St John Chrysostom’s Sermon on the Nativity According to the Flesh of the Christ

I behold a new and wondrous mystery! My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn.

The Angels sing!
The Archangels blend their voices in harmony!
The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise!
The Seraphim exalt His glory!

All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side the Sun of Justice.

And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed, he had the power, He descended, He redeemed; all things move in obedience to God.

This day He Who Is, is Born; and He Who Is becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became he God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassibility, remaining unchanged.

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Yet He has not forsaken His angels, nor left them deprived of His care, nor because of His Incarnation has he departed from the Godhead.

And behold,
Kings have come, that they might adore the heavenly King of glory;
Soldiers, that they might serve the Leader of the Hosts of Heaven;
Women, that they might adore Him Who was born of a woman so that He might change the pains of child-birth into joy;
Virgins, to the Son of the Virgin, beholding with joy, that He Who is the Giver of milk, Who has decreed that the fountains of the breast pour forth in ready streams, receives from a Virgin Mother the food of infancy;
Infants, that they may adore Him Who became a little child, so that out of the mouth of infants and sucklings, He might perfect praise;
Children, to the Child Who raised up martyrs through the rage of Herod;
Men, to Him Who became man, that He might heal the miseries of His servants;
Shepherds, to the Good Shepherd Who has laid down His life for His sheep;
Priests, to Him Who has become a High Priest according to the order of Melchisedech;
Servants, to Him Who took upon Himself the form of a servant that He might bless our servitude with the reward of freedom;
Fishermen, to Him Who from amongst fishermen chose catchers of men;
Publicans, to Him Who from amongst them named a chosen Evangelist;
Sinful women, to Him Who exposed His feet to the tears of the repentant;

And that I may embrace them all together, all sinners have come, that they may look upon the Lamb of God Who taketh away the sins of the world.

Since therefore all rejoice, I too desire to rejoice. I too wish to share the choral dance, to celebrate the festival. But I take my part, not plucking the harp, not shaking the Thyrsian staff, not with the music of pipes, nor holding a torch, but holding in my arms the cradle of Christ. For this is all my hope, this my life, this my salvation, this my pipe, my harp. And bearing it I come, and having from its power received the gift of speech, I too, with the angels, sing: Glory to God in the Highest; and with the shepherds: and on earth peace to men of good will.

St John Chrysostom, The Nativity Sermon


Thoughts on Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ

This comes perhaps four years late. But such a tardiness is not without design. I have been quite resistant to viewing The Passion, to some degree from “purist” notions. Not purist in the sense of the silly spats among Orthodox as to whether such a bloody portrayal of the Passion was in keeping with “true” Orthodoxy. Rather purist in the sense of what images I wanted my mind to hold of Jesus’ suffering and death. I wanted such images to be those of the icons and the Church’s hymns. And so, having watched The Passion once after Pascha 2004, I did not watch it again.

I cannot speak as to whether such intentions have been fulfilled, but I do think it accurate to say, I did not as fully appreciate the movie in the early summer of 2004 as I appreciated it this past Friday (when I watched it again for the first time since then), and, unless I am mistaken, as I will further and perhaps more deeply appreciate it in the future. I suspect that such a greater and more understanding engagement with it is due in no small measure to the fact that I have come through more of life in the past four years, including the birth of our second daughter, more Liturgies and worship, more Holy Weeks, and, if I may, more sorrows.

Continue reading “Thoughts on Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ

Pagels Decoded

Father Paul Mankowski, SJ begins his critical account of Elaine Pagels’ The Gnostic Gospels, The Pagels Imposture, with the following precis (I have added the hyperlink to the ANF book and chapter cites of the texts in his citation):

I am going to demonstrate that Professor Pagels’s media reputation as a scholar is undeserved, her reputation as an expert in Gnosticism still less so. The case for the prosecution will require some careful reading. Those who want to follow along with the sources at their elbow should find a copy of Pagels’s 1979 book The Gnostic Gospels (NY: Random House). Those who have some Latin and a library handy may want the Sources Chrétiennes edition of Irenaeus’ Adversus Haereses (ed. Rousseau & Doutreleau, Paris: Cerf, 1974, 1982) and can bookmark page 278 of Vol. 211 and page 154 of Vol. 294.* Others can get most of the gist from the translation available in Vol. 1 of The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1951), with a finger in pages 380 and 439. OK, to work.

Fr Paul then begins to unfold his argument by first citing what he takes to be an egregious cobbling together of quotes from St Irenaeus:

Pagels’s The Gnostic Gospels is in large measure a polemic against St. Irenaeus (approx. 130-202 AD), Bishop of Lyons and a Father of the Church, and is aimed in particular against the defense of ecclesial orthodoxy offered by Irenaeus in his work Against Heresies — which was written in Greek but which survives, for the most part, in an ancient Latin translation.

In a chapter called “One God, One Bishop,” Pagels is concerned to show that the doctrine of monotheism and the hierarchical structuring of the Church were mutually reinforcing ploys designed to consolidate ecclesiastical power and eliminate diversity — specifically, the diversity that Pagels finds in the Gnostics whom Irenaeus was at pains to refute. Pagels claims that Valentinian Christians (disciples of the Gnostic Valentinus) “followed a practice which insured the equality of all participants” and put the bishop Irenaeus in a double-bind situation by ignoring his orders. Says Pagels (page 43: brackets, ellipsis, and emphasis are Pagels’s):

What Irenaeus found most galling of all was that, instead of repenting or even openly defying the bishop, they responded to his protests with diabolically clever theological arguments:

They call [us] “unspiritual,” “common,” and “ecclesiastic.” … Because we do not accept their monstrous allegations, they say that we go on living in the hebdomad [the lower regions], as if we could not lift our minds to the things on high, nor understand the things that are above.

Pagels’s quotation of Irenaeus is tagged by an endnote reference which, on page 162, reads “Ibid. [Irenaeus AH], Quotation conflated from 3.15.2 and 2.16.4.” To put it mildly, an interesting method of citation. Let’s look at the sources.

Fr Paul then goes through the details of the quotes and Pagels’ “conflating of them” (see his argument at the link above) to demonstrate his claim.

To recapitulate: Pagels has carpentered a non-existent quotation, putatively from an ancient source, by silent suppression of relevant context, silent omission of troublesome words, and a mid-sentence shift of 34 chapters backwards through the cited text, so as deliberately to pervert the meaning of the original. While her endnote calls the quote “conflated,” the word doesn’t fit even as a euphemism: what we have is not conflation but creation.

Re-reading Pagels’s putative quotation, you may have noticed that the word “unspiritual” corresponds to nothing in the Latin. It too was supplied by Pagels’s imagination. The reason for the interpolation will be plain from the comment that immediately follows (page 44 in The Gnostic Gospels). Remember that she wants to argue that Irenaeus was interested in authority and the Valentinians in the life of the spirit:

Irenaeus was outraged at their claim that they, being spiritual, were released from the ethical restraints that he, as a mere servant of the demiurge, ignorantly sought to foist upon them.

Put simply, Irenaeus did not write what Prof. Pagels wished he would have written, so she made good the defect by silently changing the text. Creativity, when applied to one’s sources, is not a compliment. She is a very naughty historian.

