SS. Anselm & Athanasius — yes, I put them together

Don't pit Anselm against Athanasius.

Don’t pit Anselm against Athanasius.

A common trope among our Eastern Christian brothers’ criticisms of the Western theological tradition is the allegation that St. Anselm of Canterbury — often referred to as “the father of scholasticism” — “ruined” the doctrine of the Atonement by “introducing” the idea of penal substitution. To be very brief, this just isn’t true: that the Atonement entailed the fulfillment of both Divine love and Divine wrath is evident not only from the apostolic witness (the Scriptures) but also from the witness of the fathers.* Yes, this is an assertion — not an argument. (I am not here and now attempting to make an argument, but I get to be tendentious because it’s my website.)

I mention the foregoing not to broker discord between Eastern and Western Christians on this Holy Saturday (which we happen to share this year — thanks be to God!) — but to provide some context for the readings which I offer below. In short, my point is this: these two great saints should not be pitted against one another. Though their emphases are different, they do truly speak with one voice. I offer selections from each of them, without further comment.

HT: Rev. Fr. William Weedon

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* “Patristic Passages of Interest for Lutherans,” compiled by Fr. Wm. Weedon; “Penal Substitution in the Writings of the Church Fathers,” compiled by Chris Rosebrough.

 

Prayer to the Holy Cross
St. Anselm of Canterbury

We do not acknowledge you because of the cruelty that godless and foolish men prepared you to effect upon the most gentle Lord, but because of the wisdom and goodness of Him who of His own free will took you up.

For they could not have done anything unless His wisdom had permitted it, and He could not suffer except that in his mercy He willed it.

They chose you that they might carry out their evil deeds; He chose you that He might fulfill the work of His goodness.

They that by you they might hand over the Righteous to death; He that through you He might save sinners from death.

They that they might kill Life; He that He might destroy death.

They that they might condemn the Savior; He that He might save the condemned.

They that they might bring death to the Living; He to bring life to the dead.

They acted foolishly and cruelly; He wisely and mercifully.

Therefore, O Cross to be wondered at, we do not value you because of the intention of their cruel folly, but according to the working of mercy and wisdom.


From De Incarnatione, Book IV
St. Athanasius of Alexandria

“[I]f any honest Christian wants to know why He suffered death on the cross and not in some other way, we answer thus: in no other way was it expedient for us, indeed the Lord offered for our sakes the one death that was supremely good. He had come to bear the curse that lay on us; and how could He ‘become a curse’ otherwise than by accepting the accursed death? And that death is the cross, for it is written ‘Cursed is every one that hangeth on tree.’ Again, the death of the Lord is the ransom of all, and by it ‘the middle wall of partition’ is broken down and the call of the Gentiles comes about. How could He have called us if He had not been crucified, for it is only on the cross that a man dies with arms outstretched? Here, again, we see the fitness of His death and of those outstretched arms: it was that He might draw His ancient people with the one and the Gentiles with the other, and join both together in Himself. Even so, He foretold the manner of His redeeming death, ‘I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Myself.’ Again, the air is the sphere of the devil, the enemy of our race who, having fallen from heaven, endeavors with the other evil spirits who shared in his disobedience both to keep souls from the truth and to hinder the progress of those who are trying to follow it. The apostle refers to this when he says, ‘According to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience.’ But the Lord came to overthrow the devil and to purify the air and to make ‘a way’ for us up to heaven, as the apostle says, ‘through the veil, that is to say, His flesh.’ This had to be done through death, and by what other kind of death could it be done, save by a death in the air, that is, on the cross? Here, again, you see how right and natural it was that the Lord should suffer thus; for being thus ‘lifted up,’ He cleansed the air from all the evil influences of the enemy. ‘I beheld Satan as lightning falling,’ He says; and thus He re-opened the road to heaven, saying again, ‘Lift up your gates, O ye princes, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors.’ For it was not the Word Himself Who needed an opening of the gates, He being Lord of all, nor was any of His works closed to their Maker. No, it was we who needed it, we whom He Himself upbore in His own body—that body which He first offered to death on behalf of all, and then made through it a path to heaven. (IV: 25)

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Atonement for All You Have Done

Crucifixion

And all the prophets saw this, that Christ was to become the greatest thief, murderer, adulterer, robber, desecrator, blasphemer, &c., there has ever been anywhere in the world. He is not acting in His own person now. Now He is not the Son of God, born of the Virgin. But He is a sinner, who has and bears the sin of Paul, the former blasphemer, persecutor, and assaulter; of Peter, who denied Christ; of David, who was an adulterer and a murderer, and who caused the Gentiles to blaspheme the name of the Lord (Romans 2:24). In short, He has and bears all the sins of all men in His body — not in the sense that He has committed them but in the sense that He took these sins, committed by us, upon His own body, in order to make satisfaction for them with His own blood.

