Selected Book Summaries From the REFORMATION & MODERN PERIOD_Aquinas: Summa Theologica 1.1. The Nature and Extent of Sacred Doctrine[1]

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“Science: The Only Means of Knowledge”

In Aquinas’ The Nature and Extent of Sacred Doctrine, he deals with ten points of inquiry.  First, he answers the view that philosophical science is the only means we need to get at knowledge, because to seek anything above reason is prohibited (Ecclus.3: 22).  Moreover, knowledge is grounded in ontology, even the knowledge of God.  Aquinas points out that inspired Scripture (2 Tim.3: 16) instructs us in the knowledge of God, the grounds of which is not human reason, but divine revelation.  It is specifically sacred doctrine that is necessary for salvation.  Again, Aquinas understands that natural and sacred theology, have their respective means of discovery and their epistemic complementary value.

“Sacred Doctrine Cannot Be Science”

Second, there is the objection that sacred doctrine cannot be science for all sciences come from self-evident principles, whereas sacred doctrine proceeds from articles of faith, which are not self-evident nor do all men accept them (2 Thes.3: 2).  Furthermore, science deals with facts and does not concern itself with personal biography, as does sacred doctrine.  Aquinas references Augustine and asserts that sacred doctrine is the only science that begets saving faith.  It not only nourishes and protects said faith, but it also strengthens it.  We must also remember that two kinds of science obtain; the science that is known through the natural light of intelligence (i.e., arithmetic or geometry), and that which proceeds from the higher light of science (i.e., the science of God).  Moreover, the principles of any science are self-evident or can be reduced to the conclusions of higher science.  Again, the principal reason individual facts are treated in sacred doctrine, are for moral exhortation, so that the authority of the men handing down divine revelation may be established.

“Sacred Doctrine Cannot Be One Science”

Third, there is also the view that sacred doctrine cannot be one science, because science treats only one class of subjects, whereas sacred doctrine considers both creator and creature.  Hence it cannot be one science.  However, Aquinas asserts that sacred doctrine primarily focuses on God, and on his creatures secondarily, so far as to accentuate God as their originator and sustainer.  Aquinas appears to have a more integrative approach to science.

Other issues Aquinas tackles considers whether or not sacred doctrine is speculative or practical, whether it is the same as wisdom, whether it is a matter of argument, how it is compared with other sciences, etc

[1] St. Thomas Aquinas: The Summa Theologica, Translated by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province, (Benzinger Bros. Edition, 1947).

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Selected Book Summaries From the REFORMATION & MODERN PERIOD:  Anselm, Cur Deus Homo[1]

 

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In Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo, he divides the work into two short books.  The first book contains objections raised by unbelievers because of their view that the faith is unreasonable, and responses by Anselm to their objections.  The second book contains the purpose for which man was created and accentuates that its realization can only be obtained in the God/Man.

Responding To the Contemporary Critics: “It’s Dishonoring to God”

Book One: Responding to the Objections Raised by Infidels.  This work begins with Boso (the one asking the questions) raising the objection that “we do injustice and bring dishonor to God…” when we claim that Jesus was born of a virgin, needed the nourishment of men to grow, grew tired and fatigued, and last of which was crucified among thieves.

Anselm’s response: we neither dishonor nor bring upon God any injustice by those things we claim, but instead we do praise and proclaim the inexpressible height of his mercy.  Through the incarnation, God does more deeply demonstrate his mercy and love toward us, for, as by one man’s disobedience death reigns, so also by one man’s obedience life should be restored.  Moreover, as sin had its cause in woman, so also it was fitting that through woman the author of righteousness be born from her, and in the same way the devil conquered the first Adam by the eating of the tree, so also the last Adam vanquished Satan by his suffering on the tree.  Again, Anselm explains that redemption could not have been realized through any other being other than God (whether angelic or human) because if any other being should rescue man from eternal death, man would rightly have to be that redeemers servant.  The problem however is that both angels and man were designed to serve only God through eternity.

“The Incarnation Seems Inconsistent with Reason”

Another objection raised against the incarnation by Boso is that it seems inconsistent with reason for the Almighty to “stoop to things so lowly, that the Almighty should do a thing with such toil”.

Anselm responds by accentuating that God’s will ought to be sufficient reason for whatever he does because his will is never irrational, regardless of our inability to understand.  Furthermore, to think that it is unreasonable for the Almighty to stoop so low and embrace so much toil is to misunderstand our faith.  For we assert that the Divine nature is indubitably impassible, He cannot be un-exalted, nor does he toil in anything He desires to effect.  Moreover, the Lord Jesus Christ is very God and very man, one person who has two natures.  Hence, when we speak of God enduring humiliation or suffering, it only refers to the feeble human constitution, which Jesus assumed.  In the incarnation, there is no debasing of the Deity, but rather there is the exaltation of man’s nature.

 “Why Should the Most Just Man be Punished for the Guilty?”

Something that also seems unjust and lacking wisdom for Boso is that the most just man should be punished for the guilty.  Not only does God deserve condemnation for such an act, but this also argues against his omnipotence and justice.

Anselm responds by asserting that God neither put the innocent to death for the guilty, nor impelled Jesus to die and suffer against his own will for man’s salvation.  Instead, Jesus willingly laid down his life.

Boso objects by citing many texts that demonstrate Jesus’ submission to the will of the Father, and as such, that this act was one of obedience to the Father’s will, not Jesus own free will.  Anselm clarifies the misunderstanding between doing something at the demand of obedience as opposed to what he suffered because of his perfect obedience.  For every rational being owes the demanded obedience to God and the Father claimed it from Jesus (in his humanity).

