Sunday, October 31, 2010

Nicaea - Canon 14

Concerning catechumens who have lapsed, the holy and great Synod has decreed that, after they have passed three years only as hearers, they shall pray with the catechumens.

Catechumens were those who had more than an interest in the faith are were being taught the basics in preparation for baptism.  By this time people were being discipled before baptism rather than after, since the mark of baptism identified the individual as being fully committed.  More than hearers, these believers (for so they must have been) were being prepared for full fellowship with the saints.  If one of these should lapse, there was a required three-year period among those interested but not discipled before returning to the cycle of a catechumen.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Nicaea - Canon 13

Concerning the departing, the ancient canonical law is still to be maintained, to wit, that, if any man be at the point of death, he must not be deprived of the last and most indispensable Viaticum.  But, if any one should be restored to health again who has received the communion when his life was despaired of, let him remain among those who communicate in prayers only.  But in general, and in the case of any dying person whatsoever asking to receive the Eucharist, let the Bishop, after examination made, give it him.

Let's begin with a definition.  What is viaticum?  From the Catholic Encyclopedia we understand that
The substantive "viaticum" figuratively meant the provision for the journey of life and finally by metaphor the provision for the passage out of this world into the next.

Formerly it meant anything that gave spiritual strength and comfort to the dying and enabled them to make the journey into eternity with greater confidence and security.  For this reason anciently not only any sacrament administered to persons at the point of death, baptism (St. Basil, "Hom. in sac. Bapt."; St. Gregory Nazianzen, "Orat. de bapt."), confirmation, penance, extreme unction (Moroni, "Diz. di erudizione stor.-eccl.), Eucharist (Fourth Counc. of Carthage, cap. 78, calls it "viaticum Eucharistiæ"), but even prayers offered up or good works performed by themselves or by others in their behalf, e.g. alms-deeds (St. Cyprian), and finally anything that tended to reconcile the dying with God and the Church came under this designation.1
We can see that what was originally something to help the traveler was applied to the final great journey of death.  Up to the time of the Nicene council one of the deacons would leave the meeting to bring the bread and wine to a dying person as a way to ease the soul in the last hours.  A great premium was placed on actual, rather than spiritual, communion because of the connection the early church made between the elements and Christ's presence with his people as they gathered together.  About this Robert Webber reminds us that
the symbols of bread and wine are the material objects that in a mysterious manner are connected with the broken body and shed blood of Jesus Christ,through whom man worships the Father.  For this reason the early church had a high view of the symbols of the bread and wine and their place in Christian worship.…The early Christians refused to define exactly what happened to the bread and wine.  For them it was something actually present in a renewing and nourishing way.…The early Christians wished to maintain the mystery of the Eucharist as the culminating point of worship that pointed to the redemption of Christ and served as a means of receiving the benefits of the death of Christ.2
For the dying penitent the elements in this last act salved the conscience by speaking to him or her that the time of waiting mentioned in previous canons was now over.  The soul was clean before God and worthy to receive what God was giving in the elements.  For those not penitent this was a chance to confess any sin before God and have renewed confidence in their firm position by the communion act.  Should the dying person recover, that one should spend time away from the elements, probably as an act by the leaders to safeguard against either the person attempting to fool the church into shortening the time of penance or trying to eat and drink in an unworthy manner.

While writing this I am reminded of a godly person who was confined to the hospital for several weeks because of medical condition.  During that time she requested of the chaplain a chance to have the Lord's Supper.  Being of a group which practiced a closed communion, he was unwilling and asked why her church (my own church at the time) was not honoring her wishes.  She related the story to me after her release, and I was thoroughly ashamed both for my own thoughtlessness but also for those in that local body who could have performed this task.

