Picking Cherries

June 12, 2010

In the history of Christianity, there has never been a century or so where there has not been some kind of theological controversy. In any given controversy it is usually the case that there is a spectrum of positions that occupy some place on the argumentative field. Caution is therefore required in data selection to establish points about who taught what and how widespread a given view in fact was.

Such is the case with the Iconoclastic controversy. Iconoclasm came in a variety of forms and varied over time. Initially iconoclasm in the East identified images of persons and biblical figures as idols while preserving the use of decorative images such as the Cross. Representational (though not necessarily figurative) images of Christ and images of the saints were prohibited. Due to their material composition they could not convey the resurrected glory of the saints. Such was the position around the 750’s. 

By the early ninth century in the East iconoclasm became more moderate even under the favorable impetus of imperial backing. Gone were the arguments by and large that icons were equivalent to idols, along with the Christological arguments that to make an image of Christ implied a major Christological error.

The situation in the West was different for a variety of reasons. The West was a hodgepodge of various kingdoms, with certain parts of the old empire still under the control or influence of Constantinople. The most salient party is that of the Franks, who had forged an alliance with Rome. Politically this had its advantages but also presented problems. With an alliance with the Franks, Rome was far more free and autonomous than under imperial rule. The Franks gained the political and religious legitimacy that they so eagerly coveted.

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Why I Am Not An Episcopalian

April 12, 2010

For readers who do not know, I am a former Episcopalian. My personal history of religious affiliation goes something like the following. I was baptized Catholic but raised in the Episcopal church until my teen years. From then I’d attend the Episcopal church on Sunday and then Calvary Chapel for “Bible study” on Friday evenings with their youth group. This was on account of a number of reasons, not the least of which was that the youth group at the Episcopal church voted that I should leave since I wanted to read the Bible and not have pizza parties and such. The youth directors agreed given that the kinds of questions I was asking really required a “professional” response. This was after I became exasperated with the whole approach of, let’s sit in a circle and go around the room asking what each person thinks such and so verse means “to me.” At the ripe old age of 13 I blurted out, “I don’t care what it means to me, I just want to know what it means!”

To sum up, I eventually ran into the Horton/Riddlebarger crowd when I was about 17 and then became Reformed for a number of years. I then moved towards a more high church Anglican view, returning to what I had been raised with, ending up in the then, Anglican Catholic Church (ACC). Fortunately I met my wife in the ACC, who was also a life long Anglican, though her family had left the Episcopal church (TEC) earlier than I did and joined the then forming ACC. After a few schisms in the ACC and/or theContinuing church movement and a deepening in my grasp of Christology through an exposure to the teaching of Maximus the Confessor, my wife and I were received into the Orthodox Church.

Recently, I was reminded once again why I am not an Episcopalian. The reminder doesn’t explain why I am Orthodox but it does I think point to something that is worth thinking about and discussing. So the reminder came in a post on another blog that I saw through the WordPress blog feature of Tag Surfer. It allows me to see other recent blog entries across WordPress with similar topics as my own.

The post was by an apostatized Baptist of sorts who returned to “Christianity” through the Episcopal church. The post was an expression of his thoughts on “reformulating” the doctrine of the Trinity. What the post was, was in fact not a reformulation, but more an expression of his rejection of the Trinity and an expression of its perceived uselessness. I didn’t take the post to be overtly hostile, (I am sure he’s a nice fellow) but it wasn’t something that amounted to Christian thinking on the subject and that’s the point. This post expresses the typical adoptionistic Christology found among classical Unitarians and contemporary liberals. Jesus is the man who was more open to the divine or “Spirit” and so is a means by which one is in contact with “God” or “Spirit” and so moved or inspired to “social justice.” The other posts on Hell and other doctrines pretty much fall into the typical liberal, that is Unitarian teaching.

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A Paschal Meditation

April 3, 2010

“An awesome and marvelous mystery today is coming to pass. The Incorporeal One is being held; the One, freeing Adam from the curse is bound; He Who tries the inner hearts and thoughts of man , is unjustly tried; He Who sealed the abyss is shut up in prison. He stands before Pilate, before Whom the Powers of Heaven stand with trembling. The Fashioner is smitten by the hand of the fashioned; the Judge of the living and the dead is condemned to the Cross; the Despoiler of Hades is shut up in a Tomb; O forebearing Lord, compassionately enduring all things and saving all from the curse, glory to Your.”

When You the Redeemer of all, were placed in a new tomb for us all, Hades, the respecter of none, crouhed when he saw You. The bars were broken, the gates were shattered, the graves were opened, and the dead arose. Then Adam, gratefully rejoicing, cried out to You: ‘Glory to Your Condescension, O Merciful God.’

When You, O Christ, of Your own will, submitted bodily to be closed in the tomb, being by nature of the Godhead, remaining indescribable and limitless, You closed down the chambers of death, and emptied the palaces of Hades. Then You rendered this Sabbath worthy of blessing and glory, and of Your own splendor.