It would be unjust for God to demand death of a sinless man for whom God created to be happy in Him.  Furthermore, it would not be right for God to make miserable by death a creature who is without fault, for that is not the goal of his creation.  Rather than being compelled by God to die, Christ suffered death of his own accord, and by yielding up his life, Jesus is not offering an act of obedience, but rather on account of obedience in maintaining his holiness, he met death.

And when a scripture like “God did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all”, it simply means that God did not rescue him, not that he sent him to die.

“Sin’s Meaning & It’s Relatedness to Satisfaction”

Now concerning the meaning of sin and how satisfaction for sin is realized, Anselm first explains that sin is not rendering to God his due.  The debt man owes to God is to be subject to His will.   By neglecting the aforesaid, man robs God and dishonors Him, thus sinning.  To make satisfaction for the offence and be cleared of fault, a repayment of honor to God must be made in return.  This is a debt every sinner must settle, yet is unable to repay on his own.  Anselm continues the theme by pointing out that God would be unjust not to punish the unjust for their sin.  For by not executing his justice, God would then not differentiate between the guilty and the innocent, and this is unbecoming of Him.

Anselm also deals with how God’s honor exists in the punishment of the wicked, how man cannot be redeemed without satisfaction for his sins being made, and how Jesus the God/Man necessarily realized the rescue for mankind.  Moreover, how it’s impossible for the devil to be saved and how great God’s compassion really is.

[1] St. Anselm, “Cur Deus Homo,” Basic Writings, (Translated by S. N. Deane, Pp.191-302, © 1962 by Open Court Publishing Company, 2001 Printing).

Selected Book Summaries from the PATRISTIC & MEDIEVAL PERIOD_ St. Benedict, The Rule of St. Benedict[1]

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The Centrality of Prayer

In his Rule, St. Benedict starts off the prologue by placing fervent prayer as the pre-eminent act before starting any good work so that it may be brought to perfection.   He then admonishes his disciples to not harden their hearts as the Israelites did when they heard God’s voice, to learn the fear of the Lord, and to work while it is still day.  Yet, like Paul the apostle (1 Cor.15: 10) as they see the progress and fruit of their work, they are not to boast of themselves, but are rather to give thanks to God for supplying the grace needed to accomplish their tasks.  Since disciples are in a battle, critical to holy obedience is the preparation of both heart and body.  And that which is impossible by nature, the disciple is to ask the Lord for his grace to help.  The purpose of the regulations is not intended to be harsh, nor burdensome, but where strictness obtains, it is to safeguard love and amend faults.

The Rule’s Impact

Benedict calls it a rule because it regulates the lives of those who obey it.  He starts off the rule by explaining the four different kinds of monks that exist and that his order (the cenobites) live in a monastery and serve under a rule and an abbot.  The Abbot must exemplify the character of Christ and make Jesus’ teaching the anchor of all that’s instructed to the disciples, understanding that God’s stricter judgment awaits those who teach.  The primary manner in which the Abbot is to teach is not by mere words, but rather through example.  Furthermore, the Abbot is to show no favoritism and when teaching, he must use argument with the undisciplined, he must use appeal with the docile and obedient, and with the negligent and disdainful he must use reproof and rebuke.  Above all else, the Abbot must not treat lightly his duties by being distracted with the temporary things of the world.

Tools for Good Works Grounded in One’s Love for God

Concerning the tools for good works, Benedict points out that the great commandment on which all good deeds are grounded: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.  The restraint of speech is especially cherished so that sin is avoided (Prov.10: 19) and vulgar speech is abated.  Moreover, the twelve steps to humility first begin with the fear of the Lord.  One is to constantly remember that God sees their deeds and motives.  The second step is for a man to not delight in his desires or will, but rather to make God’s will his desire (Jn.6: 38).  The third step requires one to submit to his superiors in all things for the love of God, while the fourth step admonishes the disciple to submit even though being unjustly treated, for it is the one who endures to the end that will be saved.  Again, whether verbal, mental, or actual’ all sins must be confessed to the Abbot, the disciple must be grateful for the lowest tasks and see himself as a poor and worthless workman.  Furthermore, this workman must realize and confess that he is inferior to all and of less value than they.  The eighth step to humility is that the monk is only to do what the common rule of the monastery endorses and the example set by his superiors.  Again, a monk must control his tongue and remain silent unless spoken to.  He must not speak loudly with laughter or raise his voice, but instead he is to speak gently, seriously, and with becoming modesty.  Finally, the monk is to walk about with his head down at all times judging himself as a sinner who desperately needs Gods mercy to save him.  All these steps can only be realized through the power of the Holy Spirit’s grace being imparted to one.

The Reading of Scripture

Among other things the rule emphasizes the way, manner, and the days in which one is to read the scriptures and the catholic fathers.  Much attention is given to the Psalms and text memorization.  There is a specific procedure for the evening, morning and midday prayers, for the singing of the psalms, and for how one is to do their work.  Moreover, how to deal with the poor and excommunicated brothers is also addressed, as well as the proper and improper way for monks to interact with each other in the monastery.  Benedict ends his rule by reminding the monks that the rule is only the beginning of perfection, but by displaying the virtues in the rule, one displays that he has the beginnings of the monastic life.

[1] The Rule of St. Benedict In English; Editor Timothy Fry, O.S.B., (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1981 by the Order of St. Benedict).

Reflections From 1 Corinthians 7:6-11_MARRIAGE, SINGLENESS, & DEVOTION TO CHRIST Part 1

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Paul continues to develop his thought on marriage and singleness and considers: whether one is married to an unbelieving spouse or not, whether one came to Christ from Jewish or Gentile roots, whether they are redeemed being a slave or a freedman, whether they are a virgin or not, he considers when one is permitted to remarry and by implication when remarriage is prohibited.