Let us not lose sight of the importance of the body and blood of Christ to the infirm.  If they are able to partake of the elements, let them do so in joyous communion with the beloved saints and God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

1 Augustin Joseph Schulte, "Viaticum," The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 15 (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912).  Cited 28 Oct 2010.  Online:

2 Robert Webber, Common Roots (2d ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 116-117.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Bringing the Reformation to Protestantism

Gene Edward Vieth has a post directed at reforming Protestantism in the areas of the gospel, Bible, and vocation.  The historical church has gone to extremes in one direction or another in addressing the Christian life when the true response is more centered on Christ than is typically acknowledged.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Nicaea - Canon 12

As many as were called by grace, and displayed the first zeal, having cast aside their military girdles, but afterwards returned, like dogs, to their own vomit, (so that some spent money and by means of gifts regained their military stations); let these, after they have passed the space of three years as hearers, be for ten years prostrators.  But in all these cases it is necessary to examine well into their purpose and what their repentance appears to be like.  For as many as give evidence of their conversions by deeds, and not pretense, with fear, and tears, and perseverance, and good works, when they have fulfilled their appointed time as hearers, may properly communicate in prayers; and after that the bishop may determine yet more favorably concerning them.  But those who take with indifference, and who think the form of entering the Church is sufficient for their conversion, must fulfill the whole time.

This canon appears to be a continuation of the preceding1 and is directed to those men who had formerly served in the military but now had enlisted in the army of Licinius who faced Constantine for control of the empire.  From the commentary with the canon, Licinius was known for his heathenism and requirement that all soldiers engage in idolatrous worship.  Any such soldiers desiring to return to the church were required a 13-year penance for full fellowship occurred.  As an aside, military service was not deemed sinful in itself though it had that potential except for mention by Tertullian as in On Idolatry, chapter 19.2

Concerning any person serving the time of penance, if the local elder determined after the completion of the "hearing" phase, that the repentance is both genuine and pronounced, the remaining stage(s) may be shortened as seems fitting.3

1 "The Prisca and the Isidorian version stands as part of canon 11" in The Seven Ecumenical Councils, Canon 12 (NPNF2 14:28).
2 ANF 3:73.
3 I.e. time off for good behavior.

Monday, October 25, 2010

In the Original Greek

Seth Ehorn at Sententiae Nil passed along this photo that pretty well depicts elitism that can take root in preachers and teachers if they are not careful.  Lord knows how I have fallen into this trap by insisting my understanding or those in my circle of churches had the most correct understanding of difficult words or grammar.

Take a few moments to read his short commentary in the blog post.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Nicaea - Canon 11

Concerning those who have fallen without compulsion, without the spoiling of their property, without danger or the like, as happened during the tyranny of Licinius, the Synod declares that, though they have deserved no clemency, they shall be dealt with mercifully.  As many as were communicants, if they heartily repent, shall pass three years among the hearers; for seven years they shall be prostrators; and for two years they shall communicate with the people in prayers, but without oblation.

This canon seems quite stringent until reading the excursus which follows the canon.  That piece indicates that the penance described "was only of those convicted of what then were called by pre-eminence 'mortal sins' (crimena mortalia. [Cyprian. De Bono Patient., cap. xiv.]), viz: idolatry, murder, and adultery."  Even at that, the time required to restore to full communion was quite lengthy: three years of being able to enter and hear the Word of God, followed by seven years of being able to bow with the others, and lastly two years of being able to pray—yet all this time without sharing into the whole act of celebrating in the bread and wine.  The penitent were allowed to be a part of but not active in the worship.

While I commend these men for wanting to ensure the repentant hearts of those desiring to restore fellowship, the time period is excessive and establishes law in an effort to extend grace and mercy. True, the severity of the sin points to a like judgment, but better to take these on a case-by-case basis.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Egocentricity of God

I am reading Robert Webber's Common Roots and greatly enjoying it.  If you do not know him, Dr. Webber got fed up with the approach American Evangelicalism approached worship, so he set out to research how the early church gathered and worshiped.  In his section on the meaning of worship, he relates how a person objected strongly to the seeming egocentricity of God, that he should require everything to praise him.  Webber then quotes the response of an older, wiser brother's response.
God only wants us to speak the truth about him.  Even as in our own personal worth we appreciate people telling the truth about us and shy away from those who either overestimate or underestimate us, so God wants us to speak the truth about him.  The truth is that he is the Creator, that he is ultimate, that he is the highest, the holiest, the one most perfect in his being.  Now what would you think of God if he were to shuffle his feet in celestial dust and say, "Aw shucks," refusing to be honest about himself?1
I believe that stands on its own.

