Blog Template Theology of the Body: September 2007

Friday, September 28, 2007

An Ignatian Perspective

See the place.

See a great field, where the supreme
Commander-in-chief of the good is Christ our Lord;
another field in the region of
Babylon, where the chief of the enemy is Lucifer.


For knowledge of the deceits of the bad chief and help to guard myself against
them, and for knowledge of the true life which the supreme and true Captain
shows and grace to imitate Him.


As if the chief of all the enemy
seated himself in that great field of Babylon, as in a great chair of fire and smoke,
in shape horrible and terrifying.


How he issues a summons to
innumerable demons and how he scatters them, some to one city and others to
another, and so through all the world, not omitting any provinces, places, states,
nor any persons in particular.


The discourse which he makes them,
and how he tells them to cast out nets and chains; that they have first to tempt
with a longing for riches -- as he is accustomed to do in most cases -- that men
may more easily come to vain honor of the world, and then to vast pride. So that
the first step shall be that of riches; the second, that of honor; the third, that of
pride; and from these three steps he draws on to all the other vices.

So, on the contrary,

One has to imagine as to the supreme and true Captain, Who is Christ our Lord.

Consider how Christ our Lord puts Himself
in a great field of that region of Jerusalem, in lowly place, beautiful and attractive.

Consider how the Lord of all the world chooses
so many persons -- Apostles, Disciples, etc., -- and sends them through all the world.

St. Ignatius Loyola, The Spiritual Exercises. The Fourth Day: Meditations on Two Standards.

Writings of Papa Ratzi

I thoroughly enjoyed the Holy Father's latest book. Starting with the forward, the personal nature of the work comes through. It was a bit academic at times for a layman such as myself, but it was still enlightening. This work also served as a strong reminder that we are in good hands.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A New Apparition?

I ran into a lovely little woman yesterday who told me eagerly about her devotion to this relatively new Apparition of Mary, whose desire is for the United States, and whose specific mandate is purity. Any news?

Ecumenical Acumen Excursus V

"How long can one remain in communion with heretical or apostate bishops knowing them to be such? Even if your own bishop is one of the few, he (and by extension you) is in communion with heretics. Leaving is painful. But fighting for a cause that is lost can be more painful. It can warp one’s faith and allow bitterness and anger to intrude itself into the soul....Wherever you go one thing needs to be said plainly though with love and empathy for the pain of this fact. Staying in TEC is no longer a moral option for an orthodox Christian."

-Ad Orientem reflects on "Loosing a War."
What do you think?

Time to Protest?

Mock-up of Last Supper for The Inclusive.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

How to Make a Good Retreat

A friend's question about what to do and read on a spiritual retreat inspired me to post this question: what do you readers do while on retreat? What has worked? What does not work?

Our Favorite Atheist I

The official favorite atheist of this blog is the very very witty and sophisticated Christopher Hitchens, who recently completed his book tour promoting God is not Great. Awesome. I picked up Hitchen’s reflections on his tour in the September edition of Vanity Fair, and really enjoyed Hitchen’s apropos blasé’ and elitist critiques of our faith. I also got to learn all about the new places and people who seem to be re rigeur for sophisticated name dropping (thank Heaven). But, Hitchens is an absolute doll, as they say, and we provincials probably could benefit from his breezy heckling, so I will be posting selections from the article for our audience throughout the next few weeks. Enjoy, fellow ignoramii. Respondez- si’il vous plaiz, see you at Per Se, etc.

"You hear all the time that America is an intensely religious nation, but what you don’t hear is that there are almost as many religions as there are believers. Moreover, many ostensible believers are quite unsure of they actually believe…

Could there be a change in the Zeitgeist going on? I think it’s possible. A 2001 study found that those without affiliation are the fastest-growing minority in the United States. A generation ago the words “American atheist” conjured up the image of the slightly cultish and loopy Madalyn Murray O-Hair. But in the last two years there have been five atheist best-sellers, one each from Professor Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett and two from the neuroscientist Sam Harris."

Daunting… ?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Augustine on Militant Fecundity

Before Christ It Was a Time for Marrying; Since Christ It Has Been a Time for Continence.

Now this propagation of children which among the ancient saints was a most bounden duty for the purpose of begetting and preserving a people for God, amongst whom the prophecy of Christ's coming must needs have had precedence over everything, now has no longer the same necessity. For from among all nations the way is open for an abundant offspring to receive spiritual regeneration, from whatever quarter they derive their natural birth. So that we may acknowledge that the scripture which says there is "a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing," Ecclesiastes 3:5 is to be distributed in its clauses to the periods before Christ and since. The former was the time to embrace, the latter to refrain from embracing...since the present time (as we have already said) is the period for abstaining from the nuptial embrace, and therefore makes no necessary demand on the exercise of the said function, seeing that all nations now contribute so abundantly to the production of an offspring which shall receive spiritual birth, there is the greater room for the blessing of an excellent continence. "He that is able to receive it, let him receive it."

On Marriage and Concupisence 14, 18.

Forsooth, in former times, unto Christ about to come after the flesh, the race itself of the flesh was needful, in a certain large and prophetic nation: but now, when from out every race of men, and from out all nations, members of Christ may be gathered unto the People of God, and City of the kingdom of heaven, whoso can receive sacred virginity, let him receive it; and let her only, who contains not, be married.

... will she not provide for the giving birth to members of Christ in a manner more rich, and more numerous, than by any, how great soever, fruitfulness of the womb?

This kind of virgins no fruitfulness of the body has given birth to: this is no progeny of flesh and blood. If of these the mother be sought for, it is the Church. None bears sacred virgins save a sacred virgin, she who has been espoused to be presented chaste unto one Husband, Christ. Of her, not altogether in body, but altogether in spirit virgin, are born holy virgins both in body and in spirit.

Let marriages possess their own good, not that they beget sons, but that honestly, that lawfully, that modestly, that in a spirit of fellowship they beget them, and educate them, after they have been begotten, with cooperation, with wholesome teaching, and earnest purpose: in that they keep the faith of the couch one with another; in that they violate not the sacrament of wedlock.

Augustine, Holy Virginity IX.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Evangelical President

It's out.

(Yes, you read it right, that's evangelical President... not Councels.)

Augustine's Altar Call

But whosoever shall put his trust in Him, and yield himself up to Him, for the forgiveness of all his sins, for the cure of all his corruption, and for the kindling and illumination of his soul by His warmth and light, shall have good works by his grace; and by them he shall be even in his body redeemed from the corruption of death, crowned, satisfied with blessings,—not temporal, but eternal,—above what we can ask or understand.

- De Spiritu et Littera 58.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Bishop of the Rio Grande to begin Process of Resignation and Conversion

Another one does his part to insure lasting sanctuary and safety for the beautiful Anglican tradition.
" ... My conscience is deeply troubled about where the Episcopal Church is heading, and this has become a crisis for me because of my ordination vow to uphold its doctrine, discipline, and worship...An effective leader cannot be so conflicted about the guiding principles of the Church he serves...Many of you already know of my love for the Catholic Church and my conviction that this is the true home of Anglicanism."

Maximillian, Saint of Auschwitz

Fr. Nelson preached a great sermon on the witness of St. Maximillian Kolbe a few weeks ago, which you can read here.

Upon the Nazi invasion of Poland, Fr. Kolbe began to shelter Jews in his monastery. At one time, he had as many as 2,000 Jews under his care. He ran a radio station, under the call letters SP3RN, time and time again speaking out against Nazi aggression in Poland and the world. And, on February 17th, 1941, he was arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned in the Pawiak prison, famous among Russians as the final transfer point prior to Siberia. Kolbe, however, would be sent to a different kind of Siberia, the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz. On his arm was tattooed the number 16670.