Whatever state in life the believer finds themselves in, they are to primarily concern themselves with pleasing the Lord.  Paul aims to encourage Christians to let the eternal kingdom of God be the governing factor in their lives instead of the temporal situations in which they find themselves.  He starts off by saying:

But this I say by way of concession, not of command.”   

What’s the difference between these two terms?  A concession is permission to do something, or being allowed to act a certain way (L&N §13.141), whereas a command here does not infer the giving of detailed instruction but of having the right and authority to command subjects to obedience (L&N § 37.42).  Paul is making it clear that if what he refers to (the forthcoming concession), the Corinthian believers do not obey, they are not violating God’s decree which the apostles have been distinctly charged to dispense as Christ’s authoritative ambassadors.

Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that.”    

The term “wish” is a way of describing desire which is a state of affairs that does not necessarily exist, one which may even be impossible, but nevertheless it is felt.  When Paul says, “I wish that all men were even as I myself am”, I don’t think he is referring to his apostleship, nor to his character traits, but to him being unmarried where his devotion to Christ is less distracted.

Paul reveals that he is not married (we are not sure if he was married, a widower, abandoned by his spouse because of his conversion to Christ, etc.) and desires that the Corinthian church not only be single but also self-controlled.

It is not unreasonable to think that Paul was previously married and abandoned because of his conversion to Christ Jesus.  Being a Hebrew of Hebrews, zealous for the Jewish traditions unlike any of his contemporaries, he would have been an amazing “catch” in that culture, the pride of family, wife and nation.  Yet this monotheistic zealot was converted on that appointed day and his world was turned “up-side down”.

If that was the case and more, then may the weightiness of his words not escape us where elsewhere he declares, “I have counted all things as rubbish for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ…”, “to live is Christ and to die is gain…” etc.  Paul’s supreme treasure above all else was truly Christ; above status, possessions and human relationships.

This is who is speaking and we do well to carefully consider what he is saying and what he means.  Thus, while Paul discloses his personal desire, he understands that not everyone is like him because God (the infinite self-existent one and source of all life) gifts us all with varying talents and abilities.  He now addresses the unmarried and widows:

But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I.  But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion

Note that in verse 1 Paul affirms that “it is good for a man not to touch a woman” (i.e., not commit sexual immorality), and uses the same phrase “it is good” for the unmarried to remain single.  Paul is not disparaging marriage but rather accentuating something that seems to be counter-intuitive—in an age of sexual immorality, if you are single believer, then stay single.

While it’s good to abstain from fornication and adultery God has nevertheless given the human race sexual desire that longs to express itself.  Is Paul encouraging abstinence at all costs?  No.

While it is good to remain single, if there’s a lack of self-control, Paul says get married.  It’s better than burning in passions and falling into sexual expression that is outside the confines of marriage.  Now Paul addresses those married:

10 But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband 11 (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.

Several items stand out here.  First, Paul here makes a distinction between the Lords instruction and his.  This could be understood to mean that the former is to be obeyed, and the latter can be dismissed.  The problem with that interpretation is that Paul is clearly God’s called apostle, his authoritative spokesman in a way the rest of us are not.  So to think that Paul’s views are a “take it or leave it” proposition does not logically fit.

Second, one could see verse 6 linked to this where Paul distinguished between a command and a concession, between what must be obeyed and what may be obeyed.  The problem though is that the Lord’s instructions, as Paul’s instructions, come with authoritative force which a concession does not possess.

Third, many understand this distinction between the Lord and Paul to mean that Jesus himself previously addresses the issue and thus taught on it (e.g., Mt.5:32; 19:3-9; Lk.16:18, etc.) and thus Paul gives the Master’s instructions on said topic.  Yet, when the Lord Jesus does not give instruction on a particular topic Paul says, “I not the Lord”.
That is, the distinction is not one of authority but one of subject.  This third option seems to make the best sense.

Moving on Paul discourages the immoral act of abandoning one’s husband, and the husband is also commanded not to divorce his own wife.  Both husband and wife are in a position to act immorally by severing the union and both are in a position to honor Christ in their marital union.

Marriage is an amazing gift that like others requires maintenance, care, nurture and sometimes restoration. When the required care and understanding (here time must be invested) are not practiced, like a car needing an oil change before the engine blows, so too the marriage union when it’s neglected the immorality of desertion and divorce seem to follow.

Selected Book Summaries from the PATRISTIC & MEDIEVAL PERIOD Augustine, On Grace and Free Will[1]

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Augustine, On Grace and Free Will[1]

In his treatise on Grace and Free Will, Augustine writes to Valentinus and the Monks of Adrumetum concerning the Pelagian notion of free will and grace.  He warns that we must not deny free will when defending grace, nor deny grace while defending free will.  Yet, we must be grateful for what we do know, prayerful for what we do not understand, and charitable with each other in the learning process.

Free Will Grounded on God’s Commands

First, Augustine points out that free will exists by virtue of God’s commands.  That is, free choice of will is implied, for reward and punishment are grounded on the ability to choose righteousness or wickedness (Jn.15: 22).  Moreover, since God has revealed to man His righteousness, those claiming ignorance concerning His precepts have no excuse (Rom.1: 18-20).  Both Old and New Testament Scriptures illustrate our free will (Prov.1: 8; Ps.32: 9; Mt.6: 19; 10:28; 16:24).  Furthermore, those desiring to blame God for their sin are found wanting, for God tempts no man to do evil, but man is tempted to do evil from his own hearts desire (Jam.1: 13-15).

