Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Matthew Henry on Job 13:15

I've made a goal of reading through the whole Old Testament this summer and to distinguish between Law and Gospel as marginal notes. Re-reading Job has been fascinating, there's so much depth to what he says, and the Authorized Version (KJV) that I read is so poetic it's been great. So many of the arguments and questions of Job remain for theologians both clerical and lay. Some passages have confused me, but I've found help in an unlikely source (for me). Matthew Henry was a dissenting minister in Restoration England, I've actually been to many of the places he lived without knowing it. For anyone who knows my sympathies in English History, he would be an unlikely source for me to turn to, but I've found his commentaries incredibly helpful. On Job 13:15 "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him..." Henry wrote beautifully: "Job resolved to cleave to the testimony his own conscience gave of his uprightness. He depended upon God for justification and salvation, the two great things we hope for through Christ. Temporal salvation he little expected, but of his eternal salvation he was very confident; that God would not only be his Saviour to make him happy, but his salvation, in the sight and enjoyment of whom he should be happy. He knew himself not to be a hypocrite, and concluded that he should not be rejected. We should be well pleased with God as a Friend, even when he seems against us as an enemy. We must believe that all shall work for good to us, even when all seems to make against us. We must cleave to God, yea, though we cannot for the present find comfort in him. In a dying hour, we must derive from him living comforts; and this is to trust in him, though he slay us." Perhaps I'll have to be kinder to the Puritans in the future.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Sola Scriptura ; Solo Traditio ; Sola Papa - Three Bad Answers to Some Good Questions

"so I send this commentary to your reverence, not because I think it due and worthy, but because I remember you asked for it and I promised to send it. Whatever your holiness finds half-baked or crude in its pages, please forgive it all the more quickly" - Pope St. Gregory the Great , teaching infallibly on matters of faith and morals ;)

The more of the Church Fathers I read, the less I feel bound to their authority. They seem adamant on telling us NOT to trust them on their own basis. The notion that they had some kind of hidden wisdom apart from Scripture, or were a part of the Word of God, as Papa Benny 16 likes to say, would probably seem blasphemous to them. Certainly the doctrine of justification by faith alone would seem blasphemous to a writer like St. Gregory (though not Chrysostom), but what seems always clear to me is how off course the Western Tradition went after St. Augustine. The Orthodox (I think at the moment) are quite accurate in their assertions that the Latin Tradition of theology is very different from the patristic consensus. If the Protestant Reformation went off course, then it had long precedence from the See of Rome, which changed many things, to the point that the generally acknowledged first tradition of the Church (The Sign of the Cross) was changed by Papal decree by Pope Innocent III. St. Augustine of Canterbury, St. Benedict, St. Patrick, all did it the 'wrong' Orthodox way.

This is where you'd normally expect to see me talking about visiting my local Antiochan parish, but no, I don't find the Orthodox way convincing to the point of necessary conversion. I think in a contest of Tradition they'd beat the Romans, but the discrepancies between the two seem to only further my Latin/Catholic notions that Tradition -while important- should not have the last say in matters of faith and morals.

After all, if in the Sacred Tradition of the Church, the Pope tells us not to trust his dogmatic writing if it is in error, then what are we to use as the standard? Answering that question is fraught with problems, however I've chosen Sacred Scripture, and used a hearty textual realism to defend myself from the textual relativist claims of Rome. Everyone must make a choice though, and thus everyone must become a heretic (one who chooses). Though the heresies of today are not like those of Old. To be a Baptist is heretical, true enough, but even Baptists can sign the formula of Chalcedon, and assent to the Council of Ephesus (451) which in a sense makes them more 'Traditional', 'Catholic', and 'Orthodox' than the Coptic Church and all its bishops. It seems to be a realm where 'you pay your money and you take your chance' as an old pastor used to say.

You could 'pan' any of the Fathers for 'Confessional gold' and come up with some argument in your favour. So perhaps the Orthodox would use the initial quotation to attack Papal Supremacy and show the equality of bishops. Roman Catholics might look use this passage: "[Job's friends] speak to Job as if on the Lord's behalf, but they are not approved by the Lord; for all heretics struggle to defend God but really offend him." to show how Orthodox and Protestant heretics/Christians are in wanton disobedience to the papacy. Finally, Protestants who look for a self-verifying canon of Scripture against Catholic-Orthodox apologetics could read: "The authority of this book is made clear from the unshakeable sacred page itself." and shout Aha! Our Bible has been vindicated against the traditions of men.

To end things very Lutheran-ly, I'd say all of these modes are theologies of glory. There are many mysterious things which we do not perceive while we 'see through a glass darkly', but the fundamental character and substance of God remains apparent to Christians. Faith, Hope, and Charity are found in every communion, and in these, as in Christ we are to abide. For my part, I look at myself knowing that like Job's sons 'perhaps I have sinned in my heart'. I know I am a sinner, but I trust in the fact that Christ has christened, confirmed, confessed, and communed me Himself. That all my sins are his and all his righteousness is mine. I glory not in my own theological and historical polemics but in my Saviour and his cross.

I found most illuminating, a passage of St. Gregory's on the typology of Jobs daughters as weaker Christians (which is a horribly misogynistic spiritual reading perhaps, but still useful).