[...]

This is the most joyous of all doctrines and the one that contains the most comfort. It teaches that we have the indescribable and inestimable mercy and love of God. When the merciful Father saw that we were being oppressed through the Law, that we were being held under a curse, and that we could not be liberated from it by anything, He sent His Son into the World, heaped all the sins of all men upon Him, and said to Him: “Be Peter the denier; Paul the persecutor, blasphemer, and assaulter; David the adulterer; the sinner who ate the apple in Paradise; the thief on the cross. In short, be the person of all men, the one who has committed the sins of all men. And see to it that You pay and make satisfaction for them.”

– Blessed Martin Luther, Great Galatians Commentary.

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Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations, and say…

Thus says the Lord God to Jerusalem:

Your birth and your nativity are from the land of Canaan; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. As for your nativity, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed in water to cleanse you; you were not rubbed with salt nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things for you, to have compassion on you; but you were thrown out into the open field, when you yourself were loathed on the day you were born.

And when I passed by you and saw you struggling in your own blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ Yes, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I made you thrive like a plant in the field; and you grew, matured, and became very beautiful. Your breasts were formed, your hair grew, but you were naked and bare.

When I passed by you again and looked upon you, indeed your time was the time of love; so I spread My wing over you and covered your nakedness. Yes, I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you, and you became Mine.

Then I washed you in water; yes, I thoroughly washed off your blood, and I anointed you with oil. I clothed you in embroidered cloth and gave you sandals of badger skin; I clothed you with fine linen and covered you with silk. I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your wrists, and a chain on your neck. And I put a jewel in your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen, silk, and embroidered cloth. You ate pastry of fine flour, honey, and oil. You were exceedingly beautiful, and succeeded to royalty. Your fame went out among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through My splendor which I had bestowed on you.

uma

But you trusted in your own beauty. You played the harlot because of your fame, and poured out your harlotry on everyone passing by who would have it. You took some of your garments and adorned multicolored high places for yourself, and played the harlot on them. Such things should not happen, nor be. You have also taken your beautiful jewelry from My gold and My silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself male images and played the harlot with them. You took your embroidered garments and covered them, and you set My oil and My incense before them. Also My food which I gave you—the pastry of fine flour, oil, and honey which I fed you—you set it before them as sweet incense; and so it was.

Moreover you took your sons and your daughters, whom you bore to Me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured. Were your acts of harlotry a small matter, that you have slain My children and offered them up to them by causing them to pass through the fire? And in all your abominations and acts of harlotry you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, struggling in your blood.

Then it was so, after all your wickedness that you also built for yourself a shrine, and made a high place for yourself in every street. You built your high places at the head of every road, and made your beauty to be abhorred. You offered yourself to everyone who passed by, and multiplied your acts of harlotry. You also committed harlotry with the Egyptians, your very fleshly neighbors, and increased your acts of harlotry to provoke Me to anger.

"The Harlot" by Alec Dawson

“The Harlot” by Alec Dawson

Behold, therefore, I stretched out My hand against you, diminished your allotment, and gave you up to the will of those who hate you, the daughters of the Philistines, who were ashamed of your lewd behavior. You also played the harlot with the Assyrians, because you were insatiable; indeed you played the harlot with them and still were not satisfied. Moreover you multiplied your acts of harlotry as far as the land of the trader, Chaldea; and even then you were not satisfied.

How degenerate is your heart! Seeing you do all these things, the deeds of a brazen harlot.

You erected your shrine at the head of every road, and built your high place in every street. Yet you were not like a harlot, because you scorned payment. You are an adulterous wife, who takes strangers instead of her husband. Men make payment to all harlots, but you made your payments to all your lovers, and hired them to come to you from all around for your harlotry. You are the opposite of other women in your harlotry, because no one solicited you to be a harlot. In that you gave payment but no payment was given you, therefore you are the opposite.

Because your filthiness was poured out and your nakedness uncovered in your harlotry with your lovers, and with all your abominable idols, and because of the blood of your children which you gave to them, surely, therefore, I will gather all your lovers with whom you took pleasure, all those you loved, and all those you hated; I will gather them from all around against you and will uncover your nakedness to them, that they may see all your nakedness. And I will judge you as women who break wedlock or shed blood are judged; I will bring blood upon you in fury and jealousy. I will also give you into their hand, and they shall throw down your shrines and break down your high places. They shall also strip you of your clothes, take your beautiful jewelry, and leave you naked and bare.

the harlot 2

They shall also bring up an assembly against you, and they shall stone you with stones and thrust you through with their swords. They shall burn your houses with fire, and execute judgments on you in the sight of many women; and I will make you cease playing the harlot, and you shall no longer hire lovers. So I will lay to rest My fury toward you, and My jealousy shall depart from you. I will be quiet, and be angry no more. Because you did not remember the days of your youth, but agitated Me with all these things, surely I will also recompense your deeds on your own head. And you shall not commit lewdness in addition to all your abominations.