Kolbe still managed to execute the duties of the priesthood well, even in such conditions. Bread and wine smuggled into the barracks would become, day after day, the Body and Blood of Christ, in his hands. He preached and taught the people hymns - all from memory. But, in July of 1941, a man from his barracks went missing, prompting the camp commander to take a horrific action. The guards entered the barracks, and seized ten men to send into a famous chamber - Block 11. Block 11, everyone knew was used for torture, including dehydration and starvation. One of the men chosen cried out for help and mercy. He could not fathom loosing his family, not being able to provide for them after all of this was over. Maximilian Kolbe stood up to take his place.

After three weeks of total dehydration and starvation, only three men were still alive in Block 11. They had sung hymns together. They had prayed together. One of the three was Father Kolbe. Finding him still alive after all this time, the guards injected him with carbolic acid to make room for more prisoners.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Fr. WB Strikes Again: Anglicanism Meets Calvary

Fr. WB has some decent thoughts on the life of the Church at the new ECUSA Covenant website. They love him there as much as we do here... and so, apparently, do dozens of Episcopalian bishops who have been passing around his ideas today.

Here is the best of it:

The death of Christ at once shows the essential unity of the Father and the Son, and consummates the mutual society of God and man. “From the first, the will to die was a part of the Messiah’s identification with men” – the Son left his divine prerogatives, emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, and came to earth not to be served but to serve. The self-giving of God manifests itself in history, within the context of fallen creation, as the humiliation of the Son. Yet we know the self-abandonment, the kenosis of Jesus as the revelation of Messiah, as the drawing-near of the Kingdom – because the Kingdom is where God reigns, where his will is done, and on Calvary Jesus Christ does the will of his Father. On Calvary, God’s Kingdom comes (John 19.19). Thus the Cross manifests the essential unity of Father and Son, in a bond of love that is itself divine. “Behind the historical events there is the unity of the one God. This unity overcomes men and apprehends them through the Cross”.

The identity of the self-abasement of the Son with the inheritance of the Kingdom in history cannot be apprehended by “those who are perishing”. Therefore the Cross is the destruction of the wisdom of the wise, and the thwarting of the cleverness of the clever (1 Cor. 1.18). As Ramsey says, “the philanthropist, the reformer, the broad-minded modern man can never understand, in terms of their own ideals, what the Church is or what it means”.

The world will never understand the Church because the world will never understand the Cross – because the life of the Church is the gift of the Crucified. The broad-minded modern man sees in the Church a society constituted in renunciation of the telluric contexts within which he seeks a living, within which he looks for life. For the Church’s fellowship “springs from and bears witness to the events of Jesus in the flesh. The events created the fellowship and the fellowship mysteriously shares in the events”.

Ecclesial life – life in Christ – includes a conviction of the valuelessness of the local – of individuals and individual groups – outside the terms of its inclusion in the universal. A group or an individual’s membership in the one Body therefore “includes the redeemed man’s knowledge of death and resurrection through his place in the one visible society and through the death to self which every member and group has died”. Acts of disunity are thereby betrayed as inimical to the life of Christ – as anti-Christ. Yet any act uninformed by the life of the whole Body is just such an act of disunity. “For every part of the Church’s true order will bear witness to the one universal family of God and will point to the historic events of the Word-made-flesh”.

How might Anglicanism gesture “toward the question mark of Calvary at the center of its teaching”, even amid the difficulties and disagreements we face? Here are some far-fetched ideas:

Would that this difficult season of disagreement in the Anglican Communion were characterized by Christians competing with one another only to give the most extravagant gifts of self, to be the most gratuitous in their outpourings for the sake of one another. Would that the secular media told stories about parishes and dioceses attempting to give away their property to one another, rather than seeking to hold onto it at almost any cost, like ravenous dogs snarling over scraps. Would that when Anglican Christians sat down to eat, they might wait for one another, that the world might know that the Father sent the Son.

Read the rest here, and be sure to check out the new Covenant website. Let's just say that they are more peaceable than I am.

Getting it Right

This is a retrospect. I've posted it today because I have been growing really, really alarmed... and just plain mad.

I have been doing a lot of thinking about the positions and conversations undertaken in the Church today. The question begged so often is this: why bother with orthodoxy anyway? Orthodoxy is troublesome and often quarrelsome, bringing to bear that "sword" that Jesus mentioned, that sword that can divide soul from spirit, even the members of the most intimate household from one another. Love is the commandment, after all. The Pharisees bothered with orthodoxy, and we do not want to be like them- Jesus could not stand them. Isn't the experience of mere sincerity and openness to God all that really matters? Should Christians not position themselves to dialogue with Characteristic Politeness at every turn, perhaps even disregard the points on which the tradition has spoken in order to remain flexible and inclusive?

I continue to kick this question around. Why bother with orthodoxy anyway?

In the fourth century's heated debates within the Church, Gregory of Nyssa urged his flock to "struggle against the enemies of the truth, and not to shrink from the task, that we fathers may be gladdened by the noble toil of our sons; you turn your ranks, come against us the assaults of those darts which are hurled by the opponents of the truth, and demand that their hot burning coals be desolate, and their shafts sharpened by knowledge falsely so called should be quenched with the shield of faith..."

Why is such "struggle" commended? Because, Gregory continues, the issues of orthodoxy are not benign matters. If what we believe is true, the devil is much like a roving lion actively seeking souls to devour; the sheepfold is troubled by wolves constantly stalking to consume the neglected sheep of haphazards shephards. The world's idols are a dangerous enemy to those whom Christ loves.

As Gregory puts it,

"In truth, the question you propound to us is no small one, nor such that but small harm will follow if it meets with insufficient treatment. For by the force of the question, we are at first sight compelled to accept this monstrous dilemma.... even if our reasoning be found unequal to the problem, we must keep for ever, firm and unmoved, the tradition which we received by succession from the fathers, and seek from the Lord the reason which is the advocate of our avoid any resemblance to the polytheism of the heathen."

And there you have it. It is the same injunction that we find in Paul's railing against the teachings that were not "from us," and in James' quieter, somber command, "little children, keep yourselves from idols." We care about orthodoxy because God hates idolatry. He forbids the worship of any semblance of Himself that is not truly Himself in actuality. He has thus revealed Himself in propositions that speak mercifully to our reason and our our human language, and thus invites us to worship in spirit- and in truth. There is no other God, and He will have no semblance put before Him. So we must be clear. A mistaken notion of Him is not Him.

And when we worship with false, mistaken notions of who He is, we fail to worship Him as He really is, and instead accept a dim image merely.

Of course there is no condemnation for humanity, for me, who, though found in Christ, wrestles with the finitude of mind and opportunity in apprehending Him "correctly." A child who lacks theological understanding entirely can still worship reall well. But again, we have the stern Scriptural command to dilligence... "be not chidren in your understanding," "rightly divide the word of truth so that you need be ashamed," etc.

There can be no Christian acquiesence to idols of any kind. God hates them. It is the God of Israel in the Crucified who fights against every delusion, every entrapment, every weapon that keep us from Him. Knowing that He wants us so much, we should do no less. We need to be with Him, as He is, not with a mistaken idea of Him.

In the words of some civic hero, eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. It is certainly the price of true intimacy with God.

US Bishops and Vatican affirm teaching on nutrition, hydration for persons in a comatose state

In response to a request by the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has reaffirmed the Catholic Church’s teaching on providing nutrition and hydration to patients in a persistent “vegetative state.”

