Friday, September 21, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

O Lord, teach me, and I will know. Then I saw their purpose. For I did not know I was like an innocent lamb led to be sacrificed. They plotted an evil device against me, saying, “Come, let us put wood in his bread, and destroy him root and branch from the land of the living, so his name might not be remembered any longer.”
But, O Lord,
You who judge righteously,
Who tests minds and hearts,
Let me see Your vengeance on them
For I have revealed my righteous plea to You.
Jeremiah 11:17–19 LXX (Je 11:18–20)

It is the consensus of all the church that these words are spoken by Christ through the person of Jeremiah. For the Father made it known to him how he should speak and revealed to him the zealotry of the Jews—he who was led like a lamb to the slaughter, not opening his mouth and not knowing. But the word sin is implicitly added to this last phrase, in agreement with what was said by the apostle: “When he did not know sin, he was made to be sin on our account.” And they said, “Let us put wood on his bread,” clearly referring to the cross on the body of the Savior, for he is the one who said, “I am the bread that descended from heaven.”

They also said “let us destroy (or eradicate) him from the land of the living.” And they conceived the evil in their soul that they would delete his name forever. In response to this, from the sacrament of the assumed body, the Son speaks to the Father and invokes his judgment while praising his justice and acknowledging him as the God who inspects the interior and the heart. He asks that the Father would return to the people what they deserve, saying, “Let me see your vengeance on them,” obviously referring only to those who continue in sin, not to those who repent. Concerning the latter, he said on the cross: “Father forgive them, for they do not realize what they are doing.” He also “disclosed his cause” to the Father, that he was crucified not because he deserved it but for the sins of the people, as he declared: “Behold, the prince of the world came and found nothing against me.” The Jews and our Judaizers believe that all of this was said only by Jeremiah, arguing from prophecy that the people have sustained these evils in their captivity. But I fail to see how they hope to prove that Jeremiah was the one crucified, since such an event is nowhere recorded in Scripture. Perhaps it is just a figment of their imagination.

Jerome, Six Books on Jeremiah 2.110

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Christ in All the Scriptures

And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.… Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. (Lk 24:27, 44–45)

The Law and the Prophets also are to our eyes books containing the promise of things which, from the benefit they will confer on him, naturally rejoice the hearer as soon as he takes in the message. To this it may be said that Before the sojourn of Christ, the Law and the Prophets did not contain the proclamation which belongs to the definition of the Gospel, since He who explained the mysteries in them had not yet come. But since the Savior has come and has caused the Gospel to be embodied, He has by the Gospel made all things as Gospel.… For when He had taken away the veil which was present in the Law and the Prophets, and by His divinity had proved the sons of men that the Godhead was at work, He opened the way for all those who desired it to be disciples of His wisdom, and to understand what things were true and real in the law of Moses, of which things those of old worshiped the type and the shadow, and what things were real of the things narrated in the histories which “happened to them in the way of type” (1 Co 10:11), but these things “were written for our sakes, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” With whomever, then, Christ has sojourned, he worships God neither at Jerusalem nor on the mountain of the Samaritans; he knows that God is a spirit, and worships Him spiritually, in spirit and in truth; no longer by type does he worship the Father and Maker of all. Before that Gospel, therefore, which came into being by the sojourning of Christ, none of the older works was a Gospel. But the Gospel, which is the new covenant, having delivered us from the oldness of the letter, lights up for us, by the light of knowledge, the newness of the spirit, a thing which never grows old, which has its home in the New Testament, but is also present in all the Scriptures. It was fitting, therefore, that that Gospel, which enables us to find the Gospel present, even in the Old Testament, should itself receive, in a special sense, the name of Gospel.

Origen, Commentary on John 1.8

Friday, September 14, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

He answered him and said, “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him to Me.” Then they brought him to Him. And when he saw Him, immediately the spirit convulsed him, and he fell on the ground and wallowed, foaming at the mouth. So He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. And often he has thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” When Jesus saw that the people came running together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and enter him no more!” Then the spirit cried out, convulsed him greatly, and came out of him. And he became as one dead, so that many said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when He had come into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” So He said to them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.” (Mark 9:14–29)

The answer of the Lord was suited to the petition; for the man said, “If You can do any thing, help us;” and to this the Lord answered, “If you can believe.” On the other hand, the leper who cried out, with faith, “Lord, if You will, You can make me clean,” received an answer according to his faith, “I will, be clean.” There follows, “And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” But if he had already believed, saying, “I believe,” how is it that he adds, “help my unbelief?” We must say then that faith is manifold, that one sort of faith is elementary, another perfect; but this man, being but a beginner in believing, prayed the Savior to add to his virtue what was lacking. For no man at once reaches to the highest point, but in holy living a man begins with the least things that he may reach the great; for the beginning of virtue is different from the progress and the perfection of it. Because then faith mounts up through the secret inspiration of grace, by the steps of its own merits, he who had not yet believed perfectly was at once a believer and an unbeliever.…

Again, in a mystical sense, on high the Lord unfolds the mysteries of the kingdom to His disciples, but below He rebukes the multitude for their sins of unfaithfulness, and expels devils from those who are vexed by them. Those who are still carnal and foolish, He strengthens, teaches, punishes, while He more freely instructs the perfect concerning the things of eternity. For oftentimes when we try to turn to God after sin, our old enemy attacks us with new and greater snares, which he does, either to instill into us a hatred of virtue, or to avenge the injury of his expulsion. Or by this demoniac are signified those who are bound by the guilt of original sin, and coming into the world as criminals, are to be saved by grace; and by fire is meant the heat of anger, by water, the pleasures of the flesh, which melt the soul by their sweetness. But He did not rebuke the boy, who suffered violence, but the devil, who inflicted it, because he who desires to amend a sinner, ought, while he exterminates his vice by rebuking and cursing it, to love and cherish the man.

Bede, Commentary on Mark

Friday, September 7, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Prophet Isaiah
Be comforted, you fainthearted. Be strong, do not fear! Behold, our God renders judgment, and will render it. He will come and save us. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall hear. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb will speak clearly. For water shall burst forth in the desert, and a valley in the thirsty land. The waterless desert shall become meadows, and the thirsty land springs of water. There will be the gladness of birds, a habitation of reeds and marshes. (Is 35:4–7 LXX)

The same rule of truth teaches us to believe, after the Father, also on the Son of God, Christ Jesus, the Lord our God, but the Son of God—of that God who is both one and alone, that is the Founder of all things, as already has been expressed above. For this Jesus Christ, I will once more say, the Son of this God, we read of as having been promised in the Old Testament, and we observe to be manifested in the New, fulfilling the shadows and figures of all the sacraments, with the presence of the truth embodied. For as well the ancient prophecies as the Gospels testify Him to be the son of Abraham and the son of David.… Him, too, Isaiah alludes to: “There shall go forth a rod from the root of Jesse, and a flower shall grow up from his root.” The same also when he says: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son.” Him he refers to when he enumerates the healings that were to proceed from Him, saying: “Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall hear: then shall the lame man leap as a deer, and the tongue of the dumb shall be eloquent.” Him also, when he sets forth the virtue of patience, saying: “His voice shall not be heard in the streets; a bruised reed shall He not destroy, and the smoking flax shall He not quench.” Him, too, when he described His Gospel: “And I will ordain for you an everlasting covenant, even the sure mercies of David.” Him, too, when he foretells that the nations should believe on Him: “Behold, I have given Him for a Chief and a Commander to the nations. Nations that knew You not shall call upon You, and peoples that knew You not shall flee unto You.” It is the same that he refers to when, concerning His passion, he exclaims, saying: “As a sheep He is led to the slaughter; and as a lamb before his shearer is dumb, so He opened not His mouth in His humility.” Him, moreover, when he described the blows and stripes of His scourgings: “By His bruises we were healed.” Or His humiliation: “And we saw Him, and He had neither form nor comeliness, a man in suffering, and who knows how to bear infirmity.” Or that the people would not believe on Him: “All day long I have spread out my hands unto a people that believes not.” Or that He would rise again from the dead: “And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, and one who shall rise to reign over the nations; on Him shall the nations hope, and His rest shall be honor.”