1 Robert E. Webber, Common Roots, (2d ed. Grand Rapids:Zondervan, 2009), 111.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Commentary on Daniel by Hippolytus of Rome

Roger Pearse has mentioned in his blog the publication of a recently completed translation of  Commentary on Daniel by Hippolytus.  The blog entry describing Thomas Schmidt's effort is given here.  The second paragraph mentions that the work is available in PDF form for free or a donation.  It is also available in print.  Being a "Patristi-geek," I look forward to reading this.

Nicaea - Canon 10

If any who have lapsed have been ordained through the ignorance, or even with the previous knowledge of the ordainers, this shall not prejudice the canon of the Church; for when they are discovered they shall be deposed.

It seems clear that this canon was written with 1 Timothy 5:21 in view:
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.
If someone was in a position of spiritual authority and was later determined to not be fit because of prior actions or teaching, he was to be deposed without regard for his current position.  This removed the temptation to allow someone to remain because he had already been publicly recognized.

Applying this to the modern church, if an acting pastor, elder, deacon, etc. has something brought forward1 that should have prevented the initial appointment, the person should be removed.  That being so, what should be done if the leader confesses the wrongness and pleads the facts are from the past, not having any bearing on the current ministry?  According to this canon, the person remains disqualified and must be deposed.  This does not mean that the person could never be placed back into that position or another of leadership.  That depends entirely on the disqualification and both the ensuing restorative/instructive process and progress.

1 I am assuming that the facts are being made known by two or three witnesses (1 Tim 5:19).

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Nicaea - Canon 9

If any presbyters have been advanced without examination, or if upon examination they have made confession of crime, and men acting in violation of the canon have laid hands upon them, notwithstanding their confession, such the canon does not admit; for the Catholic Church requires that which is blameless.

The council recognize that some elders may be in position without having been previously properly examined or who has fallen into sin—either of which would cause disqualification from the position.  It also recognized that some held there position absolved them from the consequences of past sin.  In either case, the elder had to be removed.

Working for Grace or Because of Grace?

Call it a legalism trifecta (see my last two posts), but this caught my eye.  Paul McCain of Cyberbrethren received an e-mail and answered it in a blog post.  Here is the pertinent portion of that initial e-mail:
Being a southern Baptist all my life, I had no idea that the gospel really was this wonderful. When I read things like what Martin Luther said on our questioning God, it is as if he wrote it specifically for me. I was wondering if you could give me an idea on what I should read considering my evangelical background concerning Luther and Lutheranism. I don’t know how much longer I can live on the steady diet of “commit” more to Christ, ask Jesus into your heart week after week.
Apart from the specific request concerning Lutheran materials, that was quite familiar.  A believer was in a congregation that apparently emphasized what "every good Christian should do."  Basically, God justifies me in Christ, but after that the sanctifying work is all mine, so I better get to work.  A passing mention is made of the Holy Spirit indwelling the believer to give power in daily life, but the practical outworking of that theology is a constant struggle to do just a little more so God will accept my pitiful existence in the local church.  Failure begets failure until one withdraws into a cocoon, insulated from the world and its working, with the end that I rejoice in my self-protection and teach others to do likewise.  Or the burden becomes so great that the whole thing is thrown off and apostasy sets in.  I have watched both take place.  Of course, the answer is to stop following that course, which leads to McCain's response.  I give the bulk of it here.
I want you to know, first of all, that your experience with Law and Gospel is precisely what the Holy Spirit wants you to be going through, and has led you to go through.  You see and recognize your sin, you are led to know and love your Savior, whose blood covers all your sins (1 John 1:7).  I understand where you are coming from, with the steady diet of “revivalism” and legalism that keeps pointing you back to what you can do, or should do, or shouldn’t have done, instead of leading you, always, to keep looking to the Crucified and Risen Lord, who loves you. In grateful response to that love, you live for Him, not because “you better or else you can never know you are a Christian” but because you have been crucified with Christ and the life you now live you live by faith in the Son of God, who loved you and gave himself up for you, as Paul puts it in Galatians 2:20.