Pelagian View of Man’s Sufficiency to do Good Works

Second, Pelagius held that man is sufficient of himself to do good works.  Augustine responds by claiming that such a view is grounded on mans pride (Jer.17: 5), and prevents him from humbly asking for Gods help (Ps.27: 9).  He then maintains that in order for man to lead a good life, both grace and free will are necessary. Augustine grounds this assertion by demonstrating that faithfulness in marriage and in celibacy are gifts from God (Mt.19: 10; 1 Tim.5: 22; 1 Cor.7: 7, 36-37;).  Moreover, another proof of grace and free will is seen in prayer as it relates to temptation.  For when Jesus says, “Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation” Augustine maintains that both the will (pray) and God’s grace (that you enter not into temptation) are simultaneously at work.  Thus showing man’s insufficiency to do good works, by virtue of the need to pray for assistance.

Pelagius Held That God’s Grace Is Given Due to Man’s Merit

Third, Pelagius held that God’s grace was given to us by our own merits.  For example he quoted, “Turn unto me, and I will turn to you” (Zech.1: 3), to support his position.  However, Augustine points out that even our turning to God, is itself His gift, not our merit (Ps.80: 7; 85:4, 6-7;) and reminds us of what Jesus said, “No man can come unto me, except it were given unto him by my Father” (Jn.6: 65).  Moreover, Augustine argues that grace is not a result of our merits as revealed by the Apostle Paul’s life.  His evil deeds of persecuting the church did not result in condemnation, but rather in mercy (1 Cor.15: 9), and said mercy, or grace, was not in vain, but it was demonstrated by his works, the source of which was God’s grace (1 Cor.15: 10).  In other words, God’s grace and Paul’s free will are seen working together.

Pelagius’ View of Forgiveness & Eternal Life

Fourth, Pelagius also maintained that the only grace that is not given according to our merits is the forgiveness of sins, but that eternal life is rendered by our merits.  Augustine responds by reminding Pelagius that every gift he has is from God, not himself, and that thinking the converse is the womb for pride.  Moreover, the fight and the race Paul the apostle engaged could only be realized through God’s grace and mercy, rather through his own sufficiency (2 Tim.4: 7; 2 Cor.3: 5).  Furthermore, Augustine points out that Paul’s faithfulness resulted from first receiving God’s mercy, “I obtained mercy that I might be faithful” (1Cor.7: 25), not by first showing himself faithful.   Again, the fact that mercy is shown does not negate the need for good works.  For it is impossible to sever faith from the fruit of good works (Eph.2: 8-10).  But good works precede from faith, not he converse.  And as for those who would argue that all we need is to believe, Augustine responds that even the demons believe in God and tremble (Jam.2: 19).

Pelagius’ View of the Law

Fifth, Pelagius maintains that the Law is the grace of God that helps us not to sin.  Augustine argues that the Apostle Paul sees it differently.  Although the commandment is just, holy and good, sin receives its strength through the law against man, for that which is good produces death in man.  The only deliverance from such a death comes from the Spirit’s life (2Cor.3: 6), which helps us mortify the deeds of the flesh, and shows that we are sons of God (Rom8: 14).  The point is not that the law is evil, but that it is good.  However, the law does not aid us to keep the commandments, only grace does this, it alone helps us be doers of the law, not merely its hearers. augustine_360x450

Pelagius’ View of Grace Concerning Past and Future Sins

Sixth, Pelagius also believes that grace only avails for the remission of past sins, not to aid in avoiding future sins.  Augustine reminds him that in the Lord’s Prayer, believers are to ask for pardon from past sins, as to petition for protection from future transgression.  If one could perform the latter without God’s help, then Jesus commanding us to pray in this manner would be empty, and misguided.

Augustine uses other examples of our need for God’s grace: to convert our hard hearts; to deliver our nature’s from the bondage of sin; to aid us in choosing righteousness; etc.  He continues his treatise by reminding us that we love God because He first loved us, that we chose God, because He first chose us, that our wills are also affected by God, that He operates even in wicked men’s hearts as He wills, and finally that the reason God works grace in one mans heart and not in another mans heart lie in His secret judgments.  Therefore, understanding and wisdom must be sought in God.

[1] Augustin, Aurelius, Bishop of Hippo, “On Grace and Free Will,” The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series Volume V, Pp. 443-465, (T & T Clark Edinburgh, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprinted in 1997)

 

Selected Book Summaries from the PATRISTIC & MEDIEVAL PERIOD: Athanasius “Defense of the Nicene Definition”[1]

 

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Athanasius Defense of the Nicene Definition[1]

In his letter defending the Nicene Definition, Athanasius concerns himself with several charges laid against the Nicene Council.

Defining Begotten

The term begotten is the springboard from which the Arians viewed Christ not as the Creator, but rather as a creature of the Father.  The first begotten Son, after being created, became the means by which the Father created all other things.  Hence, this creature cannot be the same essence as the Father, and as such is not True God.  Athanasius responds with several arguments.  Two considerations follow.

Man’s Contingency & God’s Necessity

First, he considers man’s contingency and God’s necessity and relates it to our natures.  He points out that in order for man to create there must already exist material, whereas for God to create, he only has to speak the word ex-nihilo.  He continues and points out that man’s generation is in one way, and the Son’s from the Father is another.  Man’s offspring by nature is compounded in begetting children, but God who by nature is uncompounded, is Father of the One Only Son.  That is to say, that the Son is eternally generated from the Father, for in that God ever is, He is ever the Father of the Son.  Athanasius follows this argument and supports it with Scriptures (Mt.9: 27; Heb.1: 3; Ps.36: 9; Jn.14: 9).