The Congregation affirmed that the patient must receive “ordinary and proportionate care which includes, in principle, the administration of water and food even by artificial means” regardless of the prognosis of recovery of consciousness.

"We are grateful that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith responded to our request with such a thorough investigation and explanation,” Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Connecticut, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Doctrine, said in introducing the Response. “We hope the Church’s documents on this issue will provide help and guidance to pastors, ethicists, doctors, nurses and families."

More here.

Saint Justin Martyr, AD 165

A flame was kindled in my soul; and a love of the prophets, and of those men who are friends of Christ, possessed me; and whilst revolving his words in my mind, I found this philosophy alone to be safe and profitable. Thus, and for this reason, I am a philosopher. Moreover, I would wish that all, making a resolution similar to my own, do not keep themselves away from the words of the Saviour. For they possess a terrible power in themselves, and are sufficient to inspire those who turn aside from the path of rectitude with awe; while the sweetest rest is afforded those who make a diligent practice of them. If, then, you have any concern for yourself, and if you are eagerly looking for salvation, and if you believe in God, you may--since you are not indifferent to the matter -- become acquainted with the Christ of God, and, after being initiated, live a happy life.

Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Augustine on Mary's Perpetual Virginity, Etc.

"Her virginity also itself was on this account more pleasing and accepted, in that it was not that Christ being conceived in her, rescued it beforehand from a husband who would violate it, Himself to preserve it; but, before He was conceived, chose it, already dedicated to God, as that from which to be born. This is shown by the words which Mary spoke in answer to the Angel announcing to her her conception; "How," says she, "shall this be, seeing I know not a man?" Which assuredly she would not say, unless she had before vowed herself unto God as a virgin. But, because the habits of the Israelites as yet refused this, she was espoused to a just man, who would not take from her by violence, but rather guard against violent persons, what she had already vowed. Although, even if she had said this only, "How shall this take place?" and had not added, "seeing I know not a man," certainly she would not have asked, how, being a female, she should give birth to her promised Son, if she had married with purpose of sexual intercourse.

She might have been bidden also to continue a virgin, that in her by fitting miracle the Son of God should receive the form of a servant, but, being to be a pattern to holy virgins, lest it should be thought that she alone needed to be a virgin, who had obtained to conceive a child even without sexual intercourse, she dedicated her virginity to God, when as yet she knew not what she should conceive, in order that the imitation of a heavenly life in an earthly and mortal body should take place of vow, not of command; through love of choosing, not through necessity of doing service.

Thus Christ by being born of a virgin, who, before she knew Who was to be born of her, had determined to continue a virgin, chose rather to approve, than to command, holy virginity. And thus, even in the female herself, in whom He took the form of a servant, He willed that virginity should be free. And on this account, that one female, not only in the Spirit, but also in the flesh, is both a mother and a virgin. And a mother indeed in the Spirit, not of our Head, Which is the Saviour Himself, of Whom rather she was born after the Spirit: forasmuch as all, who have believed in Him, among whom is herself also, are rightly called "children of the Bridegroom," but she is clearly the mother of His members, which are we: in that she wrought together by charity, that faithful ones should be born in the Church, who are members of That Head, and in the flesh, she is the mother of the Head Himself.

For it behoved that our Head, on account of a notable miracle, should be born after the flesh of a virgin, that He might thereby signify that His members would be born after the Spirit, of the Church a virgin: therefore Mary alone both in Spirit and in flesh is a mother and a virgin: both the mother of Christ, and a virgin of Christ; but the Church, in the Saints who shall possess the kingdom of God, in the Spirit indeed is altogether the mother of Christ, altogether a virgin of Christ: but in the flesh not altogether, but in certain a virgin of Christ, in certain a mother, but not of Christ. Forsooth both faithful women who are married, and virgins dedicated to God, by holy manners, and charity out of a pure heart, and good conscience, and faith unfeigned, because they do the will of the Father, are after a spiritual sense mothers of Christ. But they who in married life give birth to (children) after the flesh, give birth not to Christ, but to Adam, and therefore run, that their offspring having been dyed in His Sacraments, may become members of Christ.

Holy Virginity IV, VI.

Ecumenical Acumen Excursus Contd: Dirty Dirty Jokes

The Trinity were discussing their upcoming holidays. The Father said, “I think I’ll go somewhere in Africa this year: they’re still so patriarchal there.” The Son said, “I’m going to Jerusalem again: I'm quite the hit there, and I get such interesting service.” “What about you?” the Father and Son asked the Spirit. The Spirit replied: “Geneva: I’ve never been there before.”

- Anonymous Author at Another Blog


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Augustine: Father of Solefideism?

If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature.

It is commonly held by many Protestants that the Protestant Reformers drew their doctrine of justification by imputed righteousness appropriated “by faith alone” from Augustine. However, alongside the Protestant commentors who have authoritatively refuted this claim, it is interesting to consider that Augustine situates his (sole) reference to the notion of justification in the Confessions within a description of God’s creation of the world. In Confessions Book XIII, justification is the “formation of a living soul” from prior chaos and disorder, in and for whom God creates every faculty that is “necessary to bring the faithful to perfection.

From this brief passage we might conclude that Augustine clearly regards human justification as a matter of the creation of inherent righteousness in the soul rather than the legal imputation of external merit. We find a doctrine of justification in Augustine's brief and beautiful excursus on creation which holds that humanity is made righteous in his justification by the grace received from God. Furthermore Augustine describes this grace as truly, intrinsically, and personally become part of the person’s being, yielding “good works which could be fruitful for them hereafter.” In short, Augustine understood justification as the transformation and renewal of the soul, which is not merely a forensic declaration or acquittal. God’s act of justification actually transforms and re-creates the sinner, making (rather than declaring) those to be saints who were not saints before.

Scholars such as Paulus Bergauer have discussed the fact that Luther ultimately despaired of substantiating his proposals with Augustinian theology, particularly because (as with our passage treated here) he could not find therein explicit forensic language surrounding the theme of justification.
In this regard, it is particularly interesting to contrast a Reformer’s treatment of creation against Augustine’s reflections on the same point. Both Philip Melancthon and Augustine reflect on God’s justifying action towards the first man, Adam. Here, it is interesting to note how Augustine’s consideration of the creation narrative differs from Luther’s ardent defender Melancthon, who also considers creation in order to illumine his doctrine of justification.

In his Loci Communes (Wittenburg, 1521), Melancthon proceeds to exegete Genesis 3 in terms of “the sin, repentance, and justification of Adam.” Characteristically, Melancthon stresses Adam’s nakedness as the result of his sin, which must be covered; this approach is congruous with the Protestant sense of justification as the imputation of alien righteousness to the sinner, so that he may be “covered” and able to enter communion with God. As Article IV of Melancthon’s Augsburg Confession phrases it:

Men can be justified freely on account of Christ through faith, when they believe that they are received into grace and that their sins are remitted on account of Christ who made satisfaction for sins on our behalf by his death. God imputes this faith for righteousness in his own sight.

At the start of Melancthon’s brief creation excursus, Adam lacks the breath of life in the sense that (as the analogue of all of his sinful progeny) he is burdened by a conscience that is afflicted and terrified because he has not yet believed the promise of the Gospel. However, “if the afflicted conscience believes the promise of grace in Christ, it is resuscitated and quickened by faith.” (Loci Communes 84) Melancthon thus identifies the beginning of conversion with post-Fall culpability, wherein “Adam and Eve had sinned and were looking for coverings for their nakedness,” though “under these circumstances coverings did not excuse their sins.” The first couple desperately seeks not an essential salvation, but rather the relief of conscience; “convicted and guilty, the conscience lies prostrate when it is directly confronted with sin through the voice of God.” Thus it is the poignant anxiety of a guilty conscience, rather than an ontological separation from their Creator, that drives the sinful Adam and Eve from the presence of God, and consequently “Adam eats his heart out in grief until he hears the promise of mercy, the word spoken about his wife that her seed would bruise the serpent’s head.” It is the relief of conscience through the promise of mercy and the “coverings” that God provides that ultimately brings restoration: “even that the Lord clothed them strengthened their consciences, and is unmistakably a sign of the incarnation of Christ. For it is that flesh which in the last analysis covers our nakedness and destroys the confusion of trembling consciences.”