Indeed everyone who quotes proverbs will use this proverb against you: ‘Like mother, like daughter!’ You are your mother’s daughter, loathing husband and children; and you are the sister of your sisters, who loathed their husbands and children; your mother was a Hittite and your father an Amorite.

Your elder sister is Samaria, who dwells with her daughters to the north of you; and your younger sister, who dwells to the south of you, is Sodom and her daughters. You did not walk in their ways nor act according to their abominations; but, as if that were too little, you became more corrupt than they in all your ways.

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“Even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table…”

As I live, neither your sister Sodom nor her daughters have done as you and your daughters have done. Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter had pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty and committed abomination before Me; therefore I took them away as I saw fit.

Samaria did not commit half of your sins; but you have multiplied your abominations more than they, and have justified your sisters by all the abominations which you have done. You who judged your sisters, bear your own shame also, because the sins which you committed were more abominable than theirs; they are more righteous than you. Yes, be disgraced also, and bear your own shame, because you justified your sisters.

When I bring back their captives, the captives of Sodom and her daughters, and the captives of Samaria and her daughters, then I will also bring back the captives of your captivity among them, that you may bear your own shame and be disgraced by all that you did when you comforted them. When your sisters, Sodom and her daughters, return to their former state, and Samaria and her daughters return to their former state, then you and your daughters will return to your former state. For your sister Sodom was not a byword in your mouth in the days of your pride, before your wickedness was uncovered. It was like the time of the reproach of the daughters of Syria and all those around her, and of the daughters of the Philistines, who despise you everywhere. You have paid for your lewdness and your abominations. I will deal with you as you have done, who despised the oath by breaking the covenant.

 

Nevertheless…

 

I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you.

Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed…

And I will establish My covenant with you. Then you shall know that I am the Lord…when I provide you an atonement for all you have done.

lightstock_2317_xsmall_user_4649508

…to be continued.

 

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Serif seraph

Written on September 30, 2012; subsequently forgotten entirely; rediscovered, titled, and published on April 14, 2o14…

 

It was a dark and stormy night,
And novel quips took turns
Unseating six successive quests
To reinvent the wheel.

Poems die from introspection –
Not the poet’s, but their own.
There’s no serif sharp enough
To fend away the cloud

Of lack of reference. And
Enjambing does not bring relief.
Nor knowledge of triameter,
Apostrophe, blank-verse.

Is there a there there?
Why, dear reader?
Derrida? Oh, there you are.
That’s irony for you.

We can’t keep going on like this.
A truth’s a truth, and that’s a fact.
Tetrameter is more emphatic –
Maybe it will bring us back.

Adding end-rhyme seems to help,
But, still, what is this all about?
Beauty, mayhap? Truth and goodness?
Seriously. Help me out.

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Johann Gerhard on SS. Peter, James, and John in the Passion narrative

Nota Bene: I have included artwork which depicts the Transfiguration only in order to show Christ and the three apostles in question. The following excerpt from Johann Gerhard treats of Christ and these apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane. — admin

"Portable icon with the Transfiguration of Christ, Byzantine artwork, circa 1200, depicting Elijah, Jesus, and Moses with the three apostles." Source: Wikipedia.

Portable icon with the Transfiguration of Christ; Byzantine artwork, circa 1200, depicting Elijah, Jesus, and Moses with the three apostles. Source: Wikipedia.

“But why would Christ select and take with Him nearer to the place of suffering precisely these three: Peter, James, and John? First of all, they had volunteered themselves more than the others. Peter said: Lord, if I have to die with You, yet will I not deny You. James and John volunteered that they really did want to drink of Christ’s cup and were willing to be baptized with the water of tribulation with which Christ was to be baptized, Mat. 20. In order that this reliance upon their own strengths might be extinguished, Christ drew them nearer to Himself. God frequently still operates this way. He lays many great sufferings on you so that you see how completely beyond your power it is to have patience in cross-bearing if God does not give it and remain at our side in the midst of our need. For true Christians must come to the point that they completely sink themselves in God’s power and confess their utter powerlessness, since God’s power is nothing if not powerful in the weak ones, 2 Cor. 12. But whoever is stuck on himself, and does not in genuine sincerity sink himself in God’s goodness and power, such a one will certainly withstand [endure] nothing.”

johann-gerhard-1582-1637

Blessed Johann Gerhard, An Explanation of the History of the Suffering and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ; Malone, TX:  Repristination Press, 1998 [reprinted from the 1663 ed.]; p. 59.

 

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January Zero: “The Long Radio Silence”


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Unlike January Zero, this is a terrible outfit. It is also not based in Wilmington, NC.