When You, the Immortal Life, descended to Death, You struck Hades dead with the lightning of the Godhead; and when You raised up the dead from the abyss, all the powers of Heaven cried aloud; ‘O Life Giver Christ, our God, glory to You!’

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Irenaeus and Icons

March 31, 2010

“By the Hand of Nicholas Papas” http://www.facebook.com/Nick.Papas.Studio

Irenaeus is an important father of the church for a number of reasons. His extensive writing and fairly impeccable theology situated in the period which saw the end of the apostolic fathers and apologists. Even though Irenaeus was bishop of Lyon, he was from Asia Minor. He also had direct contact with Polycarp, the disciple of John the Apostle.

Often in discussions concerning the making and veneration of images with Protestants, there is a passage that is adduced to prove that the early church was either iconoclastic or the weaker claim of being iconophobic. The passage is as follows,

“They also possess images, some of them painted, and others formed from different kinds of material; while they maintain that a likeness of Christ was made by Pilate at that time when Jesus lived among them. They crown these images, and set them up along with the images of the philosophers of the world that is to say, with the images of Pythagoras, and Plato, and Aristotle, and the rest. They have also other modes of honoring these images, after the same manner of the Gentiles.”

Against Heresies, 1.25.6

This passage is situated at the end of Irenaeus discussion of the Gnostic sect of the Carpocrates and I will give them their due attention in a moment. But first we need to just look at the text itself and see what it bears.

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De Deo Uno in Calvin

February 22, 2010

“At the same time, in spite of these laudable efforts, [Paul Jacobs and Richard Muller] it is difficult to avoid the impresison that at a crucial level Calvin has failed to integrate his doctrine of election thoroughly with the broader trinitarian theology of revelation, redemption, and human response that we are highlighting here.  For example, in Comm. John 17:9, Calvin asserts that Christ ‘commends to the Father only those whom the Father himself willingly loves.’  Here, as at many other points, the will of the Father is understood as something omniously arbitrary, rather than as being intrinsically and perichoretically related to the divine manifestation of grace in the Son.  Examples could be multiplied. It appears that in spite of the helpful trinitarian direction Calvin has taken in formulating his undersanding of the divine-human relationship, at the point of the doctrine of election his normal emphasis on the thorough perichoresis of Father, Son and Spirit in the divine operations has been effectively and inexplicably suspended.”

Philip Walker Butin, Revelation, Redemption and Response: Calvin’s Trinitarian Understanding of the Divine-Human Relationship, Oxford, 1995, 168, ednt. 6.

“It may be taken as further evidence of his committment to the perichoresis of the trinitarian hypostaseis in God’s economic work that Calvin consistently qualifies the statement that ‘God is the proper object of faith’ with the immediate affirmation that access to God is only through Christ (1159 Institutes II.6.2,4; cf. III.2.6), which appears to turn the relationship around, asserting that the Father offers Christ to us ‘as the goal of our faith’). However, as we have suggested earlier, Calvin is not entirely consistent in focusing faith on God’s benevolence as expressed in ChristHis commitment to the doctrine of the ‘double decree’ (cf. 1559 Institutes III.21.1ff.) leads to the a priori exclusion of the reprobate from this Christological access to God by faith.  This results at certain points in severe tension between his otherwise trinitarian paradigm of revelation, redemption, and human response and his doctrine of election. For example, in the1159 Institutes III.2.9-12, he appears to theologically justify the concept of the ‘double decree’  by making a deliberate exception to his normally characteristic insistence that the work of the Son and the Spirit be held together in the exonomy of redemption.  Thus-in the attempt to explain why some who appear to believe are not ultimately saved (vf. Hebrews 6:4-6)-he can speak of a ‘lower working of the Spirit…in the reprobate.’ This stirs in them a sense that God is merciful toward them and allows them to ‘recognize his grace,’ but apparently operates apart from the effectual grace that God offers in the Son, and hence does not lead to saving faith (1559 Institutes III.2.11).  It seems that Calvin never faced the omnious theological implicaitons of this move for a doctrine of the Trinity that otherwise wants to hold that God’s immanent trinitarian relations are consistently reflected in the ad extra activity of the hypostaseis.  In addition, at this point he seems inexplicably to suspend his otherwise rigorous insistence on the thoroughgoing perichoresis for the doctrine of the divine decrees. Rather, he applies that paradigm only to the issue of the elect believer’s assurance of election, while the operation of election itself is apparently excempted from the consistency with God’s otherwise trinitarian nature, and left to an inscrutable divine will.”

Ibid., 189., ednt. 81.