Let me hasten to add that it is not “unique” by any means to Baptists to feel the way you are feeling.  Many life-long Lutherans as well never really “get” the Gospel either, in fact, none of us ever “fully get” it.  We now know in part, but are fully known and some day will see Him just as He is (1 Cor. 13:9-10).  We are all sinners who struggle every day with the temptations we face, from our old sinful selves, from the world around us, and from the Devil himself who, as St. Peter warns us, prowls around like a roaring lion, just looking for a victim to devour (1 Peter 5:8).  This is why we, with St. Paul, are always facing the reality of our sin, but rejoicing always in the reality of the Savior (Romans 7:15-25), for it is Christ who is always greater than our hearts that are often filled with doubt and fear (1 John 3:20).  He is the Good Shepherd who leads us into the green pastures of His refreshing love, mercy and grace, which we receive through the concrete, reliable, and rock-solid means by which He touches our lives.  We Lutherans refer to these gifts as the “means of grace” and by that we simply are referring to the work of God, outside of ourselves.  God gets the credit and the glory.  We do not have to keep wondering, “Did my decision for Christ really count?  Was I sincere enough?  Did I mean it?  What happens when I do not “feel” like I fully gave my life to Jesus?”  Instead, we can say, “God’s Word promises me that He loves me, through Christ, who died for me.  He has claimed me as His own.  I am baptized into Christ. I’ve been drowned and died and have been raised with Him (Romans 6:1-2).
This response mentions "means of grace."  Those are the preached word and the Lord's Supper which they hold to be vehicles of God's grace to you.  I disagree with what is taught concerning those, but laying that aside, this piece brings up an important matter—the work done on the cross is complete.  No favor can be earned by my efforts, but I rest in the finished work of Christ.  I know people that insist that they must feel a certain way at appropriate times or must be praying a minimum amount of time or reading X number of chapters in their Bibles or…  They are so caught up with doing the right things the right way in order to somehow add to their salvation, when in reality salvation just needs to be lived out in Christ and let him add to it.

Lastly, do not think that Lutherans have this Law and Gospel thing worked out.  No local body of Christians is immune.  At times we all get it backwards: working to gain grace, rather than working because of grace.

Who's the Boss?

The following outline is from Aaron Telecky's message based on Col 2:16-23 in his continuing series on that book.  The audio can be found here.  I thought it appropriate in view of what I posted yesterday concerning those who come in to our churches with an established legalistic mindset.  The outline is a bit sparse but gives the core of the message.

Who's the Boss?

1.  You will often meet other believers who are interested in improving your Christian walk (vv. 16-19)
2.  You will be tempted to adjust your behavior to look or to feel "more spiritual" (vv. 20-23)

Three warnings meant to guard the purity of our walk
1.  Danger of settling for lesser things (vv. 16-17)
      We chase shadows rather than walk in Christ.
      We come to love the routine more than the Savior.
2.  Deception of following lower authorities (vv. 18-19)
      Beware those who want to improve you by subtraction (i.e., asceticism)
      Beware those who insist that certain spiritual practices not in scripture are the best method for growth.
3.  Disappointment of obeying legalistic standards (vv. 20-23)
      Self-imposed rules can be the worst for us.  Those things are temporal; seek for the eternal.

Three questions to ask when faced with legalism
1.  "Where did you get that?"  Is it biblical?  Am I being told something that can be identified in God's word as for his people?  More times than I care to think, what someone has told me with good intention is actually a preferential, inconsequential matter.
2.  "Are you sure that's what it means?"  Assuming the argument is biblical, what is the context of the scripture being used?  People latch on to Bible verses without seeing the balance of the passage.  Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason continually tells people, "Never read a Bible verse."  For more on that go to this post on the STR website.
3.  "What makes this so important?"  Why is someone telling me this?  Do I really need this (it is possible), or is someone trying to rob me of my freedom in Christ and is needing to be resisted? (Gal 5:1)