Fr Paul concludes:

The Gnostic Gospels, like those portions of Pagels’s later work with which I am familiar, is chock-full of tendentious readings and instances where counter-evidence is suppressed. The example of “creativity” here discussed may fairly be called a representative specimen of her methodology, and was singled out not because it’s the worst example of its kind but because it’s among the most unambiguous. No one who consults the source texts could give Pagels a pass, and that means she forfeits the claim to reliability as a scholar. Attractive as her ideological sympathies may be to many persons — including many academics — she does not deserve to be ranked with serious textual scholars like Claremont’s James Robinson, and her testimony on the accuracy of inventions such as Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code cannot be solicited without irony.

[H/T Michael Liccione]

St. Cyril’s “One Physis or Hypostasis of God the Logos Incarnate” and Chalcedon

From Dr. John Romanides’ St. Cyril’s “One Physis or Hypostasis of God the Logos Incarnate” and Chalcedon:

StCyrilofAlexandria.jpgBoth Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian Orthodox accept St. Cyril as the chief Patristic exponent of Orthodox Christology. Yet both accuse each other of not remaining completely faithful to Cyril.

The non-Chalcedonian Orthodox reject the Council of Chalcedon and accuse it of Nestorianism because it accepted the Tome of Leo, two natures after the union, and allegedly omitted from its definition of faith such Cyrillian expressions as One Nature of God the Logos Incarnate, hypostatic or natural union, and from two natures or from two One Christ. The failure of Chalcedon to make full use of Cyril’s Twelve Chapters, to condemn the Christology of Theodore, and its acceptance of Theodoret and Ibas throws suspicion on it. Then there is the weighty accusation that the very act of composing a new definition of the faith contradicted the decision of Ephesus (431) which decreed that, It is unlawful for anyone to bring forward or to write or to compose another Creed besides that determined by the Holy Fathers assembled with the Holy Spirit in Nicaea. [ 2 ]

The Chalcedonian Orthodox, on the other hand, believe that it was Cyril’s Christology which was not only fully accepted at Ephesus, but served as the basis of all judgments concerning Christology at Ghalcedon in 451 and especially at Constantinople in 553. In spite of its obvious deficiencies the Tome of Leo is adequately Orthodox, definitely not Nestorian, and was accepted only as a document against Eutyches, but again only in the light of and in subordination to the synodical letters (especially the Twelve Chapters) of Cyril to Nestorius and John of Antioch, as we shall see. The terminology and faith of Cyril were fully accepted, although the Eutychian heresy, the chief concern of the Council, called for some adaptation to the new situation. One may point out that the acceptance of the Chalcedonian definition was no different from the acceptance of Cyril’s letters at Ephesus. Neither the one act nor the other can be considered as a composition of a new Creed. They are both interpretations and clarifications of the Nicaean faith m the light of modern circumstances. It is noteworthy that even Cyril had to defend himself against the accusation that he accepted a new Creed in his reconciliatory correspondence with John of Antioch. [ 3 ] Theodoret and Ibas were restored to the episcopacy because they accepted Ephesus I and especially the Twelve Chapters, which acceptance is in itself a condemnation of what they had written about and against Cyril and his anathemas. The Fifth Ecumenical Council of 553 anathematized the writings of Theodoret and Ibas against Cyril and the very person of Theodore, the Father of Nestorianism.

The non-Chalcedonian Orthodox have been for centuries accusing the Chalcedonian Orthodox of being Nestortans. On the other hand, the Chalcedonians have been accusing the non-Chalcedonians of either being monophysites (which for them means believers in one ousia in Christ) or of a one-sided insistence on Cyrillian terminology to the exclusion of Cyril’s own acceptance of two natures in the confession of faith of john of Antioch which brought about the reconciliation of 433. This one-sidedness was adopted by the Ephesine Council of 449 and rejected by the Council of Chalcedon. It should also be noted that the Flavian Endemousa Synod of 448 was one-sided in its use of and insistence on the Cyrillian terminology of the 433 reconciliation to the near exclusion of Cyril’s normal way of speaking about the incarnation. From Chalcedon and especially from Constantinople II it is clear that the Chalcedonians without compromise allow for variations in terms which express the same faith. On the non-Chalcedonian side Severus of Antioch seems to be the only one who comes close to Cyril’s acceptance of two natures tei theoriai monei after the union, a position adopted at Chalcedon and clearly stated in the definition or anathemas of the Fifth Ecumenical Council. . . .

1) Nestorius rejected the fact that He Who was born of the Virgin is consubstantial with the Father according to divinity and thus by nature God. Another way of saying this is that he rejected the fact that He Who before the ages is born from and is consubstantial with the Father was in the last days born according to His Own and proper humanity from the Virgin Mary having become thus by nature man and consubstantial with us. On the basis of this rejection Nestorius distorted the true significance of the title Theotokos which he in reality denied to the Mother of God. The most Nestorius could say is that Christ is the one person of the union of two natures, the one nature being by nature God and the other by nature man. The name Christ is not properly predicated of the Logos, but is the narne of the person of union born of Mary and in whom the Logos dwells and who was assumed by the Logos. Nestorius fanatically insisted that the Logos was not born of the Virgin according to His Humanity and did not, therefore, become by nature man. On the basis of this he divided the natures and predicates of Christ attributing the human to the assumed man and the divine to the Logos.

In the light of his denial of the two births of the Logos and the double consubstantiality of the One and the Same Logos, Son of God and the Self-Same also Son of Mary, and thus of the true meaning of the title Theotokos, Nestorius insistence that he does not divide Christ into two persons, but only the natures and names, was judged a mockery of the faith and on this basis he was condemned by the Third and Fourth Ecumenical Councils and rejected by John of Antioch and Leo of Rome.

I have indicated elsewhere [ 4 ] that the reconciliation of 433 between Cyril and john was brought about by the Antiochene’s confession of the double birth and consubstantiality of “our Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son of God, the very doctrine rejected so violently by Nestorius and even by Theodoret, as we shall see shortly. In his confession john clearly declares that the Only begotten Son of God was before the ages begotten from the Father according to His Divinity, and in the last days the Self-same (ton auton) for us and for our salvation, (begotten) of Mary the Virgin according to His Humanity, the Self-same (ton auton-note that he is here speaking clearly about the Only begotten Son and not the Nestorian and Theodoretan Prosopon of the union of two natures) consubstantial with the Father according to Divinity and consubstantial with us according to Humanity.” [ 5 ] For Cyril this confession of faith meant that the title Theotokos and the incarnation were accepted in their full and true significance, in spite of the fact that John spoke of “a union of two natures, whereby we confess One Christ, One Son, One Lord.”