Novation, On the Trinity 9

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Same Holy Spirit Who Worked in Christ's Birth Now Works in Rebirth

Baptism of St Paul - Capela Paletina

And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Lu 1:35)

Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. (He 2:14–15)

And so to undo this chain of sin and death, the Almighty Son of God, that fills all things and contains all things, altogether equal to the Father and co-eternal in one essence from Him and with Him, took on Him man’s nature, and the Creator and Lord of all things deigned to be a mortal: choosing for His mother one whom He had made, one who, without loss of her maiden honor, supplied so much of bodily substance, that without the pollution of human seed the New Man might be possessed of purity and truth. In Christ, therefore, born of the Virgin’s womb, the nature does not differ from ours, because His nativity is wonderful. For He Who is true God, is also true man: and there is no lie in either nature. “The Word became flesh” by exaltation of the flesh, not by failure of the Godhead: which so tempered its power and goodness as to exalt our nature by taking it, and not to lose His own by imparting it. In this nativity of Christ, according to the prophecy of David, “truth sprang out of the earth, and righteousness looked down from heaven” (Ps 85:12). In this nativity also, Isaiah’s saying is fulfilled, “let the earth produce and bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together” (Is 45:8). For the earth of human flesh, which in the first transgressor, was cursed, in this Offspring of the Blessed Virgin only produced a seed that was blessed and free from the fault of its stock. And each one is a partaker of this spiritual origin in regeneration; and to every one when he is reborn, the water of baptism is like the Virgin’s womb; for the same Holy Spirit fills the font, Who filled the Virgin, that the sin, which that sacred conception overthrew, may be taken away by this mystical washing.

Gregory the Great, Sermon on the Feast of the Nativity 24.3

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Is God Mean or Good?

This past Sunday, Psalm 78:1–7 was read. During the reading, I was struck by the first four verses:
Give ear, O my people, to my law;
Incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings of old,
Which we have heard and known,
And our fathers have told us.
We will not hide them from their children,
Telling to the generation to come the praises of the Lord,
And His strength and His wonderful works that He has done.
Asaph exhorts God’s people to contemplate the dark sayings he will be teaching throughout the psalm, but the teaching is of God’s paternal care for His children. He narrates the history without sidestepping any negative issues or intentions of the people, for example:
And may not be like their fathers,
A stubborn and rebellious generation,
A generation that did not set its heart aright,
And whose spirit was not faithful to God. (Ps 78:8)
These deeds and commands of God are to be told to our children, so they can also live faithfully before Him. But there is no cover for sin amongst the people of God as they are disciplined severely for wandering away. God can be mean.

Earlier today, a Facebook acquaintance posted that the best argument against God’s goodness is the problem of evil/pain. I told him that he only needed to look at the cross of Christ to see that God’s goodness is actually demonstrated in this most evil, painful deed. And later, I noticed in a more full reading of Psalm 78 that evil/pain can work for good.
When He slew them, then they sought Him;
And they returned and sought earnestly for God.
Then they remembered that God was their rock,
And the Most High God their Redeemer. (Ps 78:34–35)
Notice that the calamities and the slayings brought upon Israel were designed to draw mankind unto Himself. Yes, the turning was short-lived, yet the slaying of the obstinate was just and turned the people to righteousness, though only for awhile.

Is God good? Absolutely. He gives us our very breath and daily sustenance. Is God mean, even cruel? He can appear so, but works the circumstance to good for those who love Him. Those who turn away have no such promise, but are are left to continue aimlessly until they might hear the word of God and believe.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Wondrous are Your testimonies;
For this reason my soul searches them out.
The revelation of Your words gives light,
And it causes children to understand.
I opened my mouth and drew in my breath,
For I longed for Your commandments.
Look upon me and have mercy on me,
According to the Your name.
Direct my steps according to Your teaching
And let no lawlessness rule over me.
Ransom me from the slander of men,
And I will keep Your commandments.
Make Your face shine upon Your servant
And teach me Your ordinances.
My eyes poured down streams of tears
Because they did not keep Your law. (Ps 119:129–136)

[David] showed that it was not without reason that he loved them: they are estimable, capable of enchanting and prompting love in those able to discern them. And from where did you come to learn their virtue? The explanation of your words sheds light and imparts understanding to infants. He is saying: Illuminated by Your light, I received this knowledge; Your law imparts understanding to all held in the grip of ignorance, resembling babies.

By mouth here he refers to the mind’s enthusiasm: it draws in the grace of the Spirit. He says elsewhere, “Open wide your mouth, and I shall fill it”; and the divine Apostle prayed that a word be given in the opening of the mouth; and the inspired author himself said in another psalm, “The Lord will give a word to those bringing the good news with great power.” He said this here, too, I opened my mouth, and sucked in breath, because I panted after your commandments: since You saw me longing for Your commandments, You accorded Your grace.… He asks to attain the divine benevolence, not simply but, he says, as You are in the habit of providing mercy to those who love You; this is the meaning of in the judgment of those loving Your name, that is, I beg to enjoy the same verdict as they do. With our prior movement of enthusiasm, and God’s provision of help and guidance in the journey, there is no room for the influence of sin.… Christ the Lord declared enviable and blessed those who are mocked and defamed, but also bade them pray not to enter into temptation. So the prayer of the inspired author accords with the evangelical laws.

The divine is incorporeal, simple, and without composition. Sacred Scripture, however, speaks about it in a rather corporeal and concrete fashion, adjusting its language to human nature. So the shining of the divine face is to be taken as the end to sorrows and the provision of good things. My eyes shed streams of water since I did not keep your Law. This is also the apostolic law, “If one member suffers,” it says, “all members suffer with it.” So the inspired author aims at the evangelical perfection, lamenting the others’ transgressions. By streams of water he referred to the abundance of tears, meaning: I shed tears like a spring on perceiving people’s transgressions.

You are righteous, O Lord, and your judgments upright. The testimonies you enjoined are righteousness and truth pure and simple: You manage all things justly, O Lord, out of care for people and in Your wish to make them doers of righteousness. You gave a Law, You leave transgressors in no doubt what penalties they will pay, You promise good rewards to the observant, and You confirm your promises by actions.… The inspired author laments those living a life of lawlessness, and on seeing the lawgiver despised he is rightly angered. This zeal made Phinehas celebrated; this rendered the great Elijah famous; burning with this the triumphant Stephen accused the Jews of unbelief; exemplifying this in himself, the divinely inspired Paul cried aloud, “Who is weak and I am not weak? who is scandalized and I am not on fire?” And blessed Luke says of him that in Athens his spirit was afflicted within him seeing the city given over to idolatry.

Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on the Psalms 119

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Unus Pro Omnibus

One for all, all for one (Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno) is a phrase popularized by Alexander Dumas’ novel The Three Musketeers. The motto defined for the musketeers the loyalty that had been forged between equals: each would stand with the whole regardless of the adversity. As a confession, the motto reminds and spurs mission and camaraderie akin to that used by branches of the United States armed forces (e.g., the Marine Corps and Coast Guard use Semper Fidelis and Semper Paratus respectively).

While mottoes and slogans are useful as a rallying point of communal relationship among equals, the matter differs greatly in an unequal relationship, wherein the greater person has proportional resources or ability while the lesser has diminished. This is especially true of the human-divine context wherein we humans have nothing sufficient to bring for resources before an almighty God. Shortly before His ascension, Jesus made this abundantly clear as He left instructions for continuing the kingdom ministry.
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. (Mt 28:18–20)
There are four occurrences of “all things” in the passage, showing us that Jesus establishes from whom all authority flows, where to go, what to do, and His level of involvement.

All authority (18)
Before the world was, the preincarnate Son existed with God as God (Jn 1:1), having equal glory (Jn 17:1) and equal involvement in creation (Pr 8:30; Jn 1:3; He 1:2). While for a time, Jesus humbled Himself and acted in submission to the Father (Pp 2:6–8), He completed the work of redemption and was exalted to the highest position (Pp 2:9–10; He 1:3–4) with full restoration of all commensurate rights and privileges of the Godhead. Only in accord with His name and authority are the apostles (and by extension the Church) allowed to act.

All nations (19)
From the beginning, God had selected one people to be His conduit to bless all ethnic groups (Ge 12:1–3) and draw them to Himself (Ge 12:1–3; Is 11:10; 42:6–7; 49:6). Before ascending, Jesus gave beginning instructions where to begin and the extent of their journeys (Ac 1:8). Those first apostles were encumbered by the physical limitations of time and distance, however, the work of Christ was and is passed from one generation to the next in ever-widening spheres.

All things (20)
Christians have a singular message for all nations. We carry with us the warning of certain future judgment and the blessing of atonement made by the Lord Jesus. While many have had a tendency to be simplistic by sharing a bare-bones gospel, asking for a decision, then calling it a day; the actual work is more involved. Notice that the work of making disciples (the active verb phrase in this command) is two-part: baptizing and teaching. To be a believer in Jesus is to be a disciple; to be a disciple of Jesus is to be both baptized and taught. Both are required from the very beginning: there is no such thing as a believer who willingly avoids baptism or teaching.

More to the point here, we need to address the amount of teaching intended for the disciple: enough to observe all things Christ taught. Certainly, this does not mean that a disciple receives the firehouse approach that one would get from a Bible college or seminary, but it does mean that instruction and learning is lifelong. From the earliest opportunity, doctrine is to be inculcated on the novice with the intent of being good stewards of the manifold grace of God (1Pe 4:10).

All days (20)
Jesus promises to be intimately involved in the work from beginning to end without fail. The word always in the above translation is literally translated all the days or all the times. Instead of assigning a date to which we might look for all things would come to an end, He sets our attention on Himself. He goes with us as He did faithfully in the wilderness of Sinai (Ex 23:20–23) lighting our way, guiding our path, and providing the true bread and true drink to refresh and strengthen on the journey (Jn 6:32–33, 53–58).

One for All
We owe our daily existence to God’s providential hand, and every thing that we gain in this world comes from His good hand (Jm 1:17). As a result, any thought that we might offer something needful or of substance is absurd. The kingdom of heaven is not our design, but we enter into the work when we remember first Whose work it is.
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has become His counselor?”
“Or who has first given to Him
And it shall be repaid to him?”
For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen. (Ro 11:33–36)

Friday, August 24, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Spoils of the Temple, Jean-Guillaume Moitte

So the Lord said, “These people draw near to Me and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me, and they worship Me in vain, teaching the commandments and doctrines of men. Therefore behold, I will proceed to remove this people, and I shall remove them. I shall destroy the wisdom of the wise and hide the understanding of the intelligent.” (Isaiah 29:13–14)

But if we are impure and unfaithful, all things are profane to us, either due to heresy inhabiting our hearts or to a sinful conscience. Moreover, if our conscience does not accuse us and if we have pious trust in the Lord, “we will pray with the spirit and we will pray with the mind; we will sing with the spirit and sing with the mind,” and we will be far removed from those about whom it is here written: “their minds and consciences are polluted.”

“They claim to know God, but they deny him with their deeds. They are accursed, disobedient and repelled by every good deed.” It is about these persons whose minds and consciences are polluted, who claim to know God but deny him with their deeds, that it is said in Isaiah: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” See how they honor God with their lips while fleeing from him in their heart; professing belief in God with words, their works deny him.

Jerome, Commentary on Titus 1.15-16

First, then, I assert that none other than the Creator and Sustainer of both man and the universe can be acknowledged as Father and Lord; next, that to the Father also the title of Lord accrues by reason of His power, and that the Son too receives the same through the Father; then that “grace and peace” are not only His who had them published, but His likewise to whom offense had been given. For neither does grace exist, except after offense; nor peace, except after war. Now, both the people by their transgression of His laws, and the whole race of mankind by their neglect of natural duty, had both sinned and rebelled against the Creator. Marcion’s god, however, could not have been offended, both because he was unknown to everybody, and because he is incapable of being irritated. What grace, therefore, can be had of a god who has not been offended? What peace from one who has never experienced rebellion? “The cross of Christ,” he says, “is to them that perish foolishness; but unto such as shall obtain salvation, it is the power of God and the wisdom of God.” And then, that we may know from where this comes, he adds: “For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.’”

Tertullian, Against Marcion 5.5

Friday, August 17, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.” (John 6:53–58)

Long-suffering truly and of great mercy is Christ, as one may see from the words now before us. For in no wise reproaching the littleness of soul of the unbelievers, He again richly gives them the life-giving knowledge of the Mystery, and having overcome, as God, the arrogance of those who grieve Him, He tells them those things whereby they shall mount up to endless life. And how He will give them His Flesh to eat, He does not yet tell them, for He knew that they were in darkness, and could never avail to understand the ineffable: but how great good will result from the eating He shows to their profit, that perhaps inciting them to a desire of living in greater preparation for unfading pleasures, He may teach them faith. For to them that have now believed there follows suitably the power too of learning. For so says the prophet Isaiah, If you will not believe neither yet shall you understand. It was therefore right, that faith having been first rooted in them, there should next be brought in understanding of those things whereof they are ignorant, and that the investigation should not precede faith.… For this cause did the Lord with reason refrain from telling them how He would give them His Flesh to eat, and calls them to the duty of believing before seeking. For to those who had at length believed He broke bread, and gave to them, saying, Take, eat, This is My Body. Likewise handing round the Cup to them all, He says, Drink of it all of you, for this is My Blood of the New Testament, which is being shed for many for the remission of sins. Do you see how to those who were yet senseless and thrust from them faith without investigation, He does not explain the mode of the Mystery, but to those who had now believed, He is found to declare it most clearly? Let them then, who of their folly have not yet admitted the faith in Christ, hear, Except you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you have no life in you.