I’m genuinely excited to promote “The Long Radio Silence”, the debut album by Wilmington-based indie-folk outfit January ZeroI have a personal connection with said outfit, so my recommendation is doubtlessly tainted by either nepotism or cronyism (we’re just not sure), but this music is so good that the taint just levels the playing-field.

Do you like a little poetry and philosophy in your melody? Nuances of the intelligible with an ineffable bouquet? Then this music is right up your proverbial alley. I know that I mentioned a playing field in the foregoing paragraph. It’s lawn-bowling, OK? OK.

Listen, buy, listen, promote, listen.

 

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Dear Robert: Fr. Roy Axel Coats on St. Thomas Aquinas, transubstantiation, and the modus essendi of the Body of Christ in the Eucharist

Rev. Fr. Roy Axel Coats, pastor of Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Baltimore, MD

The Rev. Fr. Roy Axel Coats, pastor of Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Baltimore, MD.

(…in medias res)

Dear Robert, et al.

Greetings everyone! I must admit that I am a bit confused by the conversation up to this point, and I will focus on the portion for which my name was invoked. I claim no expertise regarding St. Thomas Aquinas or his theology of the Sacrament of the Altar. These thoughts and conclusions are my own and are very easily wrong.

I must agree that the doctrine of transubstantiation does, or did, allow for divergent interpretations, and it has quite a long history. It is not the brainchild of St. Thomas, but Aquinas was receiving and defending a long tradition. St. Thomas does not even give transubstantiation its philosophical explanation. That also came before.

St. Ambrose used the term transfigurantur in his de Fide to describe what happens during the consecration. It is interesting that St. Thomas Aquinas uses St. Ambrose as the sed contra in III, q. 75, a. 2, on whether the substance of bread and wine remain after the consecration. The early form of the doctrine was simply that the bread turns into the Body while maintaining the appearance of bread. This we work on the basic distinction between the substance, what a thing is, and its appearance. This doctrine can be seen in de Corpore et Sanguine Domini of St. Paschasius Radbertus. He writes in chapter one of that work that the Body and Blood of our Lord remains in the figure of the bread and wine.

This doctrine became a norm for the Church during the controversy concerning the teaching of Berengarius of Tours. Pope St. Gregory VII (1073-1085) in the Sixth Roman Council, a provincial council, in 1079 makes Berengarius of Tours (999-1088), take this oath:

I, Berengarius, in my heart believe and with my lips confess that through the mystery of the sacred prayer an the words of our Redeemer the bread and wine which are placed on the altar are substantially changed into the true and proper and living flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, our Lord, and that after consecration it is the true body and blood of Christ which was born of the Virgin Mary and which offered for the salvation of the world, was suspended on the Cross, and which sitteth at the right hand of the Father., and the true blood of Christ, which was poured out from His side not only through the sign and power of the sacrament, but in its property of nature and in truth of substance, as here briefly in a few words is contained and I have read and you understand. Thus I believe, nor will I teach contrary to this belief. So help me God and these holy Gospels of God.

There is indeed a substantial change to the Body of the crucified and glorified Christ. This much can be affirmed. The terminology of substantial change is confusing, though, as we shall see.

Lafranc of Canterbury in his De corpore et sanguine Domini adversus Berengarium (1062) defending this position and the earlier one of the Council of 1059 teaches the view that the bread turns into the Body of Christ:

We believe, therefore, that the earthly substances, which on the table of the Lord are divinely sanctified by the priestly ministry, are ineffably, incomprehensibly, miraculously converted by the working of the heavenly power into the essence of the Lord’s body.

Here we see the use of the language of conversion to describe the change of the bread into the Body of Christ. It must be noted though that he uses many different terms throughout his work.

The teaching of transubstantiation is juxtaposed to that of a union between the bread and the Body. Hugh of St. Victor (1096-1141) in his de Sacramentis Christianae Fidei (c. 1134), II.viii.9 writes,

Through the words of sanctification the true substance of bread and the true substance of wine are changed into the true body and blood of Christ, the appearance [specie] of bread and wine alone remaining, substance passing over into substance. But the change itself is not to be believed to be according to union but according to transition [non secundum unionem, sed secundum transitionem credenda est], since by no means does essence add unto increase of essence, so that through what is added that to which it is added becomes greater, but it happens by transition that what is added becomes one with that to which it is added. Nor do we say that in the bread the body of Christ is so consecrated that the body of Christ receives being from bread, nor, so to speak, that a new body has suddenly been made from a change of essence; rather we say that essence has been changed into the true body itself and that the substance of bread and wine has not been reduced to nothing because it ceased to be what it was, but, rather that it has been changed because it began to be something else which it was not, and the thing itself which began to be did not receive being from it because it was bread, but it itself received its being when it ceased to be what it was.