In his letter to Acacius of Melitene [ 6 ] Cyril is quite emphatic about the fact that this Antiochene confession of the double birth and double consubstantiality of the One and the Same Logos cannot be suspected of Nestorianism since this is exactly what Nestorius denies. [ 7 ] To the objection that two natures after the union means a predication of two separate kinds of names, divine and human, to two separate natures, Cyril replies that to divide names does not mean necessarily a division of natures, hypostases, or persons, since all names are predicated of the one Logos. The division of names is considered as a safeguard against Arians and Eunomians who by confusing them sought to demonstrate the creatureliness of the Logos and His inferiority to the Father. The names, and not the natures, are divided in order to distinguish the real difference of the natures or things out of which Christ is composed, and not to divide them, since they can be distinguished after the union in contemplation only. [ 8 ]

Of course Cyril prefers to speak of One Nature or Hypostasis of God the Logos Incarnate and become man, since this better safeguards the union and the attribution of all things pertaining to Christ to the Logos as the subject of all human and divine actions. For Cyril Physis means a concrete individual acting as subject in its own right and according to its own natural properties. Thus the One Nature of God the Logos Incarnate, having by His second birth appropriated to Himself a perfect, complete and real Manhood, has as His Own both the ousia and natural properties common to all men, whereby it is the Logos Himself Who is Christ and lives really and truly the life of man without any change whatsoever in his Divinity, having remained what He always was. To speak about two natures in Christ would be somewhat equivalent to a Chalcedonian speaking about two Hypostases in Christ. In this respect ‘a Chalcedonian would accept and does accept everything Cyril says but would use Cyril’s One Hypostasis of God the Logos Incarnate, since for him Physis means Ousia. The one very essential point which Cyril makes and which some day may be given adequate consideration by the non-Chalcedonian Orthodox is that whatever one s insistence on theological accuracy in expression may be, it is sheer caricature to accuse anyone of being Nestorian who accepts the double birth and double consubstantiality of the Logos as the basis for the title Theotokos, as well as for the predication of all human and divine attributes and energies to the Logos Who is the sole subject incarnate and acting, both according to His Divinity and His Own appropriated Manhood. This is what Theodore, Nestorius, and Theodoret denied and this is the essence of Orthodoxy. St. Cyril saw this clearly and it is our duty to place this at the centre of our discussions.

2) There is no doubt that Leo tended to separate or distinguish the acts of Christ in such a way that the two natures seem to be acting as separate subjects, a tendency explainable by what he imagined Eutyches was teaching and by his Latin formation wherein Greek Trinitarian terms used in Christology were not available to him. He so obviously failed to understand how the term One Nature was being used in the East, and especially during the Endemousa Synod of 448. This is why a non-Chalcedonian reading the Tome should read ousia upon coming across natura, since Leo was dealing with the information he had received that Eutyches denied Christ’s consubstantiality with us. His expression of utter amazement that the judges did not severely censure Eutyches when making such a statement as, I confess that our Lord was from two Natures before the Union, but after the Union I admit but one Nature, confirms the confusing of his own natura and the Greek ousia with physis. Then Eutyches own confusion of the terms ousia and physis did not help the matter any.

Nevertheless, Leo is very clear in his acceptance of the antiNestorian standard of Orthodoxy accepted by Cyril. Leo declares clearly in his Tome that “the Self-same who was the Only-begotten and Everlasting One of the Everlasting Parent, was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. And this birth in time takes away nothing from that divine and eternal birth, nor does it add anything to it….”[ 9 ]

The definition of Chalcedon is also clear in this respect. “Following, then, the holy Fathers, we all unanimously teach that our Lord Jesus Christ is to us One and the same Son, the Self-same of a rational soul and body, consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead, the Self-same consubstantial with us according to the Manhood… before the ages begotten of the Father according to the Godhead, but in the last days, the Self-same, for us and for our salvation (born) of Mary the Virgin Theotokos according to the Manhood….”[ 10 ]

Returning to Leo s Tome it is important to point out that at Chalcedon it was accepted only as a document against the heresy of Eutyches, in spite of the fact that both Leo and his legates believed it to be a good statement against Nestorius also. It is even more important to keep in mind that during its reading at Session II the three now famous Nestorian sounding passages were each one challenged as the document was being read. During each interruption it was attacked and defended by the use of parallel passages from Cyril. [ 11 ] After what must have been a somewhat stormy and long debate, bishop Atticos of Nikopolis in Old Epirus, Greece, made the motion that time out be taken to give the assembly the opportunity to carefully compare Leo s Tome with the Twelve Chapters of Cyril in order to make sure of what they were approving.[ 12 ] The imperial representatives chairing the meeting gave the bishops five days in which to do this and suggested the formation of a committee under the presidency of Anatolius, Patriarch of Constantinople. [ 13 ] The committee reported back at the fourth session, at the beginning of which the imperial and senatorial representatives declared the unswerving faith of the emperor in the expositions of Nicaea, Constantinople, and Ephesus with its approval of the two canonical letters of Cyril, i.e., the Second and Third to Nestorius.[ 14 ] This profession of the imperial faith had been made also at the end of Session I, [ 15 ] and now in anticipation of the committee’s report on the question of Leo s agreement with Cyril’s Twelve Chapters it was repeated. The committee report [ 16 ] was included in the minutes in the form of a listing of the individual opinions of its members, all of whom expressed their belief that Leo’s Tome agreed with Nicaea, Ephesus, and the letter of Cyril. Most of the bishops mentioned the (one) letter of Cyril, [ 17 ] which cannot be any other than the Twelve Chapters since this was the one the Illyrians and Palestinians were concerned about as is clear from the motion of the Illyrian Atticos which initiated the careful comparison of Leo’s Tome with the letter of Cyril. Some of the members mentioned their belief that the Tome agreed with the two letters of Cyril, dearly referring to the ones of Ephesus mentioned as part of the imperial faith. It is extremely interesting to note that among the similar individual opinions given by the rest of the Assembly and recorded in the minutes is that of none other than Theodoret of Cyrus, [ 18 ] who claims that he finds the Tome of Leo in agreement with the letters of Cyril and the Council of Ephesus, certainly a tremendous leap from his position just before the Council. In the light of his strong hesitation at Session VIII to anathematize Nestorius, a hesitation which infuriated the assembly, one wonders about his sincerity, especially since he tried to defend his former acts by an exposition of how he never taught two Sons. He was interrupted by shouts of “Nestorian. [ 19 ]”

The acceptance of Leo s Tome in the light of and in subordination to the letters of Cyril is also clearly contained in the Chalcedonian definition itself. [ 20 ] It is declared that the Council accepts the Synodical (the Third letter to Nestorius is titled synodical, or since this is in the plural it could be a reference to the two of Ephesus, which in the minutes are called canonical, plus the one to John) letters of Cyril to Nestorius and to those of the East, “and to which (epistles) it reasonably adapted the letter of Leo … (epistolas… hais kai ten epistolen tou Leontos… eikotos syncrmose…).” This is not a of a balance between Cyril and Leo, as many scholars would have us believe. Leo became very sensitive about the doubts raised about his tome, and especially disturbed did he become over determined opposition in certain quarters like Palestine where Juvenal was deposed for accepting the Tome. In a letter to Julian of Cos (cxvli, 3) in which he shows much concern with accusations of heresy against himself, he writes that,…if they think there is any doubt about our teaching, let them at least not reject the writings of such holy priests as Athanasius, Theophilus and Cyril of Alexandria, with whom our statement of the faith so completely harmonizes that anyone who professes consent to them disagrees in nothing with us. No one can doubt the sincerity with which Leo wanted to be in agreement with those Alexandrine Fathers, but his defense of Theodoret compromised him. In a letter to the now restored Bishop of Cyrus he chides Theodoret for the tardy way in which he anathematized Nestorius (cxx, 5), yet in his opening remarks of this very same letter he speaks of “the victory you [Theodoret] and we together had won by assistance from on high over the blasphemy of Nestorius, as well as over the madness of Eutyches. Dioscoros relationship to Eutyches may have some parallels.