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel According to St. John 4.2

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Seeking Approval or Seeking the Lost?

Pastor Larry Peters has a post calling for the Church to attend to gospel proclamation, not cultural appropriation. I was particularly struck by the following:
The Church and Christians have become so pathetically needy in their quest for attention that they will put whatever words they can into the mouth of God so that the people will like them on Facebook and follow them on Instagram. The Church and Christians crave the approval of the masses so deeply that they will surrender every doctrine and dogma to the altar of public affection. Christianity has given up on the approval of God and so all that is left is to follow like desperate puppies behind an indifferent and uncaring world that has already decided the god of desire is better than any God of the Cross.
May we be found following Christ and all He has commanded, not inventing or chasing after appealing doctrine.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world. (John 6:47–51)

Faith therefore is the door and way unto life, and return from corruption to incorruption. But herein no less is the economy a marvel to the learners: for when He perceived that they understood nothing at all, and saw that they did not suppose they ought to give any credence even to the words of the Prophets, He cuts off, as far as possible, their weakness unto faith by human arguments, by an oath to its truth. For setting before them which believe prizes much to be envied, with their longing desire for these as with traces, He all but constrains them against their will, and persuades them to come to what is proclaimed to them. For what would be more precious than eternal life, to those to whom death and the sufferings from decay are bitter? And this too, a wise teacher will appropriately re-instruct to the better by every way that invites unto life those who have chosen to think foolishly. But He, being Eternal Life, promises to give Himself to those who believe: that is, that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith.…

He says, “I die for all, that I may may give life to all by Myself, and I made My Flesh a Ransom for the flesh of all. For death shall die in My Death, and with Me shall rise again the fallen nature of man. For this reason I became like you, Man and of the seed of Abraham, that I might be made like in all things unto My brethren.” The blessed Paul himself also, well understanding what Christ just now said to us says, For as much then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same, that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil. For no otherwise was it possible that he that has the power of death should be destroyed, and death itself also, had not Christ given Himself for us, a Ransom, One for all, for He was in behalf of all. Therefore He says in the Psalms too, offering Himself as a spotless Sacrifice to God the Father,
“Sacrifice and offering You did not will;
But a body You prepared for me;
A whole burnt offering and a sin offering You did not require.”
Then I said, “Behold, I come
(it is written of me in the volume of the book);
I willed to do Your will, O my God,
And Your law in the midst of my heart.”
For since the blood of bulls and of goats and the ashes of an heifer sufficed not unto the purging away of sin, nor yet would the slaughter of brute beasts ever have destroyed the power of death, Christ Himself came in, in some way to undergo punishment for all.

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel According to St. John 4.1–2

Friday, August 3, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Therefore they said to Him, “What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ”

Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Then they said to Him, “Lord, give us this bread always.” And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” (John 6:30–35)

It was needful not only to remove Moses from God-befitting authority, according to their conception, and to show that he was a minister of that miraculous working, rather than the bestower of it, but also to lessen the wonder though miraculously wrought, and to show that it was nothing at all in comparison with the greater. For imagine Christ calling out something like this,
The great things, sirs, you consider among the most insignificant and petty, and the generosity of the Lord of all you have rationed out with most petty limits. For with no slight folly do you suppose that the manna is the Bread from heaven, although it fed the race alone of the Jews in the wilderness, while there are other nations besides without number throughout the world. And you supposed that God willed to show forth lovingkindness so narrowly, as to give food to one people only…. But when the time of the Truth was at our doors, My Father gives you the Bread from heaven, which was of old foreshadowed to them in the gift of the manna.
For let no one think (He says) that that was in truth the Bread from heaven, but rather let him give his judgment in favor of That, which is clearly able to feed the whole earth, and to give in full life unto the world.

He accuses, therefore, the Jew of cleaving to the typical observances, and refusing to examine into the beauty of the Truth. For that was not, properly speaking, the manna, but the Only-Begotten Word of God Himself, who proceeds from the Essence of the Father, since He is by Nature Life, and gives life to all things. For since He sprang of the Living Father, He also is by Nature Life, and since the work of that which is by Nature Life is to enliven, Christ enlivens all things. For as our earthly bread which is gotten of the earth does not permit the frail nature of flesh to waste away: so He too, through the operation of the Spirit gives life to our spirit, and not only so, but also holds together our very body unto incorruption.

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel according to St. John 3.6

Friday, July 27, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Eph 3:14–19)

Ho! You sinner, be of good cheer! You see where it is that there is joy at your return. What meaning for us have those themes of the Lord’s parables? Is not the fact that a woman has lost a drachma, and seeks it and finds it, and invites her female friends to share her joy, an example of a restored sinner? There strays, withal, one little ewe of the shepherd’s; but the flock was not more dear than the one: that one is earnestly sought; the one is longed for instead of all; and at length she is found, and is carried back on the shoulders of the shepherd himself; for much had she toiled in straying. That most gentle father, likewise, I will not pass over in silence, who calls his prodigal son home, and willingly receives him repentant after his indigence, slays his best fattened calf, and graces his joy with a banquet. Why not? He had found the son whom he had lost; he had felt him to be all the dearer of whom he had made a gain. Who is that father to be understood by us to be? God, surely: no one is so truly a Father; no one so rich in paternal love. He, then, will receive you, His own son, back, even if you have squandered what you had received from Him, even if you return naked—just because you have returned; and will joy more over your return than over the sobriety of the other; but only if you heartily repent—if you compare your own hunger with the plenty of your Father’s “hired servants”—if you leave behind you the swine, that unclean herd—if you again seek your Father, offended though He be, saying, “I have sinned, nor am worthy any longer to be called Yours.”

Tertullian, On Repentance 8

Friday, July 20, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

“Woe to the shepherds who scatter and destroy the sheep of My pasture!” Therefore thus says the Lord against those who tend My people: “You have scattered My sheep and driven them out. You did not care for them. Behold, I shall punish you according to your evil practices. I will receive the remnant of My people from every land where I have driven them. I will establish them in their pasture, and they shall increase and be multiplied. I will set up shepherds over them who will feed them. They shall fear no more, nor be terrified,” says the Lord. “Behold, days are coming,”says the Lord, “when I will raise up for David the Righteous Orient, and a King shall reign. He will understand and bring about judgment and righteousness on the earth. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel shall dwell in confidence. This is His name by which the Lord will call him: ‘The Lord Our Righteousness.’” (Jer 23:1–6 LXX)

These things were fulfilled according to the type in the case of Zerubbabel and Jeshua, the son of Jozadak. However, this prophecy was not altogether fulfilled, for many would rise up against them—not only their neighbors but also later on the Macedonians and finally the Romans. But the prophecy proclaims the everlasting nature of grace. Therefore, it is clear that these things were not fulfilled during their lifetimes but during the lifetimes of the apostles, for they alone had the gift of the Holy Spirit.... The Jews shamelessly endeavor to apply this to Zerubbabel. But they need to understand that he was no king—just a popular leader—and he was not called Jozadak. Neither is the meaning of the name appropriate to him, the word meaning “the Lord our righteousness” or, in the Syriac rendering, “Lord, make us righteous”—neither of which applies to Zerubbabel. Since, however, he was a type of Christ the Lord and brought back the captives from Babylon to Judah, just as the Lord transferred those enslaved by the devil to truth, anyone applying this to him in the manner of a type would do nothing beyond reason. It is necessary that we understand, however, that it is the Lord Jesus Christ, a descendant of David according to the flesh, who is proclaimed by the prophets as “the righteous dawn,” “the righteous king” and “the Lord of righteousness.”