Big Idea: The Lordship of Christ Leads to Freedom

Monday, October 18, 2010

Nicaea - Canon 8

Concerning those who call themselves Cathari, if they come over to the Catholic and Apostolic Church, the great and holy Synod decrees that they who are ordained shall continue as they are in the clergy.  But it is before all things necessary that they should profess in writing that they will observe and follow the dogmas of the Catholic and Apostolic Church; in particular that they will communicate with persons who have been twice married, and with those who having lapsed in persecution have had a period1 laid upon them, and a time2 fixed so that in all things they will follow the dogmas of the Catholic Church.  Wheresoever, then, whether in villages or in cities, all of the ordained are found to be of these only, let them remain in the clergy, and in the same rank in which they are found.  But if they come over where there is a bishop or presbyter of the Catholic Church, it is manifest that the Bishop of the Church must have the bishop’s dignity; and he who was named bishop by those who are called Cathari shall have the rank of presbyter, unless it shall seem fit to the Bishop to admit him to partake in the honor of the title.   Or, if this should not be satisfactory, then shall the bishop provide for him a place as Chorepiscopus, or presbyter, in order that he may be evidently seen to be of the clergy, and that there may not be two bishops in the city.

The Cathari were those who followed after Novatian, who took a rigorist position against those who lapsed because of persecution and those who may have had communion with someone twice-married.  If a Cathari overseer would disavow that life and cling to the catholic and orthodox church, he could maintain his position unless another overseer was in the vicinity.  If the latter be the case, then he could be an elder (πρεσβύτερος, presbyter) or having a quasi-episcopal position under the catholic overseer.

This brings up an interesting question for the modern church.  If a church leader has accepted and taught a rigorous or even ascetic position in personal application of the scriptures and then recants of it, how is he to be treated and allowed to minister?  For one who has fallen morally or spiritually through disregard of God's word, there is generally a time of counseling and a gradual increase in interaction and ministry within the local church as conditions allow.  Should the same approach be taken with one who has basically followed a legalistic course through the same spiritual disregard, only in an opposite direction?  I contend that the slow, measured course allows for the same type of instruction necessary to retrain the thinking and belief system on which it had been built.  There may be a tendency to allow the legalist more maneuverability because he has no apparent sins that a typical person would class as disqualifying.  And yet, both directions mentioned here are off-course and need correction back onto the true path of righteousness.

1 Of penance
2 Of restoration

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Nicaea - Canon 7

Since custom and ancient tradition have prevailed that the Bishop of Ælia should be honored, let him, saving its due dignity to the Metropolis, have the next place of honor.

This canon is referring to what we know as Jerusalem.  The Ancient Epitome explains well what has happened and should be done.
There would seem to be a singular fitness in the Holy City Jerusalem holding a very exalted position among the sees of Christendom, and it may appear astonishing that in the earliest times it was only a suffragan see to the great Church of Caesarea.  It must be remembered, however, that only about seventy years after our Lord’s death the city of Jerusalem was entirely destroyed and ploughed as a field according to the prophet.  As a holy city Jerusalem was a thing of the past for long years, and it is only in the beginning of the second century that we find a strong Christian Church growing up in the rapidly increasing city, called no longer Jerusalem, but Aelia Capitolina.  Possibly by the end of the second century the idea of the holiness of the site began to lend dignity to the occupant of the see.1
What had once been a prominent Christian church had been disrupted and set aside because of the temple destruction by Titus.  Now rebuilding, the church is restored to a place of equal prominence with the other major centers of the day.

1 The Seven Ecumenical Councils, Canon 7 (NPNF2 14:17).

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Nicaea - Canon 6

Let the ancient customs in Egypt, Libya and Pentapolis prevail, that the Bishop of Alexandria have jurisdiction in all these, since the like is customary for the Bishop of Rome also.  Likewise in Antioch and the other provinces, let the Churches retain their privileges.  And this is to be universally understood, that if any one be made bishop without the consent of the Metropolitan, the great Synod has declared that such a man ought not to be a bishop.  If, however, two or three bishops shall from natural love of contradiction, oppose the common suffrage of the rest, it being reasonable and in accordance with the ecclesiastical law, then let the choice of the majority prevail.