The Chalcedonian definition also speaks of itself as preserving the order and all the decrees concerning the Faith passed by the Holy Synod held formerly at Ephesus…. [ 21 ] From Ibas ad Marim Persam and from the minutes of the Johannine Council of Ephesus, we learn that the Antiochenes rejected the Cyrillian Council of Ephesus and damned Cyril because the heretical Twelve Chapters had been accepted. [ 22 ] In this same letter Ibas (as were many of Cyril’s friends and Theodoret) [ 23 ] was under the impression that Cyril abandoned his Ephesine position in his reconciliation with john in 433. [ 24 ] However, Ibas stated at his trial in Byretus in 449 that Paul of Emessa had accepted the Alexandrine bishops interpretation of the Twelve Chapters as Cyril had accepted the confession of the Easterners. [ 25 ] It is in the light of this that one should read the letter of john to the bishops of Rome, Alexandria, and Constantinople (the order of the letter) in which he announces Antioch’s acceptance of Nestorius excommunication and the Council of Ephesus. [ 26 ] It is impossible to accept the opinion of many that Cyril laid aside his Twelve Chapters for the sake of a reconciliation with john. As an individual he had no authority whatsoever to modify the decisions of an Ecumenical Council and there is no evidence to substantiate this supposition. Although the Endemousa Synod of Constantinople seems to have overemphasized the Cyrillian allowances of 433, it accepted the Twelve Chapters as part of Ephesus which it approved in toto. [ 27 ]

In the light of the evidence it is clear that Cyril’s Third letter to Nestorius, including the Twelve Chapters, was not repudiated by Chalcedon as many claim. On the contrary, the Twelve Chapters, were used as the very basis of the Council’s attitudes toward Nestorianism and Leo’s Tome. It is too bad that the Chalcedonians themselves present at the Council of 531 in Constantinople did not fully realize the crucial role played at Chalcedon by Cyill’s Twelve Chapters. Their answer to Severus accusation that the Twelve Chapters were laid aside in 451 was that it was accepted and approved as part of Ephesus i. This, of course, is incontestable, but not anywhere near the reality of the matter. The significance of the use made of the Twelve Chapters at Chalcedon should be obvious enough to those who claim that they fail to find the terms characteristic of Cyrillian Christology in the definition. Groundless also are the theories (brought forward by many Protestant and Roman Catholic scholars embarrassed by the Cyrillianism of the Fifth Ecumenical Council) concerning an alleged neo Chalcedonian rnovement which was supposed to have put Leo’s Tome aside and returned to the Twelve Chapters of Ephesus I, especially to the twelfth anathema. The truth of the matter is that in pronouncing anathema on those who do not accept the Twelve Chapters of Cyril, the Fifth Ecumenical Council of 553 is simply repeating what was done at Ephesus in 431 and again at Chalcedon in 451. . . .

Cyril does use ousia and physis as synonymous when speaking of the Holy Trinity. [ 59 ] There is no question of course about his use of physis as equivalent to hypostasis. Yet he never speaks of there being one ousia in Christ and clearly speaks of the flesh of Christ as being consubstantial with ours. [ 60 ] In Christology he uses physis, hypostasis, and prosopon as synonymous, yet he never, as far as I know, speaks of Two Prosopa before the union and one after, as he does with the other two terms. Equivalent to his One Nature of God the Logos Incarnate is his One Hypostasis of God the Logos Incarnate of his Third Letter to Nestorius [ 61 ] and his Defense of the Twelve Chapters. [ 62 ] In the light of all this and all which was said at Chalcedon, the anathema pronounced in the definition on those who say two natures before the union and one after the union was intended for anyone with Eutyches who denied that Christ is consubstantial with us. There is no doubt that the definition should have contained the phrase or ousia as one finds after the phrase one physis in the eighth and ninth anathemas of the Fifth Ecumenical Council. This would have avoided much misunderstanding. It perhaps was not done at the Fourth because possibly Cyril’s One Nature of God the Logos was taken as equivalent to One Ousia and the word Incarnate as equivalent to a second ousia or physis. That this was possible is borne out clearly by the Flavian Synod of 448, as well as the explanations given by both Eusebius and Flavian at Ephesus in 449, as we have already indicated.

It should be noted that One Hypostasis of God the Logos Incarnate and not One Physis of God the Logos Incarnate is to be found in Cyril’s Third Letter to Nestorius approved by Ephesus and Chalcedon. These terms are, of course, absolutely synonymous for Cyril. Yet it seems very obvious that at the Flavian Synod of 448 and at Chalcedon, the true Cyrillian meaning or usage of One Nature was overlooked simply because the phrase One Nature after the union was not contained in the synodical letters of Cyril which alone were familiar to all participants of both Councils. . . .


[ 2 ] Mansi, iv, 1361.

[ 3 ] P.G., 77, 188.

[ 4 ] See my article, ‘Highlights in the Debate Over Theodore of Mopsuestia’ s Christology’ in The Creek Orthodox Theological Review, vol. v, no. 2 (1959-60), pp. 140-185

[ 5 ] Mansi, iv, 292.

[ 6 ] P.G., 77, 184-201. See also Ep. ad Eulogium, P.G., 77, 224-228; Ep. ad Successum I and II, P.G., 77, 228-245.

[ 7 ] P.G., 77, l89-l92, l97.

[ 8 ] P.G., 77, 193-l97.

[ 9 ] T. H. Bindley, The Ecumenical Documents of the Faith (London, 1950), p. 224.

[ 10 ] Mansi, vii, 116

[ 11 ] Mansi, vi, 972-973.

[ 12 ] Mansi, vi, 973.

[ 13 ] Mansi, vi, 973.

[ 14 ] Mansi, vii, 8.

[ 15 ] Mansi, vi, 937.

[ 16 ] Mansi, vii, 48.

[ 17 ] Mansi, vii, 36-45.

[ 18 ] Mansi, vii, 20.

[ 19 ] Mansi, vii, 188-192.

[ 20 ] Mansi, vii, 113.

[ 21 ] Mansi, vii l09.

[ 22 ] Mansi, rv 1265 ff.; .vii, 244-245.

[ 23 ] Ep. CLXXI, P.G., 83, 1484.

[ 24 ] Mansi, vii, 248.

[ 25 ] Mansi, vii 240.

[ 26 ] Mansi, v, 285.

[ 27 ] Mansi, vi, 665. . . .

[ 59 ] E.g., Ad Monachos, P.G., 77, 17.

[ 60 ] Mansi, vii, 677.

[ 61 ] P.G., 77p 116.