Augustine also considers justification on the model of creation in an equally brief passage, but in a very different vein. For Augustine, it is the creation itself, not the covering of nakedness, which is tantamount to justification. We can ground our reading of Confessions XIII in a more explicit statement of Augustine’s from De Spiritu et Littera, where Augustine insists that “to be justified” is to be made:

For what else does the phrase 'being justified' signify than being made righteous, -- by Him, of course, who justifies the ungodly man, that he may become a godly one instead? For if we were to express a certain fact by saying, 'The men will be liberated,' the phrase would of course be understood as asserting that the liberation would accrue to those who were men already; but if we were to say, The men will be created, we should certainly not be understood as asserting that the creation would happen to those who were already in existence, but that they became men by the creation itself.

When Augustine turns to a theological reflection on justification in light of creation, he makes no note of Adam’s “covering;” rather, Augustine resounds with the Catholic understanding of an infused and fruitful righteousness when he describes Adam/the justified in terms of the creation of “a living soul.” Augustine identifies the sinful Adam not as a terrified creature, but as a totally contingent being who has effectively lost being itself by turning from the Source of his being; by his sin he is become like the primordial chaos, utterly without form. On Augustine’s reading, the sinful Adam is not “terrified;” he is void. Adam’s sin had not rendered him legally culpable and hence fearful of consequence, but essentially, he was made unreal. On the model of the creation of the cosmos entire, Adam’s sin and consequent removal from God is an ontological problem: Adam is matter, who had form only from the Creator who formed him, and when he ceases to be formed by the Creator, he returns to formless non-being. By sinning, Adam simply ceases to exist altogether, in the same sense in which the primordial chaos did not exist before the Spirit of God moved upon it:

But then you began to carry out your predestined plan in time so as to reveal hidden secrets and to bring order to our disordered chaos. For our sins were over us, and we had abandoned you to sink into a dark depth. Your good spirit was born over it to help us in due season. You justified the ungodly.” (Confessions xxxiv)

Augustine’s description of the benefits of creation for the created and justified are described on the model of the ensuing days of creation; rather than stopping at the mere consolation of a relieved conscience and a covered body which finds joy in a promise (as on Melancthon’s model), Augustine’s newly formed Adam immediately enters fully into the “beauty” and “form” that (as Augustine stresses) simultaneously accompanies his being “made.” Among these enjoyments, Augustine describes the following. First, like dry land with fruit-bearing plants, “the zeal of the faithful (appears) and so brings forth for you works of mercy, distributing to the poor their earthly possessions to acquire celestial reward.” Next, like “lights kindled in the firmament, your saints having the word of life (shine) with a sublime authority made manifest by spiritual gifts,” namely, “the sacraments… and the the words of your book.” The crown of creation, described near the conclusion of Augustine’s brief excursus, is the “formation of the living soul of the faithful with their affections disciplined by a strong continence;” their minds are “renewed,” and provision has been made for all that is “necessary to bring the faithful to perfection in this life,” and they accomplish “good works which could be fruitful for them hereafter.”

It is clear that Augustine thinks of justification as the “creation” of the soul and the placement of benefits within it. In light of Augustine’s theology, nothing short of ontological creation would be adequate to remedy Augustine’s notion of original sin as an ontological, essential, and inherited reality that debilitates even seemingly innocent infants in a corruption that is only cleansed by the sacrament of Baptism. Augustine clearly does not believe that sin is a matter of individual culpability, such that we must be rescued from its pertinent consequences; rather, Augustine thinks of sin as an ontological condition that has rendered humanity formless and void, in need of re-creation.

In like manner, we attach one meaning to the statement, 'God sanctifies His saints,' and another to the words, 'Sanctified be Thy name; ' for in the former case we suppose the words to mean that He makes those to be saints who were not saints before, and in the latter, that the prayer would have that which is always holy in itself be also regarded as holy by men, -- in a word, be feared with a hallowed awe." (Augustine, De Spiritu et Littera)

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Battle is the Lord's

Fr. WB and I were blessed to attend the Episcopalian ordination of the Rev. Randall Foster of Texanglican over the weekend. Fr. Foster is a true saint in the making (as his adoring students attest), and he deserves our warmest congratulations.

The ordination, held at St. Vincent's Cathedral in Ft. Worth, was as gorgeous as only an ordination in the Anglican tradition can be. The music spoke of vocation in the most stirring sense. (I have not stopped singing the Nashotah House hymn since). The gestures of the ancient liturgy are moving: the prostration of the ordinand before the Lord, the cluster of brother clergy who huddle around the new priest so that the simple act of the laying on of hands becomes a strong embrace, the humble kneeling of the bishop to receive the new priest's first blessing. What gets me most is the sight of the young fathers in Christ- my friends who are Episcopalian priests who are also like brothers- who came tearing around the corner into the sanctuary, in their vestments, in their entrance procession behind the Cross, making their joyful obeisance toward the Crucified and the altar as they enter. Like soldiers marching. They are real men, with a banner to carry.

I've thought about this before:
...Anglicans like these all inspire me. These men are like warriors in love with Christ and they wish to do battle for His Body. Why are there so many ardent young men flocking around the earthquakes within the Anglican Communion? -We discussed this. I think it's because the Anglican Communion seems to offer a battlefield ready for the making of modern heroes, and this kind of battle invites and requires... men...

There will always be battles in the world beyond our skirmishes within the Church. There are battles for the bodies of babies and the dignity of the elderly and infirm. There is a thriving sex trade involving little girls who are mere toddlers in East Asia. There is genocide... there is scandal. There is a battle for souls. There have always been whining demons in the din of our confused culture, and lately those demons seem to scream their lies while no-one knows to object. There are prisoners of war waiting with dull eyes to see the Light of Life. It is into these battles that the Church is called. In her priests and people she is the army that storms the gates of Hell.

And, she is the ancient, welcoming Household wherein the Father feeds and raises His children by the power of the Spirit. She is supposed to be the society that shows the world how to live.

The Church fails sometimes. She fails when she mistakes idols for her Lord. She fails when she distracts herself with interior skirmishes and tears at herself with schism. She fails whenever she forgets that the battle is not her's, but is won already. She fails when she presumes to behave more like a self-sufficient warrior than a responsive bride. She fails when she refuses to obey. They say that the Anglican Communion is failing. In returning and rest shall be our strength.

I pray for all of my brothers as they perform their reconaissance and their peacekeeping missions and their diplomacy for the battle that is won already. But may we all labor only to enter into His rest. (Hebrews 4, I think)

"And my people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting places." Isaiah 32.

Great Resources: Project Gutenburg, Theologia, Etc.

... lots and lots of primary sources from the Protestant Revolt are available online.

Rich Lusk also has a great synopsis of CALVIN ON BAPTISM, PENANCE, AND ABSOLUTION at Theologia: faithfully Biblical, distinctively reformed, comprehensively catholic.

And for good measure: Dave Armstrong's The Catholic Verses: 95 Passages that Confound Protestants looks pretty fun too.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Orthodox Presbyterian Church Responds to Federal Theology

They don't like it at all. Read their Report on Justification here.