Theodoret of Cyrus, On Jeremiah 5.23.5–6

Friday, July 13, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre, The Beheading of St. John the Baptist
For Herod himself had sent and laid hold of John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife; for he had married her. Because John had said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” … Then an opportune day came when Herod on his birthday gave a feast for his nobles, the high officers, and the chief men of Galilee. And when Herodias’ daughter herself came in and danced, and pleased Herod and those who sat with him, the king said to the girl, “Ask me whatever you want, and I will give it to you.” He also swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”

So she went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist!” Immediately she came in with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” And the king was exceedingly sorry; yet, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent an executioner and commanded his head to be brought. And he went and beheaded him in prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard of it, they came and took away his corpse and laid it in a tomb. (Mark 6:17-29)

Note well the weakness of the tyrant compared to the power of the one in prison. Herod was not strong enough to silence his own tongue. Having opened it, he opened up countless other mouths in its place and with its help. As for John, he immediately inspired fear in Herod after his murder—for fear was disturbing Herod’s conscience to such an extent that he believed John had been raised from the dead and was performing miracles! In our own day and through all future time, throughout all the world, John continues to refute Herod, both through himself and through others. For each person repeatedly reading this Gospel says: “It is not lawful for you to have the wife of Philip your brother.” And even apart from reading the Gospel, in assemblies and meetings at home or in the market, in every place ... even to the very ends of the earth, you will hear this voice and see that righteous man even now still crying out, resounding loudly, reproving the evil of the tyrant. He will never be silenced nor the reproof at all weakened by the passing of time.

In what way, then, was this just man harmed by this demise, this violent death, these chains, this imprisonment? Who are those he did not set back on their feet—provided they had a penitent disposition—because of what he spoke, because of what he suffered, because of what he still proclaims in our own day—the same message he preached while he was living. Therefore, do not say: “Why was John allowed to die?” For what occurred was not a death, but a crown, not an end, but the beginning of a greater life. Learn to think and live like a Christian. You will not only remain unharmed by these events, but will reap the greatest benefits.

John Chrysostom, On the Providence of God 22.8-10

Friday, July 6, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

And He said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak to you.” Then the Spirit entered me when He spoke to me, and set me on my feet; and I heard Him who spoke to me. And He said to me: “Son of man, I am sending you to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against Me; they and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day. For they are impudent and stubborn children. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ As for them, whether they hear or whether they refuse—for they are a rebellious house—yet they will know that a prophet has been among them.” (Ezekiel 2:1-5)

What then would have become of this man if he had seen the Lord’s glory as it is, who seeing the likeness of that glory but unable to bear it fell on his face? In this matter we must think with deep sorrow and ponder with tears to what wretchedness and weakness we have fallen who cannot bear that very good that we were created to behold. But here is something else for us to consider within ourselves from the prophet’s act. For as soon as he saw the likeness of the glory of God, the prophet fell on his face. Since we cannot see this likeness through the spirit of prophecy, we must continually acknowledge it and most carefully contemplate in holy Scripture, in divine counsels, and in spiritual precepts. We, who when we perceive something of God, fall on our faces because we blush for the evil acts we remember committing.… We see ruined cities, razed forts, ravaged fields, and nevertheless we still follow our ancestors in transgressions; we are not changed from this their pride that we saw. And they indeed at a time of pleasure. But we—which is more serious—sin at a time of being lashed. But almighty God, judging transgression, first snatched away our ancestors and then called them to judgment. He still awaits our penitence; he sustains us that we may return to him.

Gregory the Great, Homilies on Ezekiel

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Keep It at Its Appointed Time

Some time ago, I was reading a blog post about traditions, and that got me considering their importance in the rhythm of life. We need traditions for communal welfare. Whether instilled in us or formed by us, traditions set aside definite occasions for reflection, joy, or solace—and sometimes all three at once. For instance, people have family traditions which allow the parents and children to enjoy one other and further strengthen their bond to one another.

In the same way, God’s people are called to keep traditions. Consider the following:
On the Sabbath days, carry no burdens with you from your houses, nor do any work. Instead, sanctify the Sabbath days, as I commanded your fathers.… “Thus it shall come to pass that if you hear Me,” says the Lord, “so as not to carry burdens through the gates of this city on the Sabbath days, but to sanctify the Sabbath days and do no work therein, then there shall enter through the gates of this city kings and rulers, sitting on the throne of David and riding in their chariots and on their horses, they and their rulers, men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. This city itself shall be inhabited forever.” (Jer 17:18, 20–21)
This restatement of a prior command to hold the Sabbath reiterates a divine promise that the Lord would bless His people if they faithfully keep these weekly, appointed times. This is not so much because the people are seeking the blessing, though it plays a part, but because adherence witnesses to a desire to live by faith in God and His Word. While the Sabbath is specifically mentioned in Jeremiah, other feasts and festivals (Lev 23:1–44) were a regular part of the yearly calendar. I would dare say that God mentioned this one, because if the Sabbath can be kept, the others would come as a natural consequence.

Christians understand that the sacrifices, feasts, and festivals are fulfilled in Christ, so how are we to apply the same philosophy of faithful, righteous tradition to the Church? Attendance at Sunday worship is probably the most identifiable. Beginning with the apostolic age, we see a regular gathering at least once per week, usually on Sunday, but are there other traditions that equally as important? In the U.S., Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter are easily identified as important dates to set apart, which leads to another question: are these enough? I contend that we lack proper grounding when we neglect the church calendar.

Lectionaries and the lectio continuo (continual reading) have been a vital part of believing communal life since the synagogal system came into being and probably before. We can see an example from Jesus’ life wherein He was handed the Isaiah scroll for the regular reading (Luke 4:16–30). This practice is good and salutary that believers might know the whole counsel of God. There are three established lectionaries (one-year, three-year, and four-year) that have a basis in the life of our Lord Jesus, differing in which Gospel is followed for the year. This pattern keeps both pastor and parishioner on a consistent schedule. That said, I acknowledge that there are many pastors who preach through whole books of Scripture. May God bless their effort. However, the lectionary schedules are derived to annually follow Christ through a regular sequence of events and teachings, which leads to the church calendar.

As mentioned previously, Israel followed a regular cycle of feasts and festival, which were times of remembrance of God’s mercy, grace, and faithful work among them. The early believers borrowed from this regular remembrance to set aside seasons in which they might remember Christ in similar fashion, keyed on events in His life and work. Besides Christmas and Easter as specific days already mentioned, there were periods of time—Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Pentecost—and specific days—Ascension, Annunciation, Visit of Magi, etc. Besides these, depending on the denomination, there will be other special days to remember other biblical and martyred individuals—a practice from early post-apostolic times.