[ 62 ] Apologia Cap. II, P.G., 76, 401A

Cur Deus Homo: The Motive of the Incarnation

More Fr. Georges Florovsky. Fr. Georges, in his essay, Cur Deus Homo: The Motive of the Incarnation (also here in pdf), points out something extremely important that the primarily juridical emphasis in Protestant soteriology misses: The Incarnation is not a stopgap. Whether or not man would have sinned, the Incarnation would still have taken place. [Note: This page has a collection of links to essays by Fr. Georges.]–cdh

The Christian message was from the very beginning the message of Salvation, and accordingly our Lord was depicted primarily as the Savior, Who has redeemed His people from bondage of sin and corruption. The very fact of the Incarnation was usually interpreted in early Christian theology in the perspective of Redemption. Erroneous conceptions of the Person of Christ with which the early Church had to wrestle were criticized and refuted precisely when they tended to undermine the reality of human Redemption. It was generally assumed that the very meaning of Salvation was that the intimate union between God and man had been restored, and it was inferred that the Redeemed had to belong Himself to both sides, i.e. to be at once both Divine and human, for otherwise the broken communion between God and man would not have been re-established. This was the main line of reasoning of St. Athanasius in his struggle with the Arians, of St. Gregory of Nazianzus in his refutation of Apollinarianism, and of other writers of the IVth and Vth centuries. “That is saved which is united with God,” says St. Gregory of Nazianzus.1 The redeeming aspect and impact of the Incarnation were emphatically stressed by the Fathers. The purpose and the effect of the Incarnation were defined precisely as the Redemption of man and his restoration to those original conditions which were destroyed by the fall and sin. The sin of the world was abrogated and taken away by the Incarnate One, and He only, being both Divine and human, could have done it. On the other hand, it would be unfair to claim that the Fathers regarded this redeeming purpose as the only reason for the Incarnation, so that the Incarnation would not have taken place at all, had not man sinned. In this form the question was never asked by the Fathers. The question about the ultimate motive of the Incarnation was never formally discussed in the Patristic Age. The problem of the relation between the mystery of the Incarnation and the original purpose of Creation was not touched upon by the Fathers; they never elaborated this point systematically. “It may perhaps be truly said that the thought of an Incarnation independent of the Fall harmonizes with the general tenor of Greek theology. Some patristic phrases seem to imply that the thought was distinctly realized here and there, and perhaps discussed.”2 These ‘patristic phrases’ were not collected and examined. In fact, the same Fathers could be quoted in favor of opposite opinions. It is not enough to accumulate quotations, taking them out of their context and ignoring the purpose, very often polemical, for which particular writings were composed. Many of these ‘patristic phrases’ were just ‘occasional’ statements, and they can be used only with utter care and caution. Their proper meaning can be ascertained only when they are read in the context, i.e. in the perspective of the thought of each particular writer. . . .

In the course of this age-long discussion a constant appeal has been made to the testimony of the Fathers. Strangely enough, the most important item has been overlooked in this anthology of quotations. Since the question of the motive of the Incarnation was never formally raised in the Patristic age, most of the texts used in the later discussions could not provide any direct guidance.15 St. Maximus the Confessor (580-662) seems to be the only Father who was directly concerned with the problem, although not in the same setting as the later theologians in the West. He stated plainly that the Incarnation should be regarded as an absolute and primary purpose of God in the act of Creation. The nature of the Incarnation, of this union of the Divine majesty with human frailty, is indeed an unfathomable mystery, but we can at least grasp the reason and the purpose of this supreme mystery, its logos and skopos. And this original reason, or the ultimate purpose, was, in the opinion of St. Maximus, precisely the Incarnation itself and then our own incorporation into the Body of the Incarnate One. The phrasing of St. Maximus is straight and clear. The 60th questio ad Thalassium, is a commentary on I Peter, 1:19-20: “[Christ was] like a blameless and spotless lamb, who was foreordained from the foundation of the world.” Now the question is: St. Maximus first briefly summarizes the true teaching about the Person of Christ, and then proceeds: “This is the blessed end, on account of which everything was created. This is the Divine purpose, which was thought of before the beginning of Creation, and which we call an intended fulfillment. All creation exists on account of this fulfillment and yet the fulfillment itself exists because of nothing that was created. Since God had this end in full view, he produced the natures of things. This is truly the fulfillment of Providence and of planning. Through this there is a recapitulation to God of those created by Him. This is the mystery circumscribing all ages, the awesome plan of God, super-infinite and infinitely pre-existing the ages. The Messenger, who is in essence Himself the Word of God, became man on account of this fulfillment. And it may be said that it was He Himself Who restored the manifest innermost depths of the goodness handed down by the Father; and He revealed the fulfillment in Himself, by which creation has won the beginning of true existence. For on account of Christ, that is to say the mystery concerning Christ, all time and that which is in time have found the beginning and the end of their existence in Christ. For before time there was secretly purposed a union of the ages, of the determined and the Indeterminate, of the measurable and the Immeasurable, of the finite and Infinity, of the creation and the Creator, of motion and rest — a union which was made manifest in Christ during these last times.” (M., P.G., XC, 621, A-B.) One has to distinguish most carefully between the eternal being of the Logos, in the bosom of the Holy Trinity, and the ‘economy’ of His Incarnation. ‘Prevision’ is related precisely to the Incarnation: “Therefore Christ was foreknown, not as He was according to His own nature, but as he later appeared incarnate for our sake in accordance with the final economy.” (M., P.G., XC, 624D). The ‘absolute predestination’ of Christ is alluded to with full clarity.16 This conviction was in full agreement with the general tenor of the theological system of St. Maximus, and he returns to the problem on many occasions, both in his answers to Thalassius and in his Ambigua. For instance, in connection with Ephesians 1:9, St. Maximus says: “[By this Incarnation and by our age] he has shown us for what purpose we were made and the greatest good will be of God towards us before the ages.” (M., P.G., 1097C). By his very constitution man anticipates in himself “the great mystery of the Divine purpose,” the ultimate consummation of all things in God. The whole history of Divine Providence is for St. Maximus divided into two great periods: the first culminates in the Incarnation of the Logos and is the story of Divine condescension (“through the Incarnation”); the second is the story of human ascension into the glory of deification, an extension, as it were, of the Incarnation to the whole creation. “Therefore we may divide time into two parts according to its design, and we may distinguish both the ages pertaining to the mystery of the Incarnation of the Divine, and the ages concerning the deification of the human by grace… and to say it concisely: both those ages which concern the descent of God to men, and those which have begun the ascent of men to God… Or, to say it even better, the beginning, the middle, and the end of all the ages, those which have gone by, those of the present time, and those which are yet to come, is our Lord Jesus Christ.” (M., P.G., XC, 320, B-C). The ultimate consummation is linked in the vision of St. Maximus with the primordial creative will and purpose of God, and therefore his whole conception is strictly ‘theocentric’, and at the same time ‘Christocentric’. In no sense, however, does this obscure the sad reality of sin, of the utter misery of sinful existence. The great stress is always laid by St. Maximus on the conversion and cleansing of the human will, on the struggle with passions and with evil. But he views the tragedy of the Fall and the apostasy of the created in the wider perspective of the original plan of Creation.17

Notes and References

l. Epist. 101, ad Cledoniutn (M., P.G., 37, col. 118).