This canon makes evident that no city, region, or province was to have neither prominence nor preëminence.  The autonomy of the city-church found in the New Testament was intended to be carried forward on a regional level.  Schaff underscores this fact when he states:
The Nicene fathers passed this canon not as introducing anything new, but merely as confirming an existing relation on the basis of church tradition; and that, with special reference to Alexandria, on account of the troubles existing there.  Rome was named only for illustration; and Antioch and all the other eparchies or provinces were secured their admitted rights.  The bishoprics of Alexandria, Rome, and Antioch were placed substantially on equal footing, yet in such tone, that Antioch, as the third capital of the Roman empire, already stands as a stepping stone to the ordinary metropolitans.1

I noted in a previous post that the NT church did not have nor was their an intention to establish even this hierarchy born of pragmatism. However, the Nicene fathers are to be commended for attempting to maintain a "level playing field" from one region to another.

Also, there is wisdom given that the commending bishops could overrule the metropolitan's disapproval, if they deemed it unjustified.  This is similar to the authority given in the U.S. government for the legislative body to override an executive veto.

1 Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 3, pp. 275-276

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Nicaea - Canon 5

Concerning those, whether of the clergy or of the laity, who have been excommunicated in the several provinces, let the provision of the canon be observed by the bishops which provides that persons cast out by some be not readmitted by others.  Nevertheless, inquiry should be made whether they have been excommunicated through captiousness, or contentiousness, or any such like ungracious disposition in the bishop.  And, that this matter may have due investigation, it is decreed that in every province synods shall be held twice a year, in order that when all the bishops of the province are assembled together, such questions may by them be thoroughly examined, that so those who have confessedly offended against their bishop, may be seen by all to be for just cause excommunicated, until it shall seem fit to a general meeting of the bishops to pronounce a milder sentence upon them.  And let these synods be held, the one before Lent, (that the pure Gift may be offered to God after all bitterness has been put away), and let the second be held about autumn.

If someone had been excommunicated, the other churches were to observe due diligence to ensure that one was not readily accepted elsewhere.  In addition, there were regular times when the overseers were to meet in order to review the case, if the discipline was correct or not.  The assumption is that full inquiry was made to bring about some measure of discipline in the first place.  That believer stood guilty before God until repentance happened.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Nicaea - Canon 4

It is by all means proper that a bishop should be appointed by all the bishops in the province; but should this be difficult, either on account of urgent necessity or because of distance, three at least should meet together, and the suffrages of the absent1 also being given and communicated in writing, then the ordination should take place.  But in every province the ratification of what is done should be left to the Metropolitan.

In order to appoint an overseer,2 a minimum of three existing overseers were required to assemble receiving input from those unable.  The selection then went to the overseer of the city (i.e., "archbishop" is the modern Western church term for Metropolitan) for final confirmation.  As written the canon recognized the method which had been built up as a safeguard against impropriety and rashness, as well as seeking a consensus amongst the spiritual men as to who was mature and able to lead.  As is evident from the terminology, a hierarchy had been established so that the Metropolitan oversaw the episcopate in his region, which were working in the individual churches and outlying communities.  From a biblical standpoint, this city position is untenable but was evidently allowed for cohesion of the church universal.

What of the congregations they served?  Did they not have input to the process?  Indeed they did as Hefele gives in the following commentary.
The Council of Nicea thought it necessary to define by precise rules the duties of the bishops who took part in these episcopal elections.  It decided (a) that a single bishop of the province was not sufficient for the appointment of another; (b) three at least should meet, and (c) they were not to proceed to election without the written permission of the absent bishops; it was necessary (d) to obtain afterward the approval of the metropolitan.…The Greek Commentators…only followed the example of the Seventh and [so-called] Eighth Ecumenical Councils in affirming that this fourth canon of Nicea takes away from the people the right previously possessed of voting in the choice of bishops and makes the election depend entirely on the decision of the bishops of the province.