Why am I asking for a remembrance of the church year and lectionary? Because people are forgetful. If you do not believe me, read the Old Testament. When they were not actively being taught and reminding themselves of what the Lord desired, they quickly neglected, then abandoned, Him. Sure, there were small groups who remained faithful, but as a nation, they walked away and welcomed abominable practices picked up from the cultures around them. I am not advocating a political manifesto in hopes of setting America on a path to God, rather I desire for a return to a rhythm of Christian life once so prevalent, yet later jettisoned in favor of individual congregational needs, thus loosing ties to both the historical Church and fellow believers in our communities.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

The Lord is good to those who wait for Him,
To the soul who will seek Him, the Good One.
He will wait for and quietly expect
The salvation of the Lord.
It is good for a man when he takes up
A yoke in his youth.
He will sit alone and be silent,
Because he bears it on himself.
He will give his cheek to the one who strikes him,
And he will be filled with insults.
Yet the Lord shall not reject him forever.
For He who humbles will have compassion
According to the abundance of His mercy.
For He does not afflict willingly,
Though He humbles the children of men. (Lam 3:25–33)

Up then, I beseech you, let us fight for the Lord’s sheep. Their Lord is near. He will certainly appear and scatter the wolves and glorify the shepherds. “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him.” Let us not murmur at the storm that has arisen, for the Lord of all knows what is good for us. Wherefore also when the apostle asked for release from his trials he would not grant his supplication but said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” Let us then bravely bear the evils that befall us; it is in war that heroes are discerned, in conflicts that athletes are crowned, in the surge of the sea that the art of the helmsman is shown, in the fire that the gold is tried. And let us not, I beseech you, heed only ourselves; let us rather have forethought for the rest, and that much more for the sick than for the whole, for it is an apostolic precept that exclaims, “Comfort the feeble-minded, support the weak.” Let us then stretch out our hands to them that lie low, let us tend their wounds and set them at their post to fight the devil. Nothing will so vex him as to see them fighting and striking again. Our Lord is full of lovingkindness. He receives the repentance of sinners. Let us hear his words: “As I live, says the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” So He prefaced His words with an oath, and He who forbids oaths to others swore Himself to convince us how He desires our repentance and salvation. Of this teaching the divine books, both the old and the new, are full, and the precepts of the holy Fathers teach the same.

But not as though you were ignorant have I written to you; rather have I reminded you of what you know, like those who standing safe on the shore help those who are tossed by the storm and show them a rock, or give warning of a hidden shallow or catch and haul in a rope that has been thrown. “And the God of peace shall bring Satan under your feet shortly” and shall gladden our ears with news that you have passed from storm to calm, at his word to the waves, “peace be still.” And you also should offer prayers for us, for you who have undergone peril for his sake can speak with greater boldness.

Theodoret of Cyrus, Letter 78

Friday, June 22, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.” Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!” (Mark 4:35–41)

“For the fool says in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, and become abominable in their doings.” Of such as are fools in their thoughts, the actions are wicked, as He says, “can you, being evil, speak good things;” for they were evil, because they thought wickedness. Or how can those do just acts, whose minds are set upon fraud? Or how shall he love, who is prepared beforehand to hate? How shall he be merciful, who is bent upon the love of money? How shall he be chaste, who looks upon a woman to lust after her? “For from the heart proceed evil thoughts, fornications, adulteries, murders.” By them the fool is wrecked, as by the waves of the sea, being led away and enticed by his fleshly pleasures; for this stands written, “All flesh of fools is greatly tempest-tossed.” While he associates with folly, he is tossed by a tempest, and perishes, as Solomon says in the Proverbs, “The fool and he who lacks understanding shall perish together, and shall leave their wealth to strangers.” Now they suffer such things, because there is not among them one sound of mind to guide them. For where there is sagacity, there the Word, who is the Pilot of souls, is with the vessel; “for he that has understanding shall possess guidance;” but they who are without guidance fall like the leaves. Who has so completely fallen away as Hymenaeus and Philetus, who held evil opinions respecting the resurrection, and concerning faith in it suffered shipwreck? And Judas being a traitor, fell away from the Pilot, and perished with the Jews. But the disciples since they were wise, and therefore remained with the Lord, although the sea was agitated, and the ship covered with the waves, for there was a storm, and the wind was contrary, yet fell not away. For they awoke the Word, Who was sailing with them, and immediately the sea became smooth at the command of its Lord, and they were saved. They became preachers and teachers at the same time; relating the miracles of our Savior, and teaching us also to imitate their example. These things were written on our account and for our profit, so that through these signs we may acknowledge the Lord Who wrought them.

Let us, therefore, in the faith of the disciples, hold frequent converse with our Master. For the world is like the sea to us, my brethren, of which it is written, “This is the great and wide sea, there go the ships; the Leviathan, which You have created to play therein.” We float on this sea, as with the wind, through our own free-will, for every one directs his course according to his will, and either, under the guidance of the Word, he enters into rest, or, laid hold on by pleasure, he suffers shipwreck, and is in peril by storm. For as in the ocean there are storms and waves, so in the world there are many afflictions and trials. The unbelieving therefore “when affliction or persecution arise is offended,” as the Lord said. For not being confirmed in the faith, and having his regard towards temporal things, he cannot resist the difficulties which arise from afflictions. But like that house, built on the sand by the foolish man, so he, being without understanding, falls before the assault of temptations, as it were by the winds. But the saints, having their senses exercised in self-possession, and being strong in faith, and understanding the word, do not faint under trials; but although, from time to time, circumstances of greater trial are set against them, yet they continue faithful, and awaking the Lord Who is with them, they are delivered. So, passing through water and fire, they find relief and duly keep the feast, offering up prayers with thanksgiving to God Who has redeemed them.

Athanasius, Letter 19.6–7

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Christianity at the Crossroads by Michael Kruger – Book Review

Kruger, Michael J. Christianity at the Crossroads: How the Second Century Shaped the Future of the Church. IVP Academic, 2018. 256 pp.

There are many periods of history to which people look as pivotal in defining future generations. This book recognizes in summary form the theological, cultural, and political forces working within and without Christianity in the second century. The sociological make-up described in the first chapter sets the stage for the time period. Tensions introduced in the New Testament (NT) canon continued, and even increased, in the following decades. Apostolic decrees and instructions were effective in quelling concerns and disagreements within the Church as disparate groups learned to worship and fellowship as one. In addition, the collapse of social strata within the community allowed the slave and woman to worship as equals before God in this community of grace, as opposed to the cultural social structures of either Judaic or Greco-Roman society. These, alongside outside tensions brought on by the animosity of Judaism, suspicion of the Romans, and derision by pagans, would call for a more concerted defense of the faith, rather than mere proclamation—the subject of chapter two.