2. Bishop B. F. Westcott, “The Gospel of Creation,” in The Epistles of St. John, The Greek Text with notes and essays, Third Edition. (Macmillan, 1892), p. 288. . . .

15. Dr. Spindler was the only student of the problem using the proper historical method in handling the texts.

16. Cf. Hans Urs von Balthasar, Liturgie Cosmique: Maxime le Confesseur (Paris, Aubier, 1947), pp. 204-205; Father Balthasar quotes Qu. ad Talass. 60 and adds that St. Maximus would have taken the Scotist side in the scholastic controversy, yet with an important qualification: “Maxime de reste est totalement etranger au postulat de ce debat scholastique qui imagine la possibilite d’un autre ordre du monde sans pecho et totalement irreel. Pour lui la ‘volonte preexistante’ de Dieu est identique au monde des ‘idees’ et des ‘possibles’: l’ordre des essences et l’ordre des faits coincident en ce point supreme” (in the German edition, Kosmische Liturgie, s. 267-268). See also Dom Polycarp Sherwood, O.S.B., “The Earlier Ambigua of Saint Maximus the Confessor” in Studia Anselmiana (Romae, 1955), fasc. 36, ch. 4, pp. 155ff.

17. The best exposition of the theology of St. Maximus is by S. L. Epifanovich, St. Maximus the Confessor and Byzantine Theology (Kiev, 1915; in Russian); cf. also the chapter on St. Maximus in my book, The Byzantine Fathers (Paris, 1933), pp. 200-227 (in Russian). In addition to the book of Father von Balthasar, quoted above, one may consult with profit the “Introduction” of Dom Polycarp Sherwood to his translation of The Four Centuries on Charity of St. Maximus, Ancient Christian Writers, No. 21 (London and Westminster, Md., 1955). See also Lars Thunberg, Microcosm and Mediator: The Theological Anthropology of Maximus the Confessor (Lund, 1965).

Jesus the Bastard?

Episcopal priest and mother of two, Chloe Breyer, speculates about the illegitimacy of Jesus in her article, The Earthly Father – What if Mary wasn’t a virgin? [H/T: T-19]

The allegations as to Jesus’ illegitimate birth go way, way back, to the Jewish leaders of the first century, and the anti-Christian polemicist, Celsus. Such charges have been revived in our day via the “historical Jesus” quest and its postmodern manifestation in the Jesus Seminar. The claim is that Mary was pregnant with Jesus by another man than her betrothed, Joseph–in one accounting by Panthera, a Roman soldier. The Christians, then, to cover over this embarrassing detail for one who was supposed to be the Son of God, claimed a miraculous virgin birth.

But what’s at stake in all this? Why does the Creed insist on asserting the virginity of Mary? Is this just a bunch of dogmatic fundamentalism? Is it really necessary to Christian faith to believe in the virginity of Mary? Is this a core Gospel doctrine? What would it really matter if we allowed some good-hearted quibbling on Mary’s virginity?

After all, if Orthodoxy insists on a virginal conception so as to safeguard Jesus’ divinity by excluding human paternity, then, according to Rev. Breyer:

The illegitimacy tradition, by contrast, holds that the Holy Spirit supplemented, rather than replaced, Jesus’ human paternity.

And isn’t that sort of what the Holy Spirit does for us?

Therein lies the most important of two immediate problems for those who want to deny Mary’s virginal conception: Jesus then becomes just like us. Period. Full stop. Just: Like us. This is the problem that makes this some other Gospel than the one received from the Apostles: it means Christ is not by nature God. He is only God by adoption. And if he is not really God by nature, we are not really saved.

More on the implications in a moment.

First a little background on how a minister, claiming the Christian faith, can boldly argue for the legitimacy of this as an alternative form of Christian faith. Breyer gets the bulk of her ruminations here from Dr. Jane Schaberg’s 1987 book (excerpts of which can be found here).

In 1987, Schaberg, a biblical studies professor at the University of Detroit Mercy, published The Illegitimacy of Jesus. Her central argument was that Matthew and Luke’s Gospels originally told of an illegitimate conception rather than a miraculous virgin one.

Breyer then rehearses the “few short passages in two of the four Gospels” which provide the sources for the virginal conception of Mary.

In Matthew, an angel appears to Joseph, who is perplexed about his fiancee’s pregnancy. Should he divorce Mary or have her stoned her to death, as the law of Deuteronomy requires? “Joseph, Son of David,” says the angel, “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus.” The angel then goes on to quote the Hebrew prophet Isaiah. “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel.” (In fact, “virgin” comes from Matthew’s use of a Greek mistranslation; the Hebrew in Isaiah reads “young girl.”) The version in Luke is similar.

One first of all notes the simple assertion that parthenos “mistranslates” the Hebrew. Of course Rev. Breyer fails to note that the texts of the Greek Septuagint, from which Matthew takes his citation of Isaiah, are generally a millennium older than our Hebrew manuscripts. She also fails to note that of all the instances of “almah” in the Hebrew, of which there are seven, none refer to a married woman or one who has had sexual relations. In fact, in Gen 24, both “almah” (young woman, v. 43) and “bethulah” (virgin, v. 16) are applied to Rebecca. And the Septuagint translates “almah” in Gen 24:43 with “parthenos” just as it does in Isaiah 7:14.

But this is the necessary method of operation for those who are offering interpretations alternative to and opposing the tradition: first instill skepticism and doubt. Call “parthenos” of Isaiah 7:14 a mistranslation–which also calls into question the inspired nature of the biblical text–and the wedge of doubt has been set.

Breyer continues:

So far, the Scripture sounds pretty clear. But the infancy narratives from Matthew and Luke must be squared with some startling silences, alternative Greek translations, and a couple of snide comments from Jesus’ hometown critics. Paul never mentions the virgin conception and in Galatians describes Christ as “born of a woman.” John’s Gospel says nothing on the subject of Jesus’ conception. And Mark describes the shocked response of the synagogue-goers of Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth when Jesus as an adult returns to preach and teach as God’s chosen one. The Nazareth Jews presumably would have known better than anyone about the irregular timing of Jesus’ birth. “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?” his parents’ neighbors ask one another. Since Jewish men of the time were identified in relationship to their father, Schaberg and other scholars take this remark as an insinuation about Jesus’ parentage—one that was so offensive that the later Evangelists Luke, Matthew, and John changed it.

Note that this alternative interpretation has exploited the opportunity that “silence” affords to fill in the gaps. There is no evidence whatsoever in silence. It is just that: silence.

So, two Gospels mention it, as do the earliest accounts we have outside the Scriptures. But because two Gospels don’t mention, nor does St. Paul, then one apparently is justified in flatly contradicting the explicit evidence of the other Gospels, for the sake of a speculation.

And there’s more. When Mary responds to the angel’s good tidings in Luke, one translation of her speech is, “How can this be, I do not know a man?” But in the Greek, the word for man is anthropos, which also means “husband.” Schaberg suggests that if this is the meaning Luke intended, the text could imply that Jesus had a human father who was not Joseph. Finally, in the Magnificat, Mary’s song of praise and thanksgiving to God, she says, “God has lifted up his humble maidservant.” The Greek word for “humble” is the same one that the Septuagint (the old Greek version of the Hebrew Bible) uses to describe the rape of Dinah in Genesis and other incidents of sexual violation. From this, Schaberg discerns the possibility that Mary’s “humility” could be “humiliation” from a sexual assault.