The assumption seems to be that there is no re-birth in Christ, and that His life cannot beget life. Wow.

On the Proper Possibility of Return

"Protestantism is always the question, the objection, the provisional mode of protest that takes place within the wider presupposition of the givenness of the Catholic church. It is always protestants who must justify their identity as non-Catholics rather than the other way round.

And this means that we cannot assume the perpetual existence of protestantism. We must be open to the possibility of the end of protestantism if we are to be true to the aims of the Reformers themselves."
HT: Faith and Theology

"Whatever is good in the Protestant tradition are the remnants of Catholicism that remain within...Protestants are (on the whole) Catholics gone wrong; that is what is really meant by their saying that they are Christians. Sometimes they have gone very wrong; but not often have they have gone right ahead with their own particular wrong. Thus a Calvinist is really a Catholic obsessed with the Catholic idea of the sovereignty of God.

...But when he makes it mean that God wishes particular people to be damned, we may say with all restraint that he has become a rather morbid Catholic."

G.K. Chesterton, The Catholic Church and Conversion

Friday, September 14, 2007

I thought that's where this was going

We've been discussing Federal Vision Theology this week...
The Covenant comes full circle.

Evangelism 101

The Mandate

"Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone." Colossians 4:2-6.

"Our greatest need in the present historical moment is people who make God credible in this world by means of the enlightened faith they live. The negative testimony of Christians who spoke of God but lived in a manner contrary to him has obscured the image of God and has opened the doors to disbelief. We need men who keep their eyes fixed on God, learning from him what true humanity means. We need men whose intellect is enlightened by the light of God, men whose hearts are opened by God, so that their intellect can speak to the intellect of others and their hearts can open the hearts of others. It is only by means of men who have been touched by God that God can return to be with mankind.

Joseph Ratzinger, Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Real Woman Red Flag: Scott Brown on Interests

Scott Brown says: On Wives Developing Their Interests: with wives being pulled in so many directions today, I was fascinated by the perpspective given by Carolyn Mahaney, wife of CJ Mahaney of Sovereign Grace Ministries. The citation below is on her web site "Girl Talk" in the section, "About Us" and it lists their interests. Here it is... Interests: What interests? We're wives and mothers. We don't really have time for interests. Carolyn honestly can't remember the last time she had the luxury of interests. If she did have hobbies once upon a time, she’s completely forgotten them now. With three small boys, Kristin's interest (which borders on obsession) is sleep. But it's been hard to come by lately. Janelle's interests are simply confined to food and fun.

I usually like Scott Brown because he represents a kinder, gentler vein of the self-conscious, modern American patriarchy that I find so amusing and heartening. And, I have great sympathy for the crusading- though- demeaned moms that he quotes. But the commendation of a mother’s slap-happy neglect of the cultivation of mind and soul is... Communist. A Christian mother has souls to save, foremostly her own. She is not become a diminished human resource by virtue of her motherhood.

I have to speak humbly here, as a woman who is still looking forward to motherhood someday, but here is my hopeful proposal for motherhood from the perspective of a sleepless student: take your B vitamins for extra energy and cultivate your interests. A Christian mother has interests, though she may have to exercise an heroic amount of discipline to maintain them.

First, she is interested in Christ, her first Spouse. Consequentially, she is first devoted to Him and to His interests- the purity and propagation of His Gospel, the care of His motherless, the service of His Church, for whose sake she raises babies.

In the same way, she is interested in her husband. She has vowed to her Lord that, excluding no dimension of intellect or feeling or experience, she will actively converse in the life of her spouse.

Furthermore, as a mother, she keeps her interests alive so that she will be able to gift them to her children; probably nothing forms a child more than it’s parent’s passionate interests. It stands to reason that those heritable interests (for there will inevitably be interests, whether base or noble) had better be elevated, cultivated, and informed, especially with regard to the content of the Christian faith.

Finally, a woman’s consent to the duties of motherhood is tantamount to a bid to shelter her children, for which God will hold her accountable. A mother must make a home for her children, first in her household and then in the whole economy of human society; motherhood- which is missionary life in the world at its most vital level- implies a heavily interested cultural mandate. Mothers, of all people, are called to shape the secular and ecclesial structures which their children will inhabit.

No interests? Tsk-Tsk.

A Blog after MM's Own Heart

... there are many awesome blogs that I've spotted lately that I want to add to our sidebar, but in the interim, this one looks so fun:

Check out Iustificare: "rethinking soteriology in light of Augustine, and other random thoughts on the doctrine of justification, historical theology, and the relationship between social location and theological formation..."

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The boy you want your daughter to marry

He visits orphanages in the Philippines, he preaches at prisons, he sings in concert with Kenny Chesney, he's got a perfect body, he has a bill named after him in Alabama, and he just so happens to be the starting quarterback for the greatest college football team in the land. Read this interview with University of Florida quarterback, Tim Tebow. What a great Christian witness he is.

Ecumenical Acumen Excursus III

(My beautiful sister trying on her wedding dress)

The Church has always understood that the image of a bride preparing for her wedding summarizes and clarifies many of the essential points of Christian theology.

Why is this?

More on Federal Theology: Covenant and the Atonement

If the need to locate an authentic and responsible grammar of the atonement should turn a modern theologian to Scriptural resources, she would there be faced with an increasing variety of complex metaphors which seemingly avoids such systemization; though St. Paul summarizes his soteriology neatly in at least one instance, Biblical interpreters note that the New Testament writers present us with a wide variety of categories for articulating “how” Jesus’ death changes the plight of humanity.

Despite rich Scriptural options for understanding the Atonement, Anselm’s foundational 11th century treatment of God’s objective Calvary “transaction” for humanity cites little or no Scripture; thus Anselm has been critiqued for relying too heavily on available cultural references to contemporary feudal structures. Anselm posits the familiar atonement model, in which demands for divine justice must be satisfied before forgiveness is granted. Presuming an integrated moral order, presided over by a just God, and with concern for the depth of human sin and the inability of humanity to provide for its remedy, Anselm’s Latin Satisfaction Theory describes a human offense so grave that only God can pay the ensuing debt owed, though it is properly to be paid by human debtors. Given human inability to rectify intolerable damages, God assumes humanity as a propitiatory offering, suffering the divine punishment in His own death as both God and man; thus God is justly enabled to forgive sins, when the innocent Man has paid the price and satisfied God’s judgment.

In evaluating such grammar, critics have noted the overly penal tendency of a presumptively feudal model, which seems to emphasize an abstraction of a retributive justice somehow incumbent on an infuriated God, at the conceptual expense of God’s free, creative love. Christians in dialogue between traditions of the East and West note problems with a penal transaction in Western modes which does violence to Eastern emphasis on Jesus as Rescuer/Restorer. Notions of Christ’s propitiation also potentially obscures the teleological nature of God’s justice throughout God’s creation and covenant, which is always ordered to human flourishing and fulfillment.

It is important to note here that economic/transactive metaphors are not unique to Anselm; the Scriptural tradition holds Jesus explaining the remission of sins as the enactment of a “covenant.” Thus I propose that the theme of covenant may provide the necessary model for conceptualizing the atonemen. As Cousar puts it, the doctrine of atonement can be best understood as an interchange: God’s making Christ to be sin results in our becoming righteous, by enacting the event where sinful humanity are brought into a right relationship with God. I propose that a resolution for such issues requires a Scriptural grammar to reconcile God’s teleologically creative, merciful will with the apparently retributive transaction at Calvary. At this point, it is significant to note, with Cousar, that following Paul’s “summary” statement of the atonement in the I Corinthian discourse, we find Paul’s referring back to Jesus’ own understanding of His atonement: “this is my body, given for you…the new covenant in my blood.”