"And three daughters were born to him. (1.2)
"What shall we take the daughters for, if not the flock of less-gifted faithful? Even if they do not stay the course for the perfection of good works by strength and virtue, they cling tenaciously to the faith they know in the trinity." XIV. 20

May the Holy Spirit, the only author of faith, who proceeds from the Father, through the Son, make us all tenaciously cling to whatever faith has been graciously given us, and trust in the Holy Trinity in every trouble.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Mistakes & Troubles of the True Church

Theologians often talk about the marks of the True Church (unity, sanctity, catholicity, and apostolicity), however in re-reading the Scriptures, I've found a via negativa to answer this question that is actually quite meaningful.

Rather than simply look for positives, what are the negative attributes that Holy Writ ascribes to the True Church.

1. St. Paul asks the rhetorical question in Romans "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?" (6:1). That's a question people should ask if you're preaching the Word rightly. Would anyone ask that of Aquinas or even Augustine? Obviously not. In Augustinian and Thomist soteriology, grace is lost the second one willfully sins. There is no room for sin and grace together, an utter repudiation of simul iust et peccator.

2. Do philosophers think your message is stupid? In Acts 17, St. Paul was mocked and called a babbler for his preaching. His message he called "foolishness" to those who were perishing and the Greeks (1 Cor 1). Is your Gospel foolish or is it sophistical and philosophically brilliant?

3. Beware false teachers and false Christs. CONSTANTLY throughout the New Testament Christ and the Apostles are warning about false teachers. If they asserted the indefectibility of the Church (Matt. 16) it was perhaps the most limitted type one could imagine (think Noah, or St. Athanasius). Otherwise, why would they warn so often about it?

4. Winston Churchill once said having enemies was a good quality because it means you stand for something. Christ said his true disciples would be hated by the world. This probably doesn't help anyone, as each Christian group is hated by any number of the other Christian groups let alone the world hating all Christians. Nonetheless hatred seems to be a mark of the true church.

Perhaps another useful ecclesiological tool would be to see the marks of a false church in the Bible.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Calvinistic St. Cyril

"Even Simon Magus once came to the Laver : he was baptized, but was not enlightened; and though he dipped his body in water, he enlightened not his heart with the Spirit: his body went down and came up, but his soul was not buried with Christ, nor raised with Him." - St. Cyril's Prologue to the Catechetical Lectures

It seems here that St. Cyril is teaching the same thing that John Calvin and St. Augustine taught, that baptized unelect are only baptized into God's wrath and not into salvation.

This is opposed to the Lutheran & Roman Catholic doctrine that the sacraments work objectively not subjectively.

The other day a worried Lutheran seminarian read aloud to me from St. Augustine's City of God, where the gracious doctor said that the prayers of the reprobate are not heard by God, which seems to contradict the scriptural promises of Jesus.

More and more I'm seeing the 'consensus' of the fathers to be a mix of great insights and average mistakes. Everything from pre-millenialism, to pelagianism (a lot of this), to Calvinism are common.

My new modus operandi for patristics is that of Pope St. Gregory the Great who told young St. Augustine of Canterbury: "For things are not to be loved for the sake of places, but places for the sake of good things" - or reworded in this case: 'doctrine is not to be accepted for the sake of the fathers, but the fathers for the sake of good doctrine'.

Thank God we have the divine Scriptures which St. Cyril calls, "the Constitution" of the Church (Prologue to The Catechetical Lectures, 4).

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Caius Fragment from Eusebius

Caius was a Roman presbyter some time in the 3rd century. His fragments can be seen here

"The sacred Scriptures they have boldly falsified, and the canons of the ancient faith they have rejected, and Christ they have ignored, not inquiring what the sacred Scriptures say, but laboriously seeking to discover what form of syllogism might be contrived to establish their impiety. And should any one lay before them a word of divine Scripture, they examine whether it will make a connected or disjoined form of syllogism; and leaving the Holy Scriptures of God, they study geometry, as men who are of the earth, and speak of the earth, and are ignorant of Him who comes from above. Euclid, indeed, is laboriously measured by some of them. and Aristotle and Theophrastus are admired; and Galen, forsooth, is perhaps even worshipped by some of them. But as to those men who abuse the arts of the unbelievers to establish their own heretical doctrine, and by the craft of the impious adulterate the simple faith of the divine Scriptures, what need is there to say that these are not near the faith? For this reason is it they have boldly laid their hands upon the divine Scriptures, alleging that they have corrected them.... For either they do not believe that the divine Scriptures were dictated by the Holy Spirit, and are thus infidels; or they think themselves wiser than the Holy Spirit, and what are they then but demoniacs? Nor can they deny that the crime is theirs, when the copies have been written with their own hand; nor did they receive such copies of the Scriptures from those by whom they were first instructed in the faith, and they cannot produce copies from which these were transcribed. And some of them did not even think it worth while to corrupt them; but simply denying the law and the prophets for the sake of their lawless and impious doctrine, trader pretexts of grace, they sunk down to the lowest abyss of perdition.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Heidelberg #1

Question 1. What is thy only comfort in life and death?

Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

St. John Chrysostom, Homily 4 on Ephesians

"Think, where He sits? Above all principality and power. And with whom it is that you sit? With Him. And who you are? One dead, by nature a child of wrath. And what good have you done? None. Truly now it is high time to exclaim, "Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God!""