Hugh clearly holds that the bread turns into the Body of Christ. In the latter portion Hugh is arguing that this is not a substantial change in the physical sense but a different kind of change, where the material of the change does not come from that which was, the bread, but is wholly new, the Body. Hugh seems to try to avoid the language of substantial change by speaking of transition.

A drawing of the Fourth Lateran Council from the Chronicle of Matthew Paris, Chronica Maiora.

A drawing of the Fourth Lateran Council from the Chronicle of Matthew Paris, Chronica Maiora.

The doctrine of transubstantiation was declared a dogma of the church in the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, ten years before the birth of St. Thomas. The definition was given:

One indeed is the universal Church of the faithful, outside of which no one at all is saved, in which the priest himself is the sacrifice, Jesus Christ, whose body and blood are truly contained in the sacrament of the altar under the species of bread and wine; the bread changed into His body by the divine power of transubstantiation, and the wine into the blood, so that to accomplish the mystery of unity we ourselves receive from HIms nature what He Himself received from ours.

Thus St. Thomas in his writings is defending a set dogma of the church. As far as I know there are only a few places where St. Thomas discusses the Sacrament of the Altar. I will focus on his writings in the Summa Contra Gentiles, vi.63-65, and the Summa Theologiae iiia, qq. 75-76.

No material substance for St. Thomas is invisible and without extension. They all have it. Substance cannot be removed from material or its extension, or its accidents. In all cases except for the Sacrament of the Altar the substance has its own extension, material, and accidents. In the Sacrament of the Altar the substance has its own material, the Body, but it has the accidents and extension of another, the bread.

St-thomas-aquinas

This unique mode of being is the result of a unique mode of change. Change is understood by St. Thomas, drawing from Aristotle’s Physics, to contain three principles, that that which subsists in the change, the matter; that which it is changed into, the form; and that which it changed from, the privation. The form can either be a substantial form or an accidental form. The change that occurs in regards to the Sacrament of the Altar is not of this kind at all. This is not the change of accidents, where a substance subsists through the change, as when I trim my beard. Nor is this a change of substance where the matter subsists through the change as when I digest a sandwich or when oxygen and hydrogen become water through hydrolysis. (NB: I know the latter example is anachronistic. All other examples of substantial change have something dying, which is confusing because that consists of a substance changing into a collection of many substances, as a human becomes turns into a corpse. We must also not use examples from art without qualification since that leads only to confusion. Aristotle speaks of wood and beds in the Physics only as an example and clearly states that it is such.) These kinds of change St. Thomas calls formal changes, they are the change of either the accidental form or the substantial form of a thing. In the Sacrament there is not just a formal change, but a change of the substance or being itself, including form and matter. Nothing subsists in this change. From the Summa Contra Gentiles:

Nonetheless, it must be recognized that the aforesaid conversion of the bread into the body of Christ is of another mode than any natural conversion whatever. For in any natural conversion a subject persists in which different forms succeed themselves: these are accidental – white, for example, is converted into black; or they are substantial — air, for example, is converted into fire; wherefore these are named formal conversions. But in the conversion under discussion a subject passes over into a subject, and the accidents persists; hence this conversion is named substantial.

In this mode of change alone there is nothing persisting or subsisting through the change: according to it, the very matter of the bread changes into the specific matter of the Body of Christ. This is important for the doctrine of transubstantiation, because if this did not happen, then one would only have the substance of human flesh under the species of bread, not the substance of the Body of Christ.

St. Thomas holds that the principle of individuation of anything is matter. Thus what makes a man this man is his matter. Thus if we are to have the body of this man, Jesus who was born of a Virgin and crucified, we would need to have the very matter of this man’s, i.e., Jesus’s, body. This teaching is echoed in the Summa Theologiae, IIIa, q. 75, a. 4, c., where he writes,

The determination of a certain thing into actual being is through its form. Whence no natural or created agent is able to move something unless by a change of form. On account of this, every conversion which is according to the laws of nature, is formal. But God is infinite act, as is supported in the Prima Pars. Whence his own putting in motion extends to the being of the whole nature. Therefore, not only is He able to accomplish formal conversions, so that diverse forms certainly succeed themselves in the same subject, but a conversion of the whole being, as namely the whole substance of this thing is converted into the whole substance of that thing. [ut scilicet tota substantia huius convertatur totius entis, ut scilicet tota substantia huius convertatur in totam substantiam illius.] And this is accomplished by the divine power in the sacrament. For the whole substance of bread is converted into the whole substance of the body of Christ, and the whole substance of wine is converted into the whole substance of the blood of Christ. Whence this conversion is not formal, but substantial. Neither is it contained among the kinds of natural motion, but the proper name is able to be called transubstantiation.