As Paul reiterates this statement in I Corinthians 1:24, Cousar notes the rather ambiguous uper in both passages, “for,” as encompassing several meanings, whether generally, “for the good of,” and “in aid of,” or, specifically, “in the name of,” “in behalf of,” or even “in place of.” It seems to me that these “words of institution,” with emphasis on the notion of “covenant,” suffice to locate a conceptual model that presents the atonement as both teleologically creative and juridically “transactive.”

On a covenantal conceptual model, we take covenant in its broad sense, as the unificatory binding of persons into a new entity, wherein they are “reckoned” as one. The sense of this binding is both transactive, in that it accrues through forms of exchange, and creative, in that the transaction so constitutes a new entity. Ultimately, the exchange is unificatory, in that the covenanting parties are intimately joined together through their exchange and consequent intermingling of their persons. In effect, covenanting parties are freely joined together to create a newly unified relationship.

With such a framework in mind, the atonement could be explained with reference to two essential aspects of God’s teleological will in the original creation: God created humanity for harmonious, unified existence between creature and Creator; but the relationship is also to be free, thus encompassing two components, both the inevitable, ontological relationship of the creature to the Creator, and the freely consensual covenanted relationship between (free) creature and (free) Creator. The Genesis narrative describes the creation as consummated by God in the institution of a covenant, which language of exchange further “seals” God and humanity together, and gives final expression to the union which God wills between His own freely consenting will and the freely consenting will of humanity: we learn here that God willed a creature in the divine image, who would consequently freely choose to engage with God. This is the divine will for humanity.

As the story goes, the harmonious relationship consummated by covenant is undone by the breach of the consensual covenant, such that the human breach alters even the ontological reality of the divine-human relationship itself. The free enactment of the breach is effective to severe all ontological ties with the Creator, since the covenantal relationship inextricably attended and consummated the creature’s relationship to the Creator. Humanity then freely chooses to live in the disordered gap between creature and Creator, a gap enacted and exacerbated over time, ever deepening the progressing history of humanity’s free falling away from God. As covenanted Creator, however, God strives after His creatures, to return them both ontologically and covenantally back to Himself, and thereby to renew the creation.

It is then properly God the Creator who again initiates the ontological creation by inextricably joining divine and human life in Jesus of Nazareth.

In Christ, in whom God is essentially united to man, the consummation of the creative relationship is renewed through the free consent of Jesus to the will of God. This human consent must be so total as to lead to the ultimate surrender of the Creature, even to the point of the unique physical suffering and abandonment of Jesus.

In Christ, God is united to man, and the creature is united perfectly to the divine. On the Cross, that unification is tested as Jesus faces the horrible gap of humanity’s breach with God, and, rather than embracing its temptation to say “no” to God, enters its deathly consequence fully; but in Jesus, the ontological unification of the creature and Creator withstands the temptation of separation, because Jesus enters that night within the divine covenant, according to the will of God- this separation is the act of obedience, and as such, the gap does not prevail. With the Resurrection, we see that the teleological unity between the divine and the creature has survived humanity’s breach in Jesus Christ. It remains for all who would re-unite to God to join themselves transactively to this event by means of their own symbolic appropriation of Christ’s transaction in the sacraments.

Thus, the creation has been re-enacted and re-consummated at Calvary, where divine and human lives, united ontologically, are united in the ultimate consent, and humanity’s breach is encountered and surpassed. God and the creature are again united in Christ; and reaching to take hold of the hem of Christ’s garment, united with Him in baptism, united with Him in the eating of His flesh and blood, the human person appropriates the union of divine and creature which occurs uniquely in Christ.

In this way, we see that the concept of covenant permits the expression of Jesus’ death as both vicarious substitution (in terms of performing perfect human consent to the divine covenant) and participatory event (in terms of the ultimate union of divine and human in Jesus of Nazareth). Such a reading is corroborated by the Pauline discourse on the same in Romans 6:1-11, where Paul (with echoes of the premise of II Corinthians 5:14) assumes the corporate nature and function of Christ as the God-man, in whose perfect consent all persons are made participants through their own covenantal allegiance to the Paradigm of Creation, in whom the divine and the human live in re-created, re-constituted, ontological and covenantal relationship.

This model is advantageous in dealing with the problems of traditional notions of expiation and propitiation. On the model proposed here, any Scriptural use of cultic language to describe Jesus’ death becomes a reminder that the repeated sacrifices (made in Jewish worship), as symbols to appropriate covenant renewal with God, are now rendered unnecessary, since in Jesus full and final re-unification of the divine and human life and covenant has been ultimately restored. Thus, when approaching the crucial issue of “what God does with respect to human sinfulness at Calvary,” or more precisely, “how it is that Christ’s death changes the situation of sinful humanity,” we would respond that it is not so much that God requires an appeasing sacrifice; rather, humanity requires a new creation and a covenant partner who will engage God’s promises on their behalf, thereby re-enacting and re-enabling the relationship which God originally willed with His creature, in ontological union and free consent. It is in Christ that these necessary realities occur.

Nonetheless, images of expiation remain because Jesus is ultimately faithful, and the transaction is ultimately performed, “at the cost of” His blood, wherein the salvific re-unification is enacted as the reality of the new creation: God and man are at one in the life-blood of Jesus of Nazareth, which is expelled as the consummate consent of the creature to the Creator. In Christ humanity has both joined God and said Yes to God, such that there is nothing more to be said; the divine-human relationship is finally perfected, and the covenant has finally been sealed.

John Adams on "the Grandmother Church"

"Here is everything which can lay hold of the eye, ear, and imagination–everything which can charm and bewitch the simple and ignorant. I wonder how Luther ever broke the spell."

Here, here. More at the excellent Vox Nova.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

More on Federal Theologies: Johannes Cocceius, 1603-1669

Johannes "Coch" was a Dutch Reformed theologian who became a leading exponent of Reformed “covenant theology,” which emphasized the “compacts” between God and humanity. Coch’s career spanned the fields of Biblical philology and interpretation from chairs held at the Universities of Bremen and Leiden. He was the author of the systematic theology Summa Doctrina de Foedere et Testamentio Dei (1648), wherein he develops his theory that the relationship between God and humanity may be definitively understood as a covenant. Understanding his theological paradigm sheds light on some interpretations of Romans in the Reformed tradition, particularly with regard to “the history of salvation.”

Coch’s theology is “federal” because in his view, the action of God towards humanity was pre-determined by a “pact” formed between the Father and the Son prior to creation, by which the Trinity would cooperate to draw humanity into God’s friendship for ultimate salvation. Humanity could enter this friendship by keeping “the Covenant of Works” which God formed with paradisal humanity before the universal Fall. This “covenant,” initiated by grace and promising salvation in exchange for perfect obedience, was perceived innately by the conscience.

Post-Fall, obedience became impossible for humanity to perform, so God responded by instituting the “Covenant of Grace.” This Covenant was “re-negotiated” between the Father and the Son, within the bounds of the original and unchangeable “Pact” that established that God would always seek fellowship with the creature; this fellowship was now to be realized in a succession of historical steps. Since humanity had become incapable of keeping covenant with God, God’s goodwill dictated that He would engage the necessary covenant with Himself, such that the Son would take up the “Covenant of Works” and render perfect obedience on behalf of humanity. The failed Covenant of Works with humanity and its consequences would be gradually diminished in the successive stages of “salvation history.”