Confronting the Arian’s Misinterpretation of Scripture

Second, Athanasius is aware of how the Arians misinterpret Scripture.  They argue for the creation of Christ from Proverbs 8:22 “The Lord created me a beginning of His ways unto His works” and his response is that it does refer to the Son in his humanity, for creation belongs to man.  Moreover, just as we do not lose our proper substance when we receive the Spirit, so Christ did not lose his substance of deity when he became man, but rather he deified and rendered it immortal.  Athansius then continues explaining the Catholic sense of the word Son, and asserts that his name implies eternal.

 The Phrases “From the Essence” and “One in Essence.” 

The Arian’s complain that the terms, “Of the essence” and “One in essence” is not Scriptural.  Athanasius quickly exposes their hypocrisy by asking “why do they [Arians] use phrases like ‘He was not before His generation,’ and ‘once he was not,’ and ‘out of nothing,’ and ‘pre-existence,’ which are clearly not Scriptural.”  He then indicts them of making up fables and mocking the Lord.  He then explains the reason for the usage of these phrases and their meaning.

 “From God”

The phrase ‘from God’ was understood by the Arians to mean that Christ, like men, is the offspring of God.  To combat the heterodoxy, they chose the phrase ‘from the essence of God’ so that the Son would not be seen as a creature, but rather as the Word, which is from the Father, who is the originator of all things, truly from God.  This phrase was installed to prevent any deception from the Arians.

 “One in Essence”

The phrase ‘one in essence’ describes the indivisibility of the Father and the Son, and it was written by the Council to defeat the twisted heretics, and to show that the Word is not a mutable creature, but rather the Creator of all creatures, of all things.  Moreover, the Council anathematized the Arian doctrine, and Athanasius then challenges the Arians to refute the Council’s position.  If they can, then “anathematize” the anathema of the Council.  If there are those who think the phrase is strange, Athanasius affirms that this is so because they are not understood with the intended meaning of the Council.  Hence, Athanasius is essentially telling the Arians to “put up or shut up.”

Athanasius continues and sites several authorities that agree with the Council on the phraseology, and finishes the letter by grappling with the unscriptural term unoriginate that the Arian’s borrowed from the Greeks.

[1] Athanasius,  “Defense of the Nicene Definition,” The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series,

Volume IV, Pp.150-172, (T & T Clark Edinburgh, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprinted in 1996)

 

Selected Book Summaries from the PATRISTIC & MEDIEVAL PERIOD “Athanasius, On The Incarnation”[1]

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The Universe’s Creation

In his letter On The Incarnation, Athanasius first grounds his apologetic of the incarnation on the universe’s creation.  He does this by addressing fallacious views of creation, the first of which is Epicureanism (fortuitous generation).  They contend that everything is its own cause and is independent of any purpose, but Athanasius argues that the diversity of bodies and parts actually supports an intelligent, creating designer.  Then there are the Platonists (pre-existent matter).  They purport that God created the world with the matter that already existed; in other words, God is seen as a mechanic using available material to construct the universe.  Athanasius contends that this view weakens God, for he could not create the material needed to construct the universe.  But He could not in any sense be called Creator unless He is Creator of the material with which all things have been made.  Moreover he accentuates that the world as well as humans were made ex-nihilo and that Scripture attests to this.  But when Adam disobeyed, the promise of death had to be met out.  Yet, in keeping with God’s goodness, He could not allow his creation, especially his image bearers, his rational creatures to continue in a corrupt state.  Thus, he sent the incorporeal immaterial One who has always been, and through the incarnation takes a body of our nature, and reveals Himself, in order to conquer death and restore life back to us.

The Reason for the Incarnation

Second, Athanasius asserts that the reason for the incarnation was to give man the knowledge of Himself.  For, to be destitute of the knowledge of God is equivalent to a purposeless existence.  Hence, in the incarnation man can get a “front row seat” and somewhat understand the Father and their Maker, and as a result have a happy and blessed life.  But man rejected the knowledge of God (which is the equivalent of irrationality for Athanasius) and replaced it with idolatry, witchcraft, and astrology, even though the creation along with the Law and Prophets gave further attestation to the Creator.  Such darkness prevented man from understanding the knowledge of God, and as such, only the Lord Jesus Christ could bring about such knowledge to man.  In His mercy, he condescended to man to save the lost.

God’s Ubiquity Not Affected by the Incarnation

Third, the incarnation affected not his ubiquity, for even though he was in a body, he never ceased being the sustainer of all things.  He maintained the same nature (separate from the creation).  Moreover, his miraculous acts (healing the sick, casting out demons, raising the dead) his death on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead, testified to his dominion over creation and as such, to his deity.  His public death among other things did not show weakness, but rather it demonstrated strength.  It was the means by which he would destroy death, while simultaneously through the resurrection manifest the monument of victory over death.  His public death was also necessary for the doctrine of the resurrection to be believed as a historical event, rather than a mere fable, both by his disciples and those who would later believe.  Christ’s death on the cross, demonstrated his bearing the curse on our stead, for “Cursed is he that hangs on a tree.”  This death and resurrection secures for the believer the joy of life, rather than the torment of death.  For, just as Christ is the first fruits of life, through the resurrection, believers will follow in like manner.  Hence the fear of death to man is overthrown.  Death is swallowed up in victory!

Proofs for the Resurrection

Fourth, the resurrection has many proofs to its veracity.  First of all, the fact that men from all cultures are turning to faith in Christ points to him being alive, not dead.  Second, being the source of life, it was impossible for him not to bring his body back to life.  Third, even if God is invisible, the fact that his works of casting out demons and overcoming idolatry through his people is manifest are proof of the resurrection.  For, demons would scarcely obey in the name of a dead man, but rather in the name of the One risen.