This conversion is a change of one substance into another substance. Thus there is not the removing of one substance to be replaced by another, see Summa Theologiae, IIIa, q. 75, a. 3, c. St. Thomas specifically argues against such a view of annihilation.

Yet I would like to point out that even in this mode of being and this mode of change the substance of the Body of Christ is always visible, it has visible species in accidents of bread. There is no taking out of one invisible substance and replacing it with another. The substances are always visible in some way: a visible substance is converted into another visible substance. One substance becomes another substance, even down to the individual, or signate, matter.

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Hugh of St. Victor

In regards to the question of locality, it is a little more difficult. St. Thomas argues that the whole Christ is in the Sacrament. He does so by distinguishing two powers by which the Sacrament is constituted. By the power of the Sacrament itself the Body of Christ is present in the Sacrament. Yet by the nature of concomitance, everything that is united to the Body of Christ are present in the Sacrament. Thus the whole Christ is present in the Sacrament. Thus the whole Christ is substantially present. Again by the power of the Sacrament the bread is substantially converted to the Body of Christ, thus the Body of Christ is not quantitatively there, the dimensions of Sacrament are those of bread not the whole Christ. Yet, on account of the power of concomitance, the dimensions of the Body and the whole Christ, and all other accidents are in this Sacrament. The question remains whether the Body of Christ and the whole Christ is present locally in the Sacrament. Aquinas answers no, yet not because of transubstantiation, but rather because of His understanding of the nature and person of Christ. A thing has place if the substance is contained by it own dimensions. This is from Aristotle’s Physics which defines place, if I remember correctly, as the first outside of which. This is not a crazy idea — your place is the part of the universe you take up. Yet the Body of Christ is not contained by its own dimensions, but by the dimensions of bread. Thus it does not have place as such, but it does have a place according to the dimensions of the bread. St. Thomas says in ST iiia, q. 76, a. 5:

[A]nd therefore the substance of the bread was there locally by reason of its dimensions (before the consecration) because it was compared with the place through the medium of its own dimensions; but the substance of Christ’s body is compared through the medium of foreign dimensions, so that, on the contrary, the proper dimensions of Christ’s body are compared with that place through the medium of substance; which is contrary to the notion of a located body.

Yet he explains that (a. 5, ad. 2)

[T]he place in which Christ’s body is, is not empty; nor yet is it properly filled with the substance of Christ’s body, which is not there locally, as stated above; but it is filled with the sacramental species, which have to fill the place because of the nature of dimensions, or at least miraculously, as they also subsist miraculously after the fashion of substance.

Thus the Body of Christ is present on the altar, not because of being located, but because of a miracle. Note well, though, that the reason that the Body is not located in the Sacrament as in a place properly is because St. Thomas does not know of a different mode in which the Body of Christ can be in the Sacrament in a way different from being there according to its natural dimensions.

This limited view of the modes by which the Body of Christ can be present also keeps St. Thomas from teaching that the Body of Christ, and the whole Christ, is definitively present in Sacrament. St. Thomas says that this cannot be so because the Body of Christ cannot be on the altar under the species of bread, also in heaven under its proper species, and also on many other altars as well.

Likewise it is not there circumscriptively, because it is not there according to the commensuration of its own dimensions. Yet St. Thomas is not causing any doubt as to where the Body is, and he writes, “But that it is not outside the superficies of the sacrament, nor on any other part of the altar, is due not to its being there definitively or circumscriptively, but to its being there by consecration and conversion of the bread and wine, as stated above.” Thus it is because of the conversion that the Body is present, not according to its own definitive place or circumscription. Again, one could only say that the Body is in the Sacrament definitively and circumscriptively if there was a different mode by which the Body could be definitively and circumscriptively present other than according its own dimensions.

This confession of illocality is not caused by the doctrine of transubstantiation, but a result of an understanding of the communication of attributes as described by the genus maiestaticum. I guess one could say St. Thomas is a proto-Calvinist because he does not teach the genus maiestaticum, yet that is not really a helpful conclusion. This is especially so because Calvin rejected any indefinite, illocal, and uncircumscript presence of Christ in the Sacrament. For Calvin our Lord is present in the Sacrament only according to the definitive, circumscribed, local presence of the natural dimensions of His Body. Namely our Lord is present in the Sacrament because we spiritually and in faith ascend through the Sacrament and commune with Him there. For Calvin, in the Sacrament Christ does not come down to us illocally and indefinitively, rather we go to where the Body of Christ has place and definition. Calvin writes in Institutes IV.xvii.31,

But greatly mistaken are those who conceive no presence of flesh in the Supper unless it lies in the bread. For thus they leave nothing to the secret working of the Spirit, which unites Christ himself to us. To them Christ does not seem present unless he comes down to us. As though, if he should bring us to himself, we should not just as much enjoy his presence! The question is therefore only of the manner, for they place Christ in the bread, while we do not think it is lawful for us to drag him from heaven. Let our readers decide which one is more correct. Only away with that calumny that Christ is removed from his Supper unless he lies hidden under the covering of bread! For since this mystery is heavenly, there is no need to draw Christ to earth that he may be joined to us.