Here is the second tactic after one exploits the silences. Note secondary meanings, and assert them as primary ones. I haven’t done a linguistic check on the use of “humility” in the Septuagint, but I suspect it is used of more than just persons violated sexually. No matter: it’s a possible meaning. And since it is possible, it must be legitimately viable.

But this is tantamount to saying that, since the statement “Clifton claimed that God had made him rich with many blessings” could mean that God had made me financially wealthy, then it must be the fact that I’m financially wealthy. (Won’t Anna be surprised!) Or since “blue” can mean sad, one could suggest that saying “The sky is blue” means the heavens are sad. To claim, in the face of the evidence and the history, that it’s possible that Jesus was not conceived virginally, is to make possibility tantamount to lunacy.

But of course, it’s all just conjecture. No harm in a little speculating right?

Admittedly, Schaberg’s conjecture that the Gospel writers were obliquely conveying an illegitimacy tradition—one in which Mary was the victim of rape or seduction—is just that: conjecture. It lacks positive corroboration within the Gospels or other Christian writings. Schaberg acknowledges that she cannot prove that early Christians read the infancy narratives in the way she proposes. Still, if the Gospel writers did assume that their readers knew of an illegitimacy tradition, their words could support a figurative, rather than literal, reading of the angel’s annunciation. It seems rash to rule out that historical possibility when theologically it works so well.

Ah, but here’s the thing: Theologically it doesn’t work so well. In fact, it doesn’t work at all.

For the Gospel is about each of us being made one with God through Jesus Christ (John 17:20-26), to become partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:3-4). God is utterly holy and other. Even if human beings were not sinful, God’s holiness would utterly set him apart from us. We would be and are always other than God, we are creatures and he is the Creator. But Jesus says we are to be one with God. And St. Peter claims we are to be partakers of the divine nature. The only way for this union to happen is for humanity and divinity to be fully united in the Person of Jesus Christ. If Jesus was not virginally conceived by the Holy Spirit, then he is not fully God. If he is fully but only a man who has been granted God’s likeness but not his essence, then not even he can unite us to God, for even Jesus remains always wholly other than God as a creature. If Jesus is fully man, then there is no one in whom we can be united to God.

Only the virgin conception allows for Jesus to be both essentially, by nature, God and essentially, by nature, man. Only the virgin conception allows for Jesus to bring union to the human and divine natures. And only in our union with Jesus, who is both God and man, can we have union with God.

Secondly, if Jesus is wholly humanly begotten, and is not therefore God in essence or nature, and if he was only adopted by God through the Holy Spirit, then humanity is not really fallen or sinful. We can, as we are, be adopted by God–though not united to him. Human nature does not need to change, since it can be adopted by God, as he did in Jesus Christ. But if human nature need not change, then we are ever condemned to our sinfulness and to our mortality and death.

Breyer then asks a series of questions:

Can a loyal Christian believe that Christ was not born of a biological virgin?

No. It removes any possibility of union with God in Christ.

Perhaps it’s worth posing a different question: Why is church authority so intent upon Mary’s virginity as a historical fact?

Because it is the only Gospel which saves us and does not leave us in sin and death.

Would Jesus be any less God’s son if he had an earthly father?

Yes, because he would lack the nature and essence of God the Father.

The central message of the Gospel is that God raised up and redeemed his servant from death by crucifixion—the Roman style of execution reserved for the lowest of the low. Why couldn’t God have sent the same message of divine solidarity with the world’s outcasts by making a Messiah out of a man whose conception was also taboo?

Because divine solidarity does not happen by fiat, but by participation. And only Jesus is the perfect union of God and man in which we can have that participation.

Good news to remember at this time of the year. I may be getting ahead of myself liturgically, but in light of the examination of the heresy examined above perhaps I may be forgiven:

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Pomo/Em Church Jesus: A Reply to Andrew

Andrew, one of the respondents I quoted in my previous post (“Why the Pomo/Emergent Church is Extremely Dangerous”), gave a lengthy reply/defense in the comments to that post. I thought I would engage his comments in a separate post.

Andrew begins:

Clifton, I hope you don’t mind me posting a bit of a defence of the ‘Jesus is God’ discussion on Open Source Theology. I don’t want to address every point you have raised in your lengthy and detailed article, but I do want to make some general comments and respond to your criticism of my own relatively minor contribution to the discussion.

1. The ’emerging church’ tends to regard itself not as a clear fixed position but as a fluid, searching conversation. I realize that can sound slippery and evasive, but I would say that many, if not most, of the people who are engaged in this conversation are driven both by a need to to be honest about their state of belief and by a deep loyalty to the Jesus who is revealed in the scripture. The complexity and messiness of the conversation is explained by that tension. We are simply trying to understand things better. If we are going to confess before the world that Jesus is God, we want to know what we are saying – not as a matter of unthinking parroting of tradition, but in all the richness, complexity and ambiguity of the confession. This is where many believers find themselves in this postmodern, post-Christendom moment, and we have to find some way of moving forward with integrity.

I am sympathetic to your comments here. I do, in fact, know something of what it means to be part of a delimited body of believers (one rather knows, I suspect, whether one’s church is an emergent congregation or not), but which body of believers have very few hard and fast confessional beliefs. My own background is the Restoration Movement churches (specifically, the instrument using “independent” Christian churches), and our identity was largely predicated upon a hermeneutic or an ecclesial method than it was on a confession. It seems to me that the em church believers are strikingly analogous to that.

Furthermore, I readily admit that I have no scientifically reliable data to prove my contention that the views expressed on the Open Source Theology blog are typical of em church believers. At best I can only offer my personal anecdotal evidence that my encounters with the writings, online and in print, of em church believers is wholly consistent with my contention (or vice versa). I would not be surprised if a person found such a contention question begging. In my defense, however, the counter-examples to my contention are much rarer, it seems to me.

In any case, the substance of your first point seems to me to be that em church believers are concerned to have and to do “authentic” theology. With this I have no quarrel, however strange at times the conclusions (even if provisional) of such theological wrestlings may seem to me. What I do strongly object to is the false dichotomy you have presented between either confession as “unthinking parroting of tradition” or “all the richness, complexity and ambiguity of the confession.” Surely you can understand why I might object to what appears to me to be an unwarranted prejudicing of the issue in the favor of the em church apologetic.

I rather suppose this is precisely the problem I was trying to elucidate in my criticism: the failure to adequately come to grips with the actual life and thought of the Church through time and space. Or, to say it differently, the “richness, complexity and ambiguity” that you espouse as paradigmatic is not opposed to the simultaneous living of the tradition. To borrow Pelikan’s well-worn axiom: Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living; Tradition is the living faith of the dead. I am becoming an Orthodox Christian precisely because the living faith of the Tradition, in all its richness, complexity and ambiguity, is not available to me anywhere else.