Chapters three through five are given over to matters of Church doctrine beginning with worship. Kruger begins with the apostolic practice, then walks through the applications that developed in leadership, structure, and practice. Two aspects of worship are brought out that may surprise modern readers: liturgy and exclusivity. As such, everything about the time and space reflected the utmost reverence.  The former was a carryover from Jewish synagogue practice, but it served well as a pattern for moving forward: gatherings were not informal or haphazard. The latter is particularly striking in light of the modern mindset to gear worship meetings to be as inclusive as possible. Early believers held fast to the understanding that this was a gathering time for a holy people in the presence of a holy God: there was to be nothing common or profane. Additionally, during this century, alternate teachings arose that threatened the core of the faith. Chapter four delves into the movements and leaders that ran contrary to Scripture. Kruger spends some time addressing the thesis of 20th-century theologian Walter Bauer that multiple Christianities arose vying for prominence. While it is true that several several groups (Ebionites, Marcionites, and Gnostics to name a few) arose espousing varying religious philosophies, the first apologists arose to reaffirm and maintain orthodoxy via what would become commonly known as the regula fidei (rule of faith), a summation of doctrine similar in use to the Apostle’s Creed.

Chapters six and seven round out the work by looking at the evidence of a Christian written culture and the textual transmission of the NT canon. Many scholars have attempted to claim that the early Christians were mostly illiterate culture with an oral transmission process that is inherently suspect and open to exaggeration or embellishment of the apostolic teaching. Kruger debunks this first from the NT documents themselves, but then noting the amount of second-century documents (apologetic and sermonic) that were written and copied for distribution. This is important for canonical considerations, since there is referenced a largely consistent body of work amongst the orthodox groups that was considered authoritative. Comparison could readily be made against apocryphal and pseudepigraphal writings, and thus help further solidify what would later be considered the New Testament canon at the Council of Nicaea.

For the modern reader, this book does a good job of presenting the issues for second-century Christians and the leadership responses given to move the Church forward biblically. There is much to be gained. First, this helps to fill in what most Christians are missing between the NT and the Council of Nicaea; and second, the topics are still relevant, as the Church continues to deal and respond to the same issues, though packaged differently. While I would have liked more depth and breadth to each subject, this book is a broad summary of relevant information written at a popular level. Kruger does well to present the material in a readable, accessible  format.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018


We will say many things and not reach the end,
But the sum of our words is seen in this: “He is the all.”
How shall we ever be able to adequately praise Him?
For He is greater than all His works.
Fearful is the Lord and exceedingly great,
And wondrous is His power.
Glorify the Lord and exalt Him as much as you are able,
For He will surpass even that.
And when you exalt Him, put forth all your strength;
Do not grow weary, for you cannot exalt Him enough.
Who has seen Him and will describe Him?
And who can magnify Him as He truly is?
There are yet many hidden things greater than these,
For we have seen but few of His works.
For the Lord made all things
And gives wisdom to the godly. (Sirach 43:27–33)

Those who do not know what to ask for in prayer, if they are moved to express something sacred regarding the Spirit, limit the flow of their words to maintain measure, as though they had already given Him enough honor. One should mourn their weakness; we, however, do not have words to express thanks for all the gifts of which we experience the effects. The Spirit in fact surpasses all knowledge and thwarts the possibility of any speech that fails to conform to at least a minimum of His dignity, according to the words of the book called Wisdom: “Exalt Him as you can, because He is higher still. In exalting Him, you will increase your strength. Do not grow weary; otherwise you will not reach Him.”

Basil of Caesarea, On the Holy Spirit 28.70

Indeed, with what understanding can a person apprehend God when he does not even apprehend that very intellect of his own by which he wants to know God? And if he does already understand this, let him diligently consider then that there is nothing better in his nature than his intellect. Let him see, then, if he discovers in it any features of form, brilliance of colors, spatial broadness, distance of parts, extension of mass, spatial dislocation, or anything else of this kind. Certainly we find nothing of this sort in that which is best in us, that is, in our intellect, with which we attain wisdom to the extent we are able. So then, what we do not find in what is best in us, we must not look for in Him who is much better than what is best in us. We conceive, therefore—if we can and to the extent we can—of good without quality, greatness without quantity, creator without necessity, in the first place without location, containing all things but without exteriority, entirely present everywhere without place, eternal without time, author of changeable things while remaining absolutely unchanged and foreign to all passivity. Whoever conceives of God in this way, though he still cannot discover perfectly what He is, at least avoids, with pious diligence and to the extent possible, attributing to Him what He is not.

Augustine, On the Trinity 5.1.2

Friday, June 15, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

And He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

 Then He said, “To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it? It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth; but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade.” (Mark 4:26–32)

Observe how creation itself has advanced little by little toward fruitfulness. First comes the grain, and from the grain arises the shoot, and from the shoot emerges the shrub. From there the boughs and leaves gather strength, and the whole that we call a tree expands. Then follows the swelling of the germen, and from the germen bursts the flower, and from the flower the fruit opens. The fruit itself, primitive for a while, and unshapely, keeping the straight course of its development, is matured, little by little, to the full mellowness of its flavor. In just this way has righteousness grown in history. The proximate righteousness found in creation is grounded in the holy God whose righteousness first emerged in a rudimentary stage as an undeveloped natural apprehension in the presence of the holy One. Then it advanced through the Law and Prophets to childhood. At long last through the Gospel, God's righteousness has been personally manifested with the vital energies of youth. Now through the Paraclete, righteousness is being manifested in its mature stage.

Tertullian, On the Veiling of the Virgins 1

Friday, June 8, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Third Sunday after Pentecost

Out of the depths
I have cried to You, O Lord;
O Lord, hear my voice;
Let Your ears be attentive
To the voice of my supplication.
If You, O Lord, should mark transgression,
O Lord, who would stand?
For there is forgiveness with You.
Because of Your law, O Lord, I waited for You;
My soul waited for Your word.
My soul hopes in the Lord,
From the morning watch until night;
From the morning watch until night,
Let Israel hope in the Lord.
For with the Lord there is mercy,
And with Him is abundant redemption;
And He shall redeem Israel
From all his transgressions. (Psalm 130)

The choir of the righteous beseeches the Lord not to measure punishments against sins. In this way those of the company of blessed Hananiah attributed the transgressions of the people to their own person: If You were to impose the yoke of judgment as justice requires, who would be in a position to sustain the sentence laid down by it? Everyone, in fact, would have to face ruin. You have loving-kindness joined with righteousness, and You are in the habit of employing the former rather than the latter.

He means: Aware of this Your goodness (You employed mercy like some law), I do not renounce firm hope as I await the promise of good things. He called the good promise here word; however, He promised loving-kindness to the repentant. My soul hoped in the Lord, from morning watch until night, that is, all day; morning watch is, in fact, the last hour of the night: the last watchers keep watch until that time. The righteous are not satisfied only to have the wealth of hope in God; instead, they urge all others to a like possession, and declare the advantage stemming from it. Full of pity and loving-kindness is the Lord, who furnishes salvation to the repentant.

He it is who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities. The verse directs its prophecy to the Lord: He is the Lamb of God in person, who takes away the sin of the world. This was also the way the divine Gabriel spoke to the holy Virgin: “You will have a Son, and you will give him the name Jesus, because He is the one who will save His people from their sins.”

Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on the Psalms 130

Friday, June 1, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Second Sunday after Pentecost

Now it happened that He went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain. And the Pharisees said to Him, “Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” But He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him: how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?” And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”

And He entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand. So they watched Him closely, whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him. And He said to the man who had the withered hand, “Step forward.” Then He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they kept silent. And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other. Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him. (Mark 2:23–3:6)

In the synagogue of the Jews was a man who had a withered hand. If he was withered in his hand, the ones who stood by were withered in their minds. And they were not looking at the crippled man nor were they expecting the miraculous deed of the One who was about to work. But before doing the work, the Savior plowed up their minds with words. For knowing the evil of the mind and its bitter depth, He first softened them up in advance with words so as to tame the wildness of their understanding, asking: “Is it permitted to do good on the Sabbath or to do evil; to save a life or to destroy one?” For if He had said to them, “Is it permitted to work?” immediately they would have said, “You are speaking contrary to the Law.” Then He told them what was intended by the Law, for He spoke as the One who established the laws concerning the Sabbath, adding, “except this: that which will be done for the sake of a life.” Again if a person falls into a hole on a sabbath, Jews are permitted to pull the person out. This not only applies to a person, but also an ox or a donkey. In this way the Law agrees that things relating to preservation may be done, hence Jews prepare meals on the Sabbath. Then He asked them about a point on which they could hardly disagree: “Is it permitted to do good?” But they did not even so much as say, “Yes,” because by then they were not in a good temper.

Athanasius, Homilies 28

Friday, May 25, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Holy Trinity Sunday

Holy Trinity
Bring to the Lord, O you sons of God,
Bring to the Lord the sons of rams;
Bring to the Lord glory and honor.
Bring to the Lord the glory due His name;
Worship the Lord in His holy court.
The voice of the Lord is upon the waters;
The God of glory thundered;
The Lord is upon the many waters.
The voice of the Lord is strong;
The voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
The voice of the Lord shatters cedars,
And the Lord shall grind to powder the cedars of Lebanon;
And He shall grind them fine like the young bull, and like Lebanon,
But His beloved shall be like a son of unicorns.
The voice of the Lord cuts through fiery flames;
The voice of the Lord shakes the desert,
And the Lord will shake the desert of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord causes deer to calve,
And uncovers the thickets;
And in His temple, everyone speaks of His glory.
The Lord shall dwell in the deluge,
And the Lord shall sit as King forever.
The Lord will give strength to His people;
The Lord will bless His people with peace. (Psalm 29:1–11 LXX)

Everyone who discusses divine matters in an orderly way so as always to hold the correct opinion concerning the Father, the Godhead of the Only-begotten, and the glory of the Holy Spirit, brings glory and honor to the Lord. And, because His providence penetrates even to the smallest things, he increases the glory who is able to give the reasons for which all things were created and for which they are preserved, and also for which, after this present stewardship, they will be brought to judgment. He who is able himself to contemplate each individual creature with clear and unconfused thoughts and, after having contemplated them himself, is able to present to others also the facts concerning the goodness of God and His just judgment, he is the one who brings glory and honor to the Lord and who lives a life in harmony with this contemplation. For, the light of such a man shines before men, since by word and work and through manly deeds of every kind the Father in heaven is glorified.…

We have learned in the creation of the world that there is water above the heavens, again, water of the deep, and yet again, the gathered waters of the seas. Who, then, is He who holds together these waters, not allowing them to be borne downward by their physical weight, except the Lord who established Himself upon all things, who holds sway over the waters? Perhaps, even in a more mystic manner the voice of the Lord was upon the waters, when a voice from above came to Jesus as He was baptized, “This is my beloved Son.” At that time, truly, the Lord was upon many waters, making the waters holy through baptism; but, the God of majesty thundered from above with a mighty voice of testimony. And over those to be baptized a voice left behind by the Lord is pronounced: “Go, therefore,” it says, “baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Therefore, “The voice of the Lord is upon the waters.”

Basil of Caesarea, Homily on the Psalms 13.2–3

From this he prophesies the power imparted to the apostles.... The narrative of the Acts also teaches us things in harmony with this: we learn from there how at his ascension Christ the Lord addressed his holy disciples in the words, “Stay in this city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Ten days later on the feast of Pentecost, “there came a sound from heaven like that of a violent wind blowing.” ... Now, he gives the name “voice” to the grace of the Spirit filling the apostles with power and might and rendering puny people magnificent. ... The choir of the sacred apostles received the grace of the all-holy Spirit in forms of fire, and were illuminated but not burnt. In the future life, the twofold operation of fire will be divided, illuminating the athletes of virtue and incinerating evildoers.

Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on the Psalms 29.5, 7

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Worthwhile Reading

The last time I posted a potpourri of publications was October. I trust you will enjoy the following collection of articles from the past couple months. Let’s begin with a pair of unrelated items:

This article by Amanda Hinton gives good advice on what qualities a future husband should possess.

Larry Peters offers his thoughts on the importance of church membership.

Moving on…
I have read several books on making disciples, but there is one recent read that should be given a serious look – Follow Me: Discipleship According to St. Matthew (available at CPH and Amazon). While other works pore over the lives of godly men in Scripture to build a working discipleship method, Martin Franzmann explains how the apostle wove his narrative from an introduction of Jesus to the final sending of the Twelve as a model for discipleship. The book may be 50 years old, but there is much wisdom within.

Patristics twin-bill
Todd Pruitt from Mortification of Spin is recommending Craig Carter’s, Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition. Carter exposes a 21st-century weakness: we do not know or care how the Church Fathers approached Scripture. He attempts to break the mold of modern and postmodern theological connect the reader to early exegesis—a largely untapped and unfamiliar resource. The likes of Irenaeus and Ambrose will challenge your thinking in a good way.

In similar fashion, Shawn Wilhite has written a piece for The Center for Baptist Renewal (CBR) on bringing Patristic exegesis into the local church. Pastors and teachers would do well to retrieve the wisdom of these ancient writers to improve their thinking and teaching.

And speaking of worship…
Two other articles of note have come from CBR on recapturing neglected liturgical elements. The first comes Ray Van Neste on the corporate confession of sin. Confession is acknowledged by every branch of Christendom: the difference is in the application. For millennia, the Church has been practiced corporate confession during worship, however, this practice went out of favor among those groups groups that emphasize individualistic Christian faith and practice. While individual confession is good and proper, so is corporate confession. One only needs to read the Psalms or other Old Testament prayers to understand the corporate bond as they confessed their sins before Almighty God.

The second article I find more intriguing and more necessary for today – Why We Should Include Lament Songs in Our Worship by Samuel Parkison. In a time when many (most?) local churches have relegated hymns to the proverbial dust bin in favor of the latest and greatest pop worship song, this is a needed corrective. Anymore, Sunday singing comprises attempted manipulation of God to come down, show His glory, and do what He does, so that we can live victoriously (Have you noticed that Scripture never speaks this way? But I digress.) Or there is some version of “Jesus, I love you, because it makes me feel good to say it.” And for any songs that may include an element of hardship or pain, the sentiment is closer to “Daddy, I fell down. Can you kiss my boo?” We can’t always feel upbeat. Lament helps us express the depths of suffering, and allows others to share in it.

And now for something truly lamentable
Andy Stanley appears to be headed into outright Marcionism (an ancient heresy rejecting the Old Testament) as noted in a First Things article by Wesley Hill. Stanley is quoted as saying, “Christians must unhitch the Old Testament from their faith.” As an aside, I have heard parts of the sermon being quoted and can affirm its accuracy. Pastor Stanley is either very ignorant of facts of the Bible and history, or he is lying in order to delude his hearers.