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Some Notes on the Christology of Nestorius

February 14, 2010

Since there seems to be widespread misunderstanding regarding the heresy of Nestorianism and what Nestorius actually taught, I’ve decided to post some notes illustrating and explicating Nestorius’ teaching. I have used McGuckin’s, Saint Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy. I’ve numbered selections for ease of reference. There are a number of things to notice in the notes. Notice the problem of mixture. This was a significant issue all by itself in antiquity since for Platonists as well as Aristotle, matter was not intrinsically extensional as the modern conception has it. A mixture was a meeting of powers. Notice also that Nestorius takes the will to be almost exclusively hypostatic rather than natural so that there is only one will in “Christ.”  Terms like “Christ” also do not refer to the eternal Logos exclusively but the end result of the union. There is also an apparent confusion between person and nature as manifested in Nestorius’ language concerning the eternal hypostasis of the Logos,where hypostasis seems to do double duty to refer to the divine essence as well as the divine person. A person then seems to be an instance of a kind. It is entirely unclear where or what the divine person of the Logos is. Also notice the extrinsic relation he posits between the two instantated essences or “hypostases” where one uses the other in an instrumental way such that the union transcends nature and is one of “grace.” Christ was then the chief moral examplar. It isn’t hard to see why the Pelagians cuddled up to the Nestorians. On the other end, the instruemtnalization of Christ’s humanity with the union as one of “grace” as superior to nature maps onto Augustine’s Christology. Some overlap into semiotics is also important as well as the preceding history of medical science in the notion of prosopon as a “sign” of a nature or a somewhat metaphysically thined out energy.

1. “To be fully human, on the other hand, demands that one must be ready to attribute to Christ the fully panoply of human characteristics, excepting sin which is not a ‘humanising’ characteristic or even a defining human attribute in any case.  He must have a human mind, a human soul with human feelings choices and limitations, both mental and physical, involving him in a range of testing situations (the temptations of the Lord) which proved and refined his virtue as a man, and which involved him inexorably in all the suffering consequent on being human.  Nestorius was unswerving on the point that this demanded that the approach of Apollinaris  represented a dead-end…here it will suffice to remark that Apollinaris had found no place for a human limited consciousness in Christ, or for a human soul which could be considered as the seat of genuine human choices. Apollinaris’ logic demanded that these things must be sacrificed in the interests of the unity of the person of Christ, if one were to accept the infinite mind of the Logos inhabited his human frame. Nestorius took the earlier Christological heresy of Docetism as an extreme form of the same tendency in Apollinaris to acknowledge merely the appearance of fleshly limitations in the divine Christ who was really unlimited.

For Nestorius it was this tendency to absorb or evaporate away the human reality in the face of the divine that was the chief deficiency of Apollinaris’ heresy, and like Gregory Nazienzen before him he attacked such presuppositions on soteirological grounds, for a theory of incarnation that wiped away the human reality in the advent of  the deity constituted not only a failure of revelation theology but an inability to value the extraordinary role which the Christian Gospel gave to human experience in its conception of God’s redeeming work. Nestorius taught that such ‘absorption theory’ in Christology was sub-christian or mythological, inevitably involving its proponents in concepts of incarnation based upon Krasis or mixture. He was ever on the look out for the ‘mixture’ or ‘confusion’ of divine and human spheres of reality in Christological discourse, and regarded this as the most serious deficiency of Cyril’s work.  He regarded all sense of ‘mixture’ as inevitably connoting change, and even the annihilation, of the individual elements that were so mixed.”

John Anthony McGuckin, St. Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy, SVS, 2004, 130-131.

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Free Will and Virtue in Athanasius

February 9, 2010

“‘Wherefore having already begun and set out in the way of virtue, let us strive the more that we may attain those things that are before. And let no one turn to the things behind, like Lot’s wife, all the more so that the Lord hath said, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and turning back, is fit for the kingdom of heaven.’ And this turning back is nought else but to feel regret, and to be once more worldly-minded. But fear not to hear of virtue, nor be astonished at the name. For it is not far from us, nor is it without ourselves, but it is within us, and is easy if only we are willing. That they may get knowledge, the Greeks live abroad and cross the sea, but we have no need to depart from home for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, nor to cross the sea for the sake of virtue. For the Lord aforetime hath said, “The kingdom of heaven is within you.” Wherefore virtue hath need at our hands of willingness alone, since it is in us and is formed from us. For when the soul hath its spiritual faculty in a natural state virtue is formed. And it is in a natural state when it remains as it came into existence. And when it came into existence it was fair and exceeding honest. For this cause Joshua, the son of Nun, in his exhortation said to the people, “Make straight your heart unto the Lord God of Israel,” and John, “Make your paths straight.” For rectitude of soul consists in its having its spiritual part in its natural state as created. But on the other hand, when it swerves and turns away from its natural state, that is called vice of the soul. Thus the matter is not difficult. If we abide as we have been made, we are in a state of virtue, but if we think of ignoble things we shall be accounted evil. If, therefore, this thing had to be acquired from without, it would be difficult in reality; but if it is in us, let us keep ourselves from foul thoughts. And as we have received the soul as a deposit, let us preserve it for the Lord, that He may recognize His work as being the same as He made it.”

Life of Anthony, 20.

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