Responding to the Jews Concerning Christ’s Person from the Old and New Testaments

Fifth, Athanasius answers the unbelieving Jews by using the Scriptures to argue for the incarnation with many references.  He starts with the virgin birth (Mt.1: 23, cf; Is. 7:14), and moves on to Moses’ prediction (Num.14: 5-17; Is. 8:4), his living place (Hos. 9:1), his death (Is. 53:3), his birth and death on the cross (Jer.9: 19; Ps.22: 16; Is.9: 10), his miracles (Is.65: 1-2, Rom.10: 20; Is.35: 3) and more scripture.  He then argues from the withdrawal of prophecy and the destruction of Jerusalem (Mt.11: 13; Lk.16: 16), and points to the fact that it was the Lord himself that would save us (Is.63: 9).

Unbelief of the Greeks Addressed

Sixth, Athanasius addresses the unbelief of the Greeks concerning the absurdity of the incarnation and he points out that it is no problem for Christ to manifest in a body if in fact the Logos Manifests Himself in creation.  Moreover, his manifestation in a body is grounded on his relation to Creation as a whole.  Hence, because he wanted to reveal himself to man, he became man.  Another line of argument concerns the reason for the incarnation.  Since man is the only creature that sinned, he would not see or recognize the Creator through his works, so through the incarnation he manifested his works among them.  He continues with many other proofs to counter their scoffing, but ends his letter with an exhortation for those who love knowledge to find it where it only resides: in Christ, where it’s attained through virtuous living that’s grounded in loving the Logos who is blessed forever more.

[1] Athanasius, “On The Incarnation of The Word,” The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series,

Volume IV, p.36 (T & T Clark Edinburgh, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprinted in 1996).

 

Reflections From ISAIAH 3: THE LORD GOD OF HOSTS…FEAR HIM

isaiah-scroll

The topic of, “fearing God” from texts of the Old Testament are a puzzle to many of us for many reasons chief among which is the tendency to pick and choose what we like and we confuse the continuity and discontinuity of the Old and New Testament.

Preference not objective truth is often our guiding “compass”.

What I mean is that many professing believers happily embrace a God of love but one of fear and judgment they utterly reject.  If that’s you, friend, then how do you make sense out of the Gospel of Christ?

Why then was he brutally murdered on that bloody cross?  Is it not because God’s love and justice demanded it?  Is it not because the first Adam rebelled against the Holy One of Israel and plunged mankind into an eternal death sentence where the Creator became our enemy?  And was it not necessary for the last Adam to rectify this mess (which the first Adam plunged humanity into) to redeem us from God’s holy just wrath?

To fear God, among other things, means that we rightly relate to Him as Creator and understand that we are the creature (i.e., contingent, needy, and therefore dependent).  The pride in humanity pushes back and says, “I will be god, I’m self-sufficient”.  That’s the reason for wrath and the reason for judgment.

Moreover, to fear God means that those redeemed by His great mercy live according to His revealed truth because of His great love.  His word is their delight (even when it’s hard to understand and reconcile with life’s tragic experiences which are real).  Again, according to Solomon, the fear of the LORD is the pathway to knowledge and wisdom (See the proverbs).  But who is this one we are commanded to fear?

He is the changeless One (i.e., the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) in the perfections of His being.  God’s attributes of being (self-existent, omni-present, omniscient, omnipotent, omnisapient, holy, loving, etc.) are simultaneously held.  This means that because God is holy and just, the judge will rightly deal with all wrongs and make them right.  Thus, when we His followers “pigeon hole” Him and reduce the Holy One to a one-dimensional being (God is love, which He is) we miss it and misrepresent the Savior.  He is the God of love, but He is also the Holy One who will judge the living and the dead.

Misunderstanding the continuity and discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments also plagues believers.

We also have difficulty with the topic of fearing God because of a gross disconnect believers have between the Old Testament and New Testament.  What for example applied to God’s people under the old covenant that now does not apply under the new covenant?

Christ’s atoning sacrifice on Calvary did away with the sacrificial system.  From the book of Hebrews we know that the sacrifices once performed under the old covenant are now obsolete because they pointed to the reality which is Christ our “Passover Lamb”, the “Lamb of God”.  Yet, as the Law of Moses forbade adultery, God still forbids it today.   And yes for His people.  To fear the LORD under the new covenant, the keeping of said law is evidence that we love God and fear His name (in word and deed).  It is not a yoke of bondage under the “letter of the law which kills” instead it’s the way human flourishing was designed to occur.

TEXT

For behold, the Lord God of hosts is going to remove from Jerusalem and Judah
Both supply and support, the whole supply of bread
And the whole supply of water;
The mighty man and the warrior,
The judge and the prophet,
The diviner and the elder,
The captain of fifty and the honorable man,
The counselor and the expert artisan,
And the skillful enchanter.
And I will make mere lads their princes,
And capricious children will rule over them,
And the people will be oppressed,
Each one by another, and each one by his neighbor;
The youth will storm against the elder
And the inferior against the honorable.
When a man lays hold of his brother in his father’s house, saying,
“You have a cloak, you shall be our ruler,
And these ruins will be under your charge,”
He will protest on that day, saying,
“I will not be your healer,
For in my house there is neither bread nor cloak;
You should not appoint me ruler of the people.”
For Jerusalem has stumbled and Judah has fallen,
Because their speech and their actions are against the Lord,
To rebel against His glorious presence.  (vvs.1-8)

When we cease to fear the LORD God of hosts, we put ourselves in a position to bear his wrath generally and his discipline specifically.  God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.  In this passage God’s opposition is weighty seen through His removal of supply for sustenance (bread & water), His removal of support for safety (the warrior and mighty man), His removal of guidance (prophet and judge), and His removal of industry (the counselor and expert artisan) is simply devastating.