If we may take the Chalcedonian definition as a point in particular: What about Chalcedon is the “unthinking parroting of tradition”? By the same token, in what way does Chalcedon fail to manifest all the richness, complexity and ambiguity of the confession.” And yet, what em church believer readily and wholeheartedly espouses Chalcedon? I don’t doubt that there are em churchers who do, after much throat clearing and footnotes perhaps. But what about ready and wholehearted affirmation of Chalcedon is in any way an “unthinking parroting of tradition”?

You go on:

2. The very diverse views expressed in the ‘Jesus is God’ post are not necessarily all consistent with any emerging ‘consensus’. It is an open conversation – that is simply the nature of the thing; we do not pretend to be in any sense normative or definitive for emerging theology.

It is this notion of “emergence” that at once prejudices the discussion in favor of the em church apologetic and simultaneously fails to account for any content to the term. What is an “emerging theology”? Whence it’s origins? If it arises from the “ruins” of the critique of modernist Christian theology, how can one know that one has truly sifted truth from error? If it is “emerging” from the surrounding culture, what does this say about em church ecclesiology? And correlatively, how does one know that it is Christian? Does it even matter that it is Christian?

Let’s grant the lack of a consensus. I happen to think this claim to a lack of consensus is a bit disingenuous, for I do happen to think there is broad consensus which privileges a so-called “postmodern” epistemology and anti-metaphysic, with the jargonish discourse to support such concepts, over any substantive truth claims (or metanarratives that purport to be objectively or absolutely true). But let us for now stipulate such an inchoate “theology.”

In what sense, one is pressed to ask, can em church believers speak in any meaningful way of the Gospel? Don’t mistake. I am not in any way opposed to the particularity of the Gospel which distinguishes between communities and (small t) traditions. But I fail to see how, if such a plurality of “gospels” fails to reach any sort of singular consensus St. Paul’s words in Galatians anathematizing those who preach a different gospel retain any meaning any longer. And if the gospel is inescapably plural, then I do not see how it can engender any ecclesial identity beyond the several individuals who happened to meet this past Sunday, which several individuals will differ from those who happen to meet next week, such that not even a local community retains any norming identity, and church just happens to be whatever it is now.

The above criticism notwithstanding, the intention stated in the following point is one I wholly affirm as well.

3. Any particular post should be understood in the context of the whole site (and for that matter of the whole emerging conversation). You could, for example, have a look at ‘The marks of a renewed theology’. I can’t really speak on behalf of the whole ’emerging community’, but for myself at least the intention is to be more, not less, biblical.

I would only press you on what it means for an emerging theology to be biblical. It is a polyvalent term that I’m not sure is adequately grounded in any meaningful or coherent context–for such an intention is predicated upon a particular hermeneutic. And I do not see that the (so-called) “postmodern” hermeneutic is, in any way, ecclesial, and therefore how it can in any meaningful way make an emergent theology biblical.

You next disagree with my contention of semantic or functional equivalence between “Jesus is God” and “Jesus is Lord.”

4. I would still disagree that ‘Jesus is God’ and ‘Jesus is Lord’ are semantically or functionally equivalent, but this requires a more careful response. The objection that Christians were pressured into confessing that ‘Caesar is Lord’ rather than ‘Caesar is God’ seems to me trivial given the pervasiveness of an ideology of imperial divinity. I could be completely wrong in suggesting that the cultic-political context was significant for the development of the slogan ‘Jesus is God’, but it surely makes good historical sense to suppose that something like this was in the background. And please notice that I did not say that it was ‘simply rhetorical context’ – you have added the word ‘simply’. We can recognize the rhetorical context without diminishing the theological significance of the statement.

I did misattribute the term “simply” to your contention, and for that I ask your pardon. It was, ironically, a rhetorical slip on my part.

It seems that my remarks on “Jesus is Lord” were abbreviated enough to fail to adequately convey what I mean. I meant, and mean, that the pneumatic expression “Jesus is Lord” is, in fact, in the biblical context, a real and absolute claim to divinity, even identity with God. This is abundantly clear when one takes into account that the Church’s Old Testament was the Septuagint, and the use of kurios in the ecclesial text and thus its usage in the New Testament.

I don’t deny that the demand to say “Caesar is Lord” was tantamount to a claim to divinity. In fact, that was precisely my point.

What I was objecting to was the notion that somehow “Jesus is God” is not a biblical proposition. In fact, it is.

5. As far as I can tell, you have misunderstood my point about opacity and transparency. I should have taken more trouble to explain. Apologies. At issue here is whether the different discourses we use to speak about Jesus are open to each other – so for example, can we see, beneath or behind the simple summary statements, something of the more complex narratives out of which they emerged and which they encapsulate. Equally, as we work through the difficult narrative or theological arguments, are we able to perceive the simple devotional or evangelistic statements that give practical and pastoral and prophetic force and clarity to our beliefs.

I grant that I very likely misunderstood your argument regarding opacity. But if so, I’m not sure that the above clarification really necessitates an alteration of my comments.

To say it another way, in light of your clarification: what sense does it make to say that a particular discourse or set of discourses is “opaque” to another discourse or set of discourses? Opacity is a metaphor, of course, describing the absence of a capacity for a set of terms in one located discourse to be meaningfully used (or transcribed, translated) into terms of another located discourse. You highlighted in the response I criticized in the previous post such discourses as historical, eschatological-apocalyptic, confessional-doxological, theological, mystical, and evangelistic. It’s not clear to me that it makes any sense to say that the historical discourse about theology or the Gospel is “opaque” to, say, the evangelistic discourse. After all, a discourse is merely a structured vocabularly oriented around formalized concepts. I’m not sure what sense it makes to say that concepts (or words) are opaque to one another, in part because I cannot make sense of what it might mean for a discourse to be hermetically sealed off from another discourse such that there was no possibility of transparency of any meaning between the two. For if such transparancy were, in fact, impossible, I’m not sure I could even conceive that such was impossible. In place of such a conception would be a cipher. Which is to reiterate in different words what I said before: if such things were, in fact, opaque, we could not know it.

Nor even if such claims to discursive opacity did make sense is it obvious that such claims are true. I can see how one might confess that these concepts and jargon speak to different things, but even evangelistic claims (Jesus is God) are grounded in historical discourse (Jesus was a man who lived in this place and time as attested to by these documents and witnesses, which documents and witnesses are variously supported by these archaeological finds).

6. I really don’t understand why critics of the emerging church feel that they have to adopt such a scornful, alarmist and judgmental tone of voice.

I readily grant that the title of my previous post is alarmist, and it does make a judgment (though whether that means it is judgmental might be a matter over which we could quibble). I do not think it or my post is scornful. In any case, I did not intend to scorn.

But that my post and its concomitant title make a judgement is inescapable, nor is it necessarily unChristian. We are called to test the spirits. Since the Holy Spirit is the one who gives it us to say that Jesus is Lord, and given that Jesus is Lord is an equivalent claim to confessing that Jesus is God, then to test the claims that question the meaning of that confession is wholly within my responsibilities as a Christian.

Further, if my judgment is right–and though I think that it is, I also grant it is not an infallible judgment–then any alarmist tone to my post is not only consonant with such judgment, it is necessary.

However, if my words conveyed any scorn, that I deeply regret, and for it I apologize and ask your forebearance.

Pray for me a sinner.