He also writes in IV.xvii.12,

For as we do not doubt that Christ’s body is limited by the general characteristics common to all human bodies, and is contained in heaven (where it was once for all received) until Christ return in judgement, so we deem it utterly unlawful to draw it back under these corruptible elements or to imagine it to be present everywhere.

The Body of Christ with which we commune is local and definitive. In fact of all the possible views, Calvin’s Body in the Sacrament is the most local and definitive.

luther redIt is the Blessed Martin Luther who defined the different modes by which the Body of Our Lord can be present. The first mode is the circumscribed corporeal mode of presence, by which He is in His Body as He walked on earth. This is the only mode understood by St. Thomas and Calvin. Second is the uncircumscribed, spiritual mode of presence, “by which He neither occupies nor yields space.” This is the mode by which His Body is in the bread of the Sacrament and His Blood is in the wine of the Sacrament. It explains how the Body of Our Lord is locally present in the Sacrament. There is a third mode, the divine, heavenly mode of presence, by which the Body of Our Lord is present wherever God is present. Thus there is the ubiquity of the Body of Christ. This mode can explain how the Body of Our Lord is definitively present in the Sacrament. These three modes are from Luther’s 1528 Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper, and this passage is quoted at length in Article VII of the Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord. Thus according to the second mode, the spiritual mode, which is able to be in many places on account of the third mode, the Body of Our Lord can be said to be definitively in the Sacrament. This is using the definition of “definitive” that St. Thomas himself gives for spiritual things in ST, ia, q. 52, a. 2, c. He writes, “For a body is in a place circumscriptive, because it is commensurate to that place; however angels are not circumscriptive, as they are not commensurate to a place, but definitive; because such are in one place and not in another. God however is neither circumscriptive, nor definitive, because He is ubiquitous.” The three modes of presence described by St. Thomas are the three modes of presence that Luther uses. Yet Luther alone states that all three modes are true of the Body of Christ, and that the Body of Christ is present in the Sacrament according to the definitive mode.

As I was thinking about these things I was shocked at how Luther from very early on was willing to reject the view that there is a conversion of the bread into the Body of Christ in favor of there being a union between the bread and the Body. This union is defined as the Sacramental Union in the Formula of Concord. Yet is clear the that the teaching of the union is against the teaching of Paschasius, Lafranc, Guitmund, Lateran IV, Hugh, St. Thomas, and many others. It is explicitly condemned by Hugh and St. Thomas, who gives I believe five arguments against it. (All these arguments seem to be refutable, and sometime I should take the time to respond to them.) It is interesting that the Franciscans were not as harsh. St. Bonaventure, before Lateran IV, might actually have held to the union view. That view was considered by the Blessed John Duns Scotus to be rationally and Scripturally possible. He rejects it at the end because of Lateran IV. Ockham also argued that it was possible, rationally and Scripturally. He writes in the Fourth Quodlibet, Question 30,

The third opinion (that of a union) would be quite reasonable if the determination of the Church were not opposed to it. For this opinion avoids, and saves one from, all the difficulties that follow upon the separation of the accidents from their subject; nor is the contrary of this opinion found in the canon of the Bible. And it is no more of a contradiction for Christ’s body to exist together with the substance of the bread than it is for it to exist together with the accidents of the bread. Nor is this repugnant to reason. For a quantity is repugnant to another quantity in the same place to the same extent that a substance is repugnant to another quantity in the same place; but two quantities can exist simultaneously in the same place, as is evident in a case where two bodies exist in the same place. Furthermore, the substance of the body of Christ is able to exist in the same place as the quantity of the host; therefore, it is able fore the same reason to exist in the same place as the substance of the host.

In the Babylonian Captivity, Luther claims to have been influenced to accept the teaching of the union over conversion, by the writings of Peter d’Ailley. Thus there was a tradition that Luther was building on, yet his divergence is still shocking. The views of Luther regarding a union are dogmatized in the Formula of Concord. As a result, we cannot use all of the same language as those who hold to a conversion of the bread into the Body. For example, it seems unhelpful if we say that the bread changes into the Body of Christ. Likewise, it seems doctrinally weak to even say that the bread becomes the Body of Christ. I must think more on this, and read more Luther and Chemnitz.

Forgive me for my circuitous ramblings. I hope some of it is helpful to the question at hand. I wish I had more time to change some of the order of the argument. I also wish I had time to proofread it more thoroughly. I beg your pardon for any mistakes.