Solomon says that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom and understanding and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding,” yet God’s people lacked both and the consequences were ruinous.  Brazen rebellion will always result in the Creator being against the creature.  In verses (16-24) God declares to the gorgeous women who seduce their prey that their beauty He will reduce to an ugliness that reflects their hearts toward Him:

Moreover, the Lord said, “Because the daughters of Zion are proud
And walk with heads held high and seductive eyes, And go along with mincing steps And tinkle the bangles on their feet,
17 Therefore the Lord will afflict the scalp of the daughters of Zion with scabs, And the Lord will make their foreheads bare.”

18 In that day the Lord will take away the beauty of their anklets, headbands, crescent ornaments, 19 dangling earrings, bracelets, veils,20 headdresses, ankle chains, sashes, perfume boxes, amulets, 21 finger rings, nose rings, 22 festal robes, outer tunics, cloaks, money purses,23 hand mirrors, undergarments, turbans and veils.

24 Now it will come about that instead of sweet perfume there will be putrefaction; Instead of a belt, a rope; Instead of well-set hair, a plucked-out scalp; Instead of fine clothes, a donning of sackcloth;
And branding instead of beauty.

While we’re not Israel in America, we nevertheless reflect the bold rebellion of Jerusalem and Judah in our age.  So when the supplies run out and our support is no more and our humiliation is realized, will God act to bring His people back to Himself?  Absolutely He will but not before a severe administration of His discipline.

LORD be merciful to us, grant your people repentance, renew our love for You so that our character, holiness, love, wisdom, knowledge, beauty, judgments, compassion, ingenuity, etc. may find their true expression, the purpose for why we exist.

(SDG)

Selected Book Summaries from the PATRISTIC & MEDIEVAL PERIOD: Tertullian, Against Praxeas by Sergio Tangari

Tertullian

Tertullian, Against Praxeas[1]

In his letter Against Praxeas, Tertullian defends the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.  He acknowledges that the heresy to be refuted is caused by Satan himself.  The heresy of Praxeas, “He says that the Father Himself came down into the virgin, was Himself born of her.  Himself suffered, indeed was himself Jesus Christ”.  These “tares” of Praxeas, force Tertullian to both explain the church’s position on the doctrine, and secondly move him to deal with the misapprehensions of the opposing view.

The Church’s Position

First, there is The Church’s Position.  There is only one God, but in the economy (i.e., the distinct roles each member of the triune Godhead fulfills) of the Godhead is the Son who proceeds from the Father, who created all things, who was sent into the virgin by the Father, and from the Father through the Son the Holy Spirit is sent.  Tertullian asserts that this rule of faith is not new, but rather has been handed down to the church from its inception.  The unity is one of substance (i.e., of nature—divine,), and the three-ness constitutes the persons Father, Son, and Spirit (i.e., one of identity—distinctions).

Objection Raised

Second, there is Praxeas’ Objection.  Although the following objection did not originate with Praxeas, the allegation raised against the church’s view of the Trinity, is that it leads people to either bi-theism (i.e., two Gods) or tri-theism (i.e., three Gods), whereas their view of God leads them to the true worship of the one God.  Moreover, they assert that their view maintains the sole monarchy of God, whereas the church’s view destroys it.  Tertullians’ essential response is that the unity of the monarchy is not destroyed, but rather it is preserved, if the Son and the Spirit are indeed sharers of the one monarchy.

 Varied Responses to Heresy

Third, there is Tertullians’ Varied Responses to the Heresy.  One response to the heresy is that the unity of the Godhead and the supremacy and sole government of the divine being are not impaired according to Catholic doctrine.  Tertullian argues that since the Son is derived from the substance of the Father, does only the will of the Father, and is given all power from the Father, then the Monarchy is not destroyed from the faith.  Moreover, since the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son, the monarchy ends up not being destroyed, but rather, it is preserved.  Furthermore, the fact that the Son will restore the monarchy back to the Father, demonstrates the clear distinction of persons within the Godhead.  Henceforth, those who are claiming to preserve the sole monarchy are actually destroying it, because they are overthrowing the very arrangement and dispensation employed by God.

 Clarification of the Trinity

Fourth, Tertullian clarifies the Catholic rule of faith concerning the Trinity.  He argues that the Father, Son, and Spirit are a unity of substance, but are three distinct persons.  The Father is seen as the entire substance, the Son and the Spirit are derivations of that whole.  The distinction of persons can be seen in that the Father begets, and the Son is begotten, and the Son sends another Paraclete.  The distinction of persons is further seen in the names of Father, Son, and Spirit. 

 Monarchian Position not Coherent

Fifth, he shows the incoherence of the Monarchian position that maintains the Father is the Son and vice versa.  He does this by distinguishing being from having.  Tertullian argues that in order for a father to be one, he must first have a son.  Likewise, in order for a son to be one, he must first have a father.  Moreover, how can I be my own son, or be my own father?  The logic is faulty, and yet the Monarchian responds with “nothing is impossible with God!”   Tertullian’s challenge is to consider whether or not God has really done it.  For he reasons that God really could have made man with wings to fly, but reality does not bear it out, nor does the Monarchian argument for that matter.

 Scripture Must Ground Our Positions

Sixth, Tertullian then challenges Praxeas to biblically ground his position.  He then distorts a passage to make his point concerning the distinction between the Father and Son, “The Lord said unto Himself, I am my own son, today I have begotten myself “.  If this is the case, then God is a deceiver, an imposter, and a tamperer with His word.  But since the contrary obtains, the position asserted by Praxeas is egregiously false.

 Textual Evidence for Plurality of Persons

Seventh, he then demonstrates the scriptural basis for the plurality of persons (Gen.1: 3, 26-27; 3:22; Jn.1: 1, 3, 9), and the unity of substance within the Godhead as a remedy to combat polytheism (Ps.45: 6-7; Isa.45: 14-15; Jn. 1:1; etc.), and then chastises Praxeas for not accepting the clear declarations of scripture.

