceding the councils by 200 years.
Epistle of Barnabas XI
Let us further inquire whether the Lord took any care to foreshadow the water [of baptism] and the cross. Concerning the water, indeed, it is written, in reference to the Israelites, that they should not receive that baptism which leads to the remission of sins, but should procure another for themselves.… This means, that we indeed descend into the water full of sins and defilement, but come up, bearing fruit in our heart, having the fear [of God] and trust in Jesus in our spirit.

Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho XIV
By reason, therefore, of this laver of repentance and knowledge of God, which has been ordained on account of the transgression of God’s people, as Isaiah cries, we have believed, and testify that that very baptism which he announced is alone able to purify those who have repented; and this is the water of life. But the cisterns which you have dug for yourselves are broken and profitless to you. For what is the use of that baptism which cleanses the flesh and body alone? Baptize the soul from wrath and from covetousness, from envy, and from hatred; and, lo! the body is pure.
Should some assert that these are merely examples of doctrine gone awry, they will be faced with some insurmountable obstacles:
  1. The above quotes were written within 50–100 years of the martyrdoms of both Peter and Paul. Had these post-apostolic writings been aberrations, others would have arisen to correct them. We have no such correction.
  2. Scripture teaches that baptism saves us, being the physical instrument bringing us from death to new life through faith (Rom 6:3–6; Col 2:11–14).
Not until the sixteenth century was the place of baptism questioned. Why do we now insist that it must be no more than an outward symbol of an inward reality? While the symbolism is valid, such bare adherence strips the Word of God of its power and authority. A picture may paint a thousand words, but it has no eternal consequence.

So, the Original Question Remains
Are you a heretic? Perhaps the word heretic is too strong for someone who does not see baptism for what it is. Fine. I can soften the question: are you heterodox? Still too harsh? Let me ask this: are you simply ignorant of the facts? Whichever is accurate, you are left with a decision. Do you stand with theologians and teachers, whether popular or obscure, whose erudite scholarship is deemed of greater import than the “uninformed” patristic writers; or do you hold fast to the apostles and prophets who handed this doctrine to faithful confessors who likewise taught other faithful men and so on.

I say it is better to believe on Him Who is able to deliver what He has promised in the manner He promised.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Baptism Is an Act of God

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (Eph 4:4–6)

The rite of baptism, when it finally occurs, is not a mere seal set on the initiate as a sign of the successful performance of a series of penitential acts for purification, as Basil summarized the baptism of Moses, nor is it an external washing for forgiveness of sins as with John the Baptist, but it is rather a divine act involving Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.*

John the Baptist, than whom there is no greater among them that are born of woman [cf. Matt. 11:11], likewise bears witness in the words: He must increase, but I must decrease [John 3:30]; and again: I indeed baptize you in water unto repentance, but he baptizes you in the Holy Spirit and fire [Matt. 3:11], and so in many other places. The Holy Spirit is as far superior to water as he who baptizes in the Holy Spirit obviously is to him who baptizes in water. And this is true also of the baptism itself. [Basil, Concerning Baptism 1.2.4]

Baptism is an act of God the Holy Spirit in the believer.

Timothy P. McConnell, Illumination in Basil of Caesarea’s Doctrine of the Holy Spirit


* McConnell is trying to harmonize the biblical divine work being accomplished at baptism with personal belief displayed through Basil’s requirement of catechism and moral transformation prior to baptism.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Ro 10:9–10)

There is need of both, of faith true and firm, and of confession made with confidence so that the heart may be adorned with the certitude of faith, and the tongue made resplendent by fearless proclamation of the truth.

Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on Romans

Paul in Berea
 How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written:
“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace,
    Who bring glad tidings of good things!” (Ro 10:14–15)
It is necessary first to believe, then to call. But it is impossible to believe if one does not have the benefit of the teaching, and this could not happen with no preachers, and ordination in turn is responsible for them. After citing these points in this manner by way of Jews’ defense, he uses them to add to the accusation against them; the last one, that relating to the sending of the preachers, he put first to show that it was forecast from the beginning. It was, in fact, logical to give it pride of place ahead of the others: the first need is for the preachers to be ordained,then the preaching, then the listening to the preachers, and at that point the coming of faith. Accordingly, he adduces the prophecy of Isaiah…; the Lord, remember, bade the apostles say on entering a house, “Peace be to this house” [Lk 10:5]: they indicated the divine reconciliation, and brought the good news of the enjoyment of good things.

Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on Romans

Friday, August 4, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

You that thirst, go to the water,
    and all that have no money, go and buy;
and eat and drink wine and milk
    without money or price.
Why do you value at the price of money,
    and give your labor for that which will not satisfy?
Hearken to Me, and you shall eat of all that is good,
    and your soul shall feast itself on good things.
Listen with your ears, and follow My ways;
    obey Me, and your soul shall live in prosperity;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
    the sure mercies of David.
Behold, I have made him a testimony among the Gentiles,
    a prince and commander to the Gentiles.
Nations which know you not shall call upon you,
    and peoples which are not acquainted with you shall flee to you for refuge,
for the sake of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel;
    for He has glorified you. (Is 55:1-5)


How can they purchase, yet receive gifts without paying? Well, because we accept the payment in faith from Christ, and we pay for none of these things with short-term or perishable goods. For it says, “I said to my Lord, ‘You are my Lord since you have no need of goods from me’”* By way of gifts and honor to Christ we offer to Christ the confession of faith in Him. So without money and payment comes this drink and bountiful gift of spiritual charisms. For what could we offer and what price could we pay for such a drink? For those drinking the living water are those enriched with grace through the Holy Spirit through participation in Him and purchasing this through faith, since they are sharers of the wine and suet, that is, of the holy body and the blood of Christ.

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Isaiah

* Psalm 16:2

Monday, July 31, 2017

Holy, Yet Sinner

And the Lord spoke to Aaron, saying, “You and your sons and your father's house shall bear the sins of the holy things, and you and your sons shall bear the iniquity of your priesthood.” (Nu 18:1)

It is worth asking how some are called holy and yet there is a written account of their sins. You see, contrary to how some think, it is not the case that as soon as one becomes holy he can no longer sin and must always be thought to be without sin. If saints do not sin, then it would not have been written: “You will bear the sins of the saints.” If a saint could be without sin, the Lord would not, through the prophet Ezekiel, tell the angels whom He was sending to punish sinners: “Begin with My saints”(Ez 9:6). If the saints are without sin, why do these very same fall victim to the punishments of sins first? If the saints could be without sin, then Scripture would never say that “the man who is just in the beginning of his speech is his own accuser”(Pr 18:17).

Origen, Homilies on Numbers 10.3

Friday, July 28, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Eigth Sunday after Pentecost

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind, which, when it was full, they drew to shore; and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad away. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” Jesus said to them, “Have you understood all these things?” They said to Him, “Yes, Lord.” Then He said to them, “Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old.” (Mt 13:44–52)

If any one, therefore, reads the Scriptures with attention, he will find in them an account of Christ, and a foreshadowing of the new calling. For Christ is the treasure which was hid in the field, that is, in this world (for “the field is the world”); but the treasure hid in the Scriptures is Christ, since He was pointed out by means of types and parables. Hence His human nature could not be understood, prior to the consummation of those things which had been predicted, that is, the advent of Christ. And therefore it was said to Daniel the prophet: “Shut up the words, and seal the book even to the time of consummation, until many learn, and knowledge be completed. For at that time, when the dispersion shall be accomplished, they shall know all these things.” But Jeremiah also says, “In the last days they shall understand these things.” For every prophecy, before its fulfillment, is to men enigmas and ambiguities. But when the time has arrived, and the prediction has come to pass, then the prophecies have a clear and certain exposition. And for this reason, indeed, when at this present time the law is read to the Jews, it is like a fable; for they do not possess the explanation of all things pertaining to the advent of the Son of God, which took place in human nature; but when it is read by the Christians, it is a treasure, hid indeed in a field, but brought to light by the cross of Christ, and explained, both enriching the understanding of men, and showing forth the wisdom of God and declaring His dispensations with regard to man, and forming the kingdom of Christ beforehand, and preaching by anticipation the inheritance of the holy Jerusalem, and proclaiming beforehand that the man who loves God shall arrive at such excellency as even to see God, and hear His word, and from the hearing of His discourse be glorified to such an extent, that others cannot behold the glory of his countenance, as was said by Daniel: “Those who do understand, shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and many of the righteous as the stars for ever and ever.” Thus, then, I have shown it to be, if any one read the Scriptures. For thus it was that the Lord discoursed with the disciples after His resurrection from the dead, proving to them from the Scriptures themselves “that Christ must suffer, and enter into His glory, and that remission of sins should be preached in His name throughout all the world.” And the disciple will be perfected, and like the householder, “who brings forth from his treasure things new and old.”

Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies IV.26.1

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

We Can't, Therefore We Pray

Give ear to my words, O Lord,
    Consider my meditation.
Give heed to the voice of my cry,
    My King and my God,
    For to You I will pray.
My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord;
    In the morning I will direct it to You,
    And I will look up. (Ps 5:1–3)


For this we must know, that all our shelter and protection rest in prayer alone. For we are far too feeble to cope with the devil and all his power and adherents that set themselves against us, and they might easily crush us under their feet. Therefore we must consider and take up those weapons with which Christians must be armed in order to stand against the devil. For what do you think has hitherto accomplished such great things, has checked or quelled the counsels, purposes, murder, and riot of our enemies, whereby the devil thought to crush us, together with the Gospel, except that the prayer of a few godly men intervened like a wall of iron on our side? They should else have witnessed a far different tragedy, namely, how the devil would have destroyed all Germany in its own blood. But now they may confidently deride it and make a mock of it; however, we shall nevertheless be a match both for themselves and the devil by prayer alone, if we only persevere diligently and not become slack. For whenever a godly Christian prays: Dear Father, let Thy will be done, God speaks from on high and says: Yes, dear child, it shall be so, in spite of the devil and all the world.

Large Catechism III.30–32

Friday, July 21, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost


Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’” … Then Jesus sent the multitude away and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.” He answered and said to them: “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear! (Mt 13:24–30, 36–43)

Though we have already, in previous sections, according to our ability discussed these matters, none the less shall we now say what is in harmony with them, even if there is reasonable ground for another explanation. And consider now, if in addition to what we have already recounted, you can otherwise take the good seed to be the children of the kingdom, because whatsoever good things are sown in the human soul, these are the offspring of the kingdom of God and have been sown by God the Word who was in the beginning with God, so that wholesome words about anything are children of the kingdom. But while men are asleep who do not act according to the command of Jesus, “Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation,” the devil on the watch sows what are called tares over and among what are called by some natural conceptions, even the good seeds which are from the Word. And according to this the whole world might be called a field, and not the Church of God only, for in the whole world the Son of man sowed the good seed, but the wicked one tares, which, springing from wickedness, are children of the evil one. And at the end of things, which is called “the consummation of the age,” there will of necessity be a harvest, in order that the angels of God who have been appointed for this work may gather up the bad opinions that have grown upon the soul, and overturning them may give them over to fire which is said to burn, that they may be consumed. And so the angels and servants of the Word will gather from all the kingdom of Christ all things that cause a stumbling-block to souls and reasonings that create iniquity, which they will scatter and cast into the burning furnace of fire. Then those who become conscious that they have received the seeds of the evil one in themselves, because of their having been asleep, shall wail and, as it were, be angry against themselves; for this is the “gnashing of teeth.” Therefore, also, in the Psalms it is said, “They gnashed upon me with their teeth.” Then above all “shall the righteous shine,” no longer differently as at the first, but all “as one sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Then, as if to indicate that there was indeed a hidden meaning, perhaps, in all that is concerned with the explanation of the parable, perhaps most of all in the saying, “Then shall the righteous shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father,” the Savior adds, “He that has ears to hear, let him hear,” thereby teaching those who think that in the exposition, the parable has been set forth with such perfect clearness that it can be understood by the commoner, that even the things connected with the interpretation of the parable stand in need of explanation.

Origen, Commentary on Matthew 10.2

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Jealous for a Reason

Poussin, “Adoration of the Golden Calf”
For I am the Lord your God, a jealous God. (Ex 20:5 LXX)

Every married woman is either under her husband and subject to the rules of her husband, or she is a whore and uses her freedom to sin. The man who goes in to a prostitute knows that he has gone in to one who lies down and open for all; therefore he cannot become angry with the others. The man who practices a legitimate marriage does not permit his wife to sin but is full of jealousy to preserve the chastity of his marriage so that he can become a legitimate father. Thus every soul is either prostituted to demons and has many lovers to go in to it—sometimes the spirit of fornication, some times the spirit of greed, and after these come the spirit of pride and many others—but one spirit does not envy another nor is it moved to jealousy, but they invite each other to take turns. However, if that soul has been joined to a lawful Husband—that is, to Christ—even if it once was a sinner, He no longer suffers it to sin.

Origen, Homilies on Exodus VIII.5