Followers of Coch’s “federal theology” would have read Romans within this framework; in particular, passages such as the Romans 7 “analogy from marriage” and struggle to define the Law correctly would be read as the experience of the gradually diminishing Covenant of Works which continued to hold (diminishing) sway until Christ’s advent; thus the “the law” continues to be a force in the sanctification of the NT believers.) Not until the eschaton would the consequences of the failed Covenant of Works finally be undone.

So Coch is fun because he paints a dynamic, interactive theological picture, which employs the conceptual imagery of a divine “contract,” and a Trinitarian negotiation table, and a divine “offer” for humanity to become vicarious covenant partner, regardless of humanity’s ability to cooperate; in other words, when humanity becomes bankrupt their credit with God only increases. Coch is helpful because he quite abruptly delineates various assumptions in Protestant theology which bear on the reading of Romans, and brings them to the fore for critique. At first glance, the most obvious critique might be the blatant Trinitarian hierarchy and subordinationism which Coch presumes, and the noted absence of the Holy Spirit from the negotiating table.

Outline of Coch’s Federal Theology:

Eternal Pact between Father and Son, to allow humanity friendship with God
Covenant of Works offered to humanity
Humanity cannot keep this Covenant
Father and Son re-design the offer to humanity, extend Covenant of Grace
Successive stages in salvation history gradually “outphase” the Covenant of Works, and bring more of grace into the divine-human relationship (“Doctrine of the Abrogations”)

Monday, September 10, 2007

Saint Gerard, Intercessor for Happy Babies

He was a simple young saint who had a special love for the child Jesus when he was a boy. He would later become one of the Church's greatest wonder workers.

Sacrament Envy and Federal Vision Theology

In the PCA (Presbyterian Church of America) folks have been hearing news about "Federal Vision Theology." Apparently a key group in Moscow, Idaho, has been criticizing the PCA for its stance on justification and the sacraments. So far, their proposals have been rejected by the PCA, though there are interesting implications for their influence in the future. It has been suggested that some of the Federal Vision critiques of traditional reformed theology aproximate quasi- RC thought. What do you think?

Wikipedia defines the Federal Vision Theology developments in Protestant circles as follows:

"The Federal Vision (hereafter FV) seeks a restatement of traditional Reformed theology that applies a more robust Covenant theology in the study of the relationship between obedience and faith, and the role of the Church and Sacrament in our salvation. Proponents are a loosely organized but vocal group of writers among the confessional Reformed and Presbyterian churches who appear intent on revising core confessional doctrines of election, covenant, sacraments, and justification. The FV proponents are reacting to problems in the contemporary evangelical and Reformed churches, such as the rampant individualism, the neglect of the covenantal objectivity of salvation, an over-emphasized subjectivity in seeking assurance of salvation, the tendency towards antinomianism in some circles, and an inadequate view of the role of the sacraments as signs and seals of salvation." offers a gold mine of sources for learning more about this development; see especially Peter Leithart's article on sacramental piety. There is also an interesting synopsis at Banner of Truth.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Evangelism 101

My posts frequently point out the varieties of explanations about our salvation in the Christian tradition, but really, what I want this blog to be about- and my entire life- is the celebration of the fact that our Redeemer lives. So. I had the privilege of constructing a small course on evangelism for teenagers this past summer, and it was a lot of fun. I plan to post some excerpts from the course for the next couple of weekends.

The Evangelism Web

On the first day of the course, the students form a network web to illustrate the numerous people, connections, and statements that are involved in a person coming to understand the Gospel. The students stand in a circle. Each takes turns asking another one of the key questions listed below. As the questions are asked, the string is handed from one student to the other until each student holds a portion of the continuous string in one or both hands. Thus, a web is formed. Once the web is formed, the students to stand perfectly still with the string in their hands; as long as no one moves, nothing happens. Slowly, each student in the circle takes a turn tweaking the string. Each tweak is felt by all within the web- in the same way, each and every evangelistic effort impacts the Church’s evangelizing mission.

The students also play a game of catch, tossing a ball from one person to the next. When the ball is tossed, a question is asked about our faith; before the ball can be passed on, the person who caught it has to answer the question. How quick are you at giving a good answer?-

1. Who is Jesus? Why do I believe in Him?
2. What is the Gospel?
3. When did I know for sure that I wanted to be a Christian?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Ecumenical Acumen Excursus II

Fill in the blank: Martin Luther once described which of the following in these terms:

“_____ is God’s highest and extremest act of grace, by which the business of the Gospel is driven forward, the last flame before the extinction of the world.”

A) The Incarnation of the Word
B) The atoning death of Jesus at Calvary
C) The Resurrection of the crucified Son of God
D) The giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost
E) The forgiveness of the justified through the merits of Christ
F) The invention of the printing press

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


Real Woman.

"Kindness has converted more people than zeal, science, or eloquence. Holiness grows so fast where there is kindness. The world is lost for want of it. Let us conquer the world by our love."

-Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta

Somehow, 'award' does not seem to fit here. We are in the midst of her novena, by the way.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Is Protestant justification really traceable to the theology of the apostolic era?

Early Trends in Christian Justification

If we were to summarize roughly a Protestant theology of justification for purposes of comparison with the earliest Christian texts, we might note the following essentials drawn from such sources as the Westminster Catechism: that righteousness is a matter of pure pardon, and not of infusion, “or of anything wrought or done in humanity,” being only God’s imputation of Christ’s alien obedience and satisfaction to the elect. Consequently, faith (defined as the passive receiving and resting on Christ’s righteousness) becomes the sole instrument of the justification from which the elect can never fall. (The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XI 6.068-6.073) In an admirable acknowledgement of the full account of Scripture, the Westminster Confession does allow that truly saving faith is “always accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but works by love.” (6.069)

Some contemporary commentors on Christian justification have suggested that we find the earliest Christian theology and praxis affirming all that Protestants affirm with regard to justification, though not denying what Protestants deny (ie, that both faith and our cooperation may enact God’s will towards our salvation when these faculties are enlivened by His grace), and that it is these denials rather than constructive affirmations that perpetuate scandalous disputes in the conflict between Catholics and Protestants. In other words, the idea goes that the idea of justification by faith has been held since the beginning, though in the Catholic tradition, this idea is held in full symbiosis with the hope that Christ’s righteousness might, in and by God’s grace, be formed within the elect in reality, such that by the infusion of grace and meritorious living we might be re- made as well as pardoned. I suggest here that if the interested reader considers even a very small sampling from the second century corpus, we find that the early Church allowed that regeneration and the fruits of the Spirit have a significant role to play in our justification.

A brief catalogue of second century statements on justification follows, from which it seems difficult to locate the Protestant notion of “faith alone.”

Didache, AD 70. This earliest manual of liturgy and discipline for the church instructs the faithful that “if you earned something by working with your hands, you shall give a ransom for your sins” through charitable gifts to the poor. (4.5)

Epistle of Barnabus, AD 70-135. This text resounds with a sense of urgency to “make richer and loftier offerings to the Master,” (1) to “be on our guard,” and “to seek out the righteous requirements of the Lord… the things that are able to save us” (2, 4) by means of the virtues which are “our faith’s helpers.” Furthermore, “we ought to give very careful attention to our salvation, lest the evil one should cause some error to slip into our midst and thereby hurl us away from our life.” (2) Several explicit instructions that may be read as running contrary to the theology of both the Lutheran corpus and the Westminster Confession include the injunction to “be on guard… and do not continue to pile up your sins while claiming that your covenant is irrevocably yours,” (4) in light of the fact that the Israelites broke- and then “completely lost”- their own covenant by their presumption. (4) Again, we are told “be on guard in the last days, for the whole time of our faith will do us no good now… unless we resist the coming stumbling blocks as befits God’s children… do not withdraw within yourselves as though you were already justified, but gather together and seek good.” (4) Shortly following, the epistle speaks of meritorious activity: “each person will receive according to what he has done: if he is good, his righteousness will precede him; if he is evil, the wages of doing evil will go before him. Let us never fall asleep in our sins, as if being called was an excuse to rest, lest the evil ruler gain power us and thrust us out of the Kingdom of the Lord.” (4)

In a similar vein, the Letter of Polycarp to the Philippians (AD 95) presents strikingly conditional language with regard to justification:

He who raised Christ from the dead will raise us also if we do His will and follow His commandments and love the things He loved, while avoiding every kind of unrighteousness…if we please Him in this present world, we will receive the world to come as well, inasmuch as He promised to raise us from the dead, if we prove to be citizens worthy of Him… if we continue to believe. (2,5)

It should be no small thing that tradition holds that Polycarp was instructed and formed in the Christian faith by the apostle John, who walked with Jesus.