 Further Evidence From Both OT and NT

Eigth, Tertullian continues with scripture passages in the OT (Gen. 32:30; Ex. 33:13, 11; Num. 12:6-8; 1 Cor.13: 12; Mk. 9:4; Mt. 17:3; etc.) and in the NT (Jn.1: 1-2, 18; 4:12; 1 Cor.9: 1; 1 Tim. 4:16; etc.) demonstrating the Fathers’ invisibility and the Sons’ visibility.  Moreover, he deals with OT manifestations of Christ, with titles that both the Son and the Father share depicting their deity, and he abundantly shows how in Johns’ Gospel, the distinction of persons between the Father and Son obtain.

Tertullian not only sees that the doctrine of the Trinity is the great divide between Christianity and Judaism, but he also sees the Monarchian doctrine as blasphemous, and as such, damnable.

Many well-meaning professing believers today fall under the error of Praxeas punting to “nothing is impossible with God” God is “mysterious” and a host of other responses that undermine the clarity of Scripture concerning God’s nature and the distinction of persons within the Trinity.  While mystery obtains (e.g., Christ’s incarnation) it’s the duty of disciples to not take the Name of the LORD our God in vain (i.e., misrepresenting His Character or Being).

The doctrine of the Trinity is in fact one of the pillars of Christendom distinguishing it from all other beliefs, and it is foundational to understanding so much of Scripture.

(SDG)

[1]  Tertullian, “Against Praxeas,” Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume III, Pp.597-627, (T & T Clark Edinburgh, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprinted in 1997)

Selected Book Summaries from the PATRISTIC & MEDIEVAL PERIOD by Sergio Tangari

Justin-Martyr

Justin Martyr, First Apology[1]

In his first Apology, Justin addresses the Roman Emperor; Pius Augustus Caesar, his sons Versimmus and Lucius, both of which are philosophers, the Senate and all of the Roman people.  Martyr’s chief concern is regarding the injustice Christians are suffering at the hands of Roman authorities.  The Christian worldview is being egregiously misrepresented, and as such, Justin challenges these “lovers of truth” (the philosophers) to listen to reason, and to investigate to see whether or not the allegations raised against believers are warranted.

First, Christians are being condemned for simply bearing the name.  Justin points out that a mere name does not constitute whether one is evil or good, but rather the actions one does or does not commit should condemn or acquit them.

Second, Christians are charged of being atheists and Justin points out that they are atheists of a certain kind.  This atheism is not equivalent to our modern usage of the word.  Instead, it concerns the refusal of Christians to worship the pantheon of Roman gods, which Justin rightly labels as “demons”, which are not gods at all.  Instead Christians acknowledge only Jesus Christ as God, the only one worthy to be worshipped.

Third, Justin accentuates the need for Christians individually to be tried to see if they actually are evildoers, and if found guilty, they ought to be punished.  But to merely condemn one for bearing the name “Christian” lacks reason, and it is a travesty of justice.

Fourth, Justin points out the foolishness of idol worship and demonstrates how God is to be served.  Idols are nothing but soulless dead representations of contingent beings (creatures) and as such, to worship them is not only senseless but an offense to God (creator).  Since God is the only necessary being, he is the source of all things, and as such, the service that God accepts, must conform to the excellencies that reside in Him.  Moreover, Justin points out that the Christians worship is rational and is based on Christ’s teaching, who among other things, calls all men to repentance from dead works to serve the living God.

Fifth, Justin continues with a litany of Christ’s teaching found in the Gospels.  Concerning truth telling, the believer is to let “your yes be yes, and your no, no”.   Regarding civil obedience, give to Caesar what belongs to him, and to God what belongs to Him.  Here, Justin distinguishes the proper relationship the Christian is to have with the state and with God.

Sixth, Justin answers the heathen analogies to Christian doctrine, to the history of Christ and to his Sonship and points out that although there are similarities, truth and redemption are only found in Christ Jesus the Lord.  Since the aforementioned obtains, Christians have abandoned the worship of false gods, the practice of sorcery, and promiscuous behavior.

Seventh, Martyr points out that the life and works of Christ are predicted in the Hebrew prophets, and as such uses fulfilled prophecy to argue for the veracity of Christian doctrine.  He starts off with Moses describing the time of Jesus’ coming and his passion.  Then Isaiah (the most quoted prophet) describes the predicted virgin birth, reign, and crucifixion of Christ, while Micah describes Bethlehem as the place of his birth.  Furthermore, the Psalmist predicts his incarnation, crucifixion, and ascension.   Justin also points out that Judea’s desolation, Christ’s healing ministry, and rejection by the Jews are also foretold.  Hence, if what was foretold has already been fulfilled, for Justin, it stands to reason that the predictions not yet fulfilled, will be.  And are thus worthy to be believed.

Eighth, Justin explains that even though demons have instituted the rite of baptism in their temples, true baptism is reserved only for those who are born again.  He continues to explain that partaking of the Eucharist is reserved only for those who have been regenerated and baptized.  He finally explains the reason they worship on Sunday and explains their liturgy.

Justin concludes his letter in the manner in which he started, he appeals to reason and justice. He challenges his audience, if the material presented is reasonable and true, and then they should honor it and not decree the innocent to be killed.  If it is nonsensical, they should totally disregard it. He then warns them that they will not escape the coming judgment of God if they do not stop their injustice.

[1] Martyr, Justin, “The First Apology of Justin,” The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I, pp.163-187,) T & T

Clark Edinburgh, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprinted in 1996).