The Latin Church acted otherwise.  It is true that with it also the people have been removed from episcopal elections, but this did not happen till later, about the eleventh century; and it was not the people only who were removed, but the bishops of the province as well, and the election was conducted entirely by the clergy of the Cathedral Church.  The Latins then interpreted the canon of Nicea as though it said nothing of the rights of the bishops of the province in the election of their future colleague (and it does not speak of it in a very explicit manner), and as though it determined these two points only; (a) that for the ordination of a bishop three bishops at least are necessary; (b) that the right of confirmation rests with the metropolitan.3
For a time both the Greek and Latin branches of the church had the members be active participants in the appointment of bishops.  This seems to reflect the apostolic pattern begun as Paul and Barnabas appointed those put forth by the local churches (Acts 14:21-23).  The process appeared to be men who appeared to be mature in the faith by the ministry being done.  These were put forth to the overseers who then appointed them with the the final confirmation coming from the metropolitan.

1 The episcopate unable to attend
2 The literal meaning of ἐπίσκοπος translated in the canon, signifying the work done by the individual.
3 Karl Josef von Hefele as noted in The Seven Ecumenical Councils, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, vol 14, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, ed., (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1899), 12.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Nicaea - Canon 3

The great Synod has stringently forbidden any bishop, presbyter, deacon, or any one of the clergy whatever, to have a subintroducta dwelling with him, except only a mother, or sister, or aunt, or such persons only as are beyond all suspicion.

In common, modern-day parlance, "No duh."  The contemporary example of Billy Graham who insisted on sharing a motel room with one of the men on his team is has roots several centuries back.  For example, Montanus had "prophetesses" accompanying him during his teaching career, and though to my knowledge no wrongdoing was ever mentioned, the perceived relationship could become a stumbling-block to both the teacher and hearer.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Nicaea - Canon 2

Forasmuch as, either from necessity, or through the urgency of individuals, many things have been done contrary to the Ecclesiastical canon, so that men just converted from heathenism to the faith, and who have been instructed but a little while, are straightway brought to the spiritual laver, and as soon as they have been baptized, are advanced to the episcopate or the presbyterate, it has seemed right to us that for the time to come no such thing shall be done.  For to the catechumen himself there is need of time and of a longer trial after baptism.  For the apostolical saying is clear, “Not a novice; lest, being lifted up with pride, he fall into condemnation and the snare of the devil.”  But if, as time goes on, any sensual sin should be found out about the person, and he should be convicted by two or three witnesses, let him cease from the clerical office.  And whoso shall transgress these will imperil his own clerical position, as a person who presumes to disobey the great Synod.

Prior to Constantine receiving the throne of Rome, times were difficult for Christians due to alternating periods of persecution from the highest authorities to laws placing believers in a second-class position within the empire.  As a result, church leaders were either killed or left for a time to avoid the stress on the church, family, or person.  Since churches still needed to be led and heresies turned back, the believers were faced with a temptation to fill the leadership vacuum.  As per Paul's instruction to Timothy, the canon lays down that the new convert needs time, undoubtedly to grow spiritually.  The council members recognized the possibility of sin becoming manifest in the new leader, and gave instruction as to what should happen.  Finally, a warning was given against those who would not follow this instruction.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Nicaea - Canon 1

I do not hide my affection for the Church Fathers' writings, but after an exchange with another blogger, my lack of detailed knowledge concerning the early ecumenical councils became more clear.  An examination of the specific canons seemed to be in order.  With that, I wish to share those canons of Nicea—one per day.

Canon 1
If any one in sickness has been subjected by physicians to a surgical operation, or if he has been castrated by barbarians, let him remain among the clergy; but, if any one in sound health has castrated himself, it behooves that such a one, if enrolled among the clergy, should cease,1 and that from henceforth no such person should be promoted.  But, as it is evident that this is said of those who willfully do the thing and presume to castrate themselves, so if any have been made eunuchs by barbarians, or by their masters, and should otherwise be found worthy, such men the Canon admits to the clergy.

I was surprised by this being listed.  Evidently, the practice of self-mutilation was becoming somewhat common. Daniel Butler notes:
The feeling that one devoted to the sacred ministry should be unmutilated was strong in the Ancient Church.…This canon of Nicea, and those in the Apostolic Canons and a later one in the Second Council of Arles (canon vii.) were aimed against that perverted notion of piety, originating in the misinterpretation of our Lord’s saying (Matt. xix. 12)2
1 I.e., from his ministry
2 Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 2, Vol 14, p 8.