Significantly, the Epistle of Barnabus also speaks (in language that would make Reformers such as Luther cringe) of “the new Law of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2) This new law “has its offering, one not made by man.” (2) Expounding on a theology of ontological re-creation rather than imputed justification, the Epistle continues that

We are cleansed by the forgiveness of sins, that is, by Christ’s blood… (5) so, since he renewed us by the forgiveness of sins, he made us persons of another type, so that we should have the soul of children, as if he were creating us all over again…He made a second creation in the last days. (6)

The author refers to the exemplary faith of Abraham and to his covenant with God, and describes God’s covenant in terms of circumcision and commandments in the Old Dispensation, and in terms of an “implanted gift” in the New; (9) Christ redeems us “so that He might establish a covenant in us by His word.” (14) Consequently, the transformed redeemed are given “as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations” (14, quoting Isaiah 42) because God Himself dwells within His people after the advent of Christ. (16) Again, the emphasis seems to fall on ontological re-creation rather than imputed justification. This theme is echoed in later documents of the same period; for instance, The Shepherd of Hermas (AD 165) requires that the transformation of the person for salvation goes beyond the transformation of behavior to the ontological alteration of the heart itself.

I Clement, AD 95. Lastly, Clement’s Letter to the Romans from AD 95 provides another description of Christian justification from the earliest extant Christian documents outside of the New Testament. Having reminded the audience immediately that Christians must “fix their eyes on the blood of Christ… poured out for our salvation, (which) won for the whole world the grace of repentance,” (7) the author turns to the faith with which Abraham “believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Taken in juxtaposition with Protestant statements, we note that the author explains that Abraham was found faithful not merely because of a declaration and imputation of alien righteousness, but “because he became obedient to the words of God” in leaving his homeland and in “showing hospitality.” (10) In the same way, Lot and Rahab were saved “because of faith and hospitality.” (11-12)

I Clement does speak of the juridical bond which our hope in Christ establishes between our souls and the God who is faithful to His promises (27), and also declares clearly that “we are not justified through ourselves or through our own wisdom or works which we have done, but through faith, by which the almighty God has justified all who have existed from the beginning.” (32) However, the author also insists that “we are justified by works and not by words.” (30) In fact, the author urges the faithful to works of righteousness because good works “adorn” the righteous doer, and because God Himself rejoices in His own good works; furthermore, Christians must perform good works because “the Lord comes and His reward is with Him, to pay each one according to His work.” (34, quoting Revelation 22) The author concludes: “let us therefore make every effort to be found in the number of those who patiently wait for him, so that we may share in His promised gifts.” (35) Christ is thus not only the “Helper of our weaknesses,” He is also described as the “High Priest of our own offerings.” (36)

It is at this point that the author highlights the most glorious fruit of the Holy Spirit that was perhaps neglected in the solely juridical considerations of the high Reformation: for the author of I Clement, the effective “bond” that joins the redeemed to God for ultimate salvation is not one of faith, but of love; “love unites us with God… in love all the elect of God are made perfect. Without love nothing is pleasing to God. In love the Master received us.” (50) In the description of this text, it is ultimately neither the juridically justified nor the ontologically sanctified as categorically separate classes who enter Heaven; rather, it is “those who by God’s grace are perfected in love (who) have a place among the godly, who will be revealed when the Kingdom of Christ visits us.” (50) In the end, I Clement points Christians beyond the Reformation's denials of the Catholic synthesis of faith that merits salvation in works of love by means of these words:

Blessed are we, dear friends, if we continue to keep God’s commandments in the harmony of love, that our sins may be forgiven us through love. Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, whose sins are covered. (50)

The author of I Clement seems to remind those in discussion about Christian justification that it is God’s love, rather than His legal fiction, which is given to “cover a multitude of sins.”

Monday, September 03, 2007

St. Drythelm of Melrose Abbey, 700

I love this place.

Drythelm was a monk of the abbey of Melrose in the Scottish border country, and died about 700. When living as a layman in Ayrshire he underwent a 'near death' experience, from which he recovered, and which terrified those who had come to mourn him. The experience brought about a change of life; he divided his property between his wife, his sons, and the poor, and joined the Melrose community. He was also influenced by a vision which he saw on the life of the beyond, which he was to write down, amid which was to be the earliest of its kind in these islands. In its complex understanding of the divisions of hell, purgatory and paradise, it anticipated the much more famous "Divine Comedy" of Dante written some 600 years later.

Drythelm's monastic life style was extremely austere; he would stand in the waters of the River Tweed even in the depths of winter reciting the psalms. Venerable Bede gives a full account of his life in his Ecclesiastical History.

A little note from MM

Dear friends and readers,

A few of you have remarked lately that this little blog has taken on a tone that is a bit more bellicose than in the days when I first started blogging. So, this is a good time to re-define and reform my role as a blogger. As a graduate student at Yale about two years ago, this blog offered a great opportunity to keep up with friends who blog, to explore the devotional life of catholicity, and to respond to gender issues, contemporary Christology, and political theology in ways that were not always welcome in Yale classrooms. Since that time, several things have changed in my life, and these changes are more and more frequently expressed here. First, and most significantly, I have been received from evangelical and high church Anglicanism into the Roman Catholic Church. I cannot adequately explain here the joy, consolation, and renewal in my love and understanding of Christ that has followed this decision. I love being a Catholic, and it’s inevitable that my posts will begin to reflect more and more of explicitly Catholic doctrine as I grow in the tradition that God has called me to embrace. They say that converts, and especially young converts, can sometimes be annoying- so I can offer an apology in advance for any and all occasions of what may sound like belligerence. Pray for me! I am another sinner being saved by grace, and each and every day I need to be conformed more and more to the gentleness and grace of Jesus.

Secondly: I am entering my last full year of course work as a graduate student in theology, and I am focusing more and more on comparisons and contrasts between key Catholic and Protestant doctrines, particularly with regard to justification and atonement. Since this topic will be taking up more and more of my time, our readers will be seeing more and more posts on point from me. I will always try to phrase these posts as clearly, honestly, and charitably as possible. I hope that our readers will feel free to correct me when I fall short of this goal! I also would ask our readers to read these posts with generosity and compassion for my explorations in history and doctrine. We all have a lot to learn, and this blog- thanks to your commentary- is definitely a valuable learning tool for me.

I have always wanted this blog to be a place where the courteous conversation is stimulating, but more than anything I want this blog to reflect conversation appropriate to those who stand with the saints to proclaim Christ the Lord. The point of this blog is to honor Jesus and His passionate love for His Church, in her presently disparate but beautiful reality. Thank you all for taking the time to stop by, whenever and however you choose- I give thanks for all of you!