 

Pax,

Fr. Roy Axel Coats

Fr. Coats administering the Sacrament to a parishioner in November of 2010.

Fr. Coats administers the Sacrament to his mother and father at his ordination mass in November 2010.

 


A brief addendum:

Fr Roy,

Thank you for this very thorough exposition of the history of sacramental doctrine in the Western Church!

I quite agree that, given the history of “transubstantiation,” it may be prudent to avoid the use of the verb “change” with reference to the Sacrament. Yet both Chemnitz and Gerhard were willing to use the term. Chemnitz wrote:

This is certainly a great, miraculous, and truly divine change (magna, miraculosa,et vere divina est mutatio), since before it was simply ordinary bread and ordinary wine. What now, after the blessing, is truly and substantially present, offered, and received is truly and substantially the body and blood of Christ. Therefore we grant that a certain change (mutationem aliquam) takes place, so that it can truly be said of the bread that it is the body of Christ (Examination of the Council of Trent, vol.2, p.258).

In his article, “Christ’s Presence in the Sacraments,” Fr. Piepkorn cites John Gerhard in this footnote:

It may be noted that the Symbols do not criticize the Eastern doctrine of metabole [a reference to Apology X], and that the archtheologian of the Lutheran Church sees a third possibility between the Roman Catholic transubstantiation and the metaphorical view of Calvinism, ‘namely that the bread has been changed sacramentally (quod videlicet panis mutatus fuerit sacramentaliter),’ and that he uses the term ‘sacramental change’(mutatio sacramentalis), as a synonym (although not one to be preferred) for ‘sacramental union,’ the term that Luther had devised to express the biblical view (Gerhard, Loci theologici, Locus XXI, cap.xii, paras.135-136).

I cannot now remember the citation where Piepkorn gives the five (?) Greek verbs used by the Eastern Church to express the mystery of the real presence. I am reliably informed by Orthodox friends that the Orthodox have no desire to dogmatize any of these expressions and that the use of the word “transubstantiation” among them is largely due to Western influence.

I suspect that we Lutherans should avoid the language of “change” lest we be misunderstood as affirming the Roman doctrine of transubstantiation. Fr. Piepkorn often said that, among all the formulations concerning the real presence, he much preferred Luther’s straightforward assertion in the Smalcald Articles, “We hold that the bread and wine in the Supper are the true Body and Blood of Christ” (SA III VI 1) not least because this comes closest to our Lord’s words of institution of the Sacrament.

Rev. Dr. Arthur Carl Piepkorn

Rev. Dr. Arthur Carl Piepkorn

It seems to me that this whole history of sacramental doctrine is at least in part an example of the very human desire somehow to penetrate the mysteries of God (I Cor.4:1). The great difficulty with this enterprise is that we so often wind up saying far more than needs to be said or in reality can with certainty be said. I believe that the Lutheran Symbols are a wonderful example of avoiding this enterprise, this danger. How much we need to remember the teaching concerning the “three lights” to which Luther refers at the end of De Servo Arbitrio – the light of nature, the light of grace, the light of glory! (LW 33, p.292) Luther says that much that is unclear in the light of nature becomes clear in the light of grace and that much that is now unclear in the light of grace will become clear in the light of glory. I may be treading on thin ice here, but it seems to me that late Lutheran Scholasticism often succumbed to precisely this danger and that, insofar as our own Synod’s theology (notably Franz Pieper’s work) has been shaped by late Lutheran Scholasticism, our own Synod has not escaped this danger — notably for example in the Brief Statement which in several respects goes far beyond the teaching of the Lutheran Symbols. One egregious example of that is the Brief Statement’s assertion that Adam had “a truly scientific knowledge of nature.” I don’t even know what that means — not least because the word “scientific” admits of so many different interpretations. And surely sinlessness does not include omniscience! And how on earth can such a (dubious!) claim as this be set forth as part of the Church’s confession of the true faith?! This is just one example of saying far more than can be defended on the basis of God’s Word written. It seems to me that in our theological work a holy reticence is desirable — affirming nothing less than Holy Scripture teaches but also not affirming as certain doctrine more than Holy Scripture teaches.

Fr. Charles McClean

pastor-mcclean_tn

 

 

 

 

 

 

+VDMA

A Catechetical Sermon on the Holy Trinity by Rev. Bruce Ley

My sister-in-law Emily, brother Graham, nephew/godson Walter, Pr. Ley, and myself after Walter's baptism last August.

My sister-in-law Emily, brother Graham, nephew/godson Walter, Pastor Ley, and myself after Walter’s baptism last August.

My dear pastor, Rev. Bruce Ley, is a quiet and unassuming man, more paternal than patriarchal. He doesn’t cut a majestic figure when he stands ad orientem before the altar in his alb and stole (our parish can’t afford a set of chasubles, but I’m seeing about getting some made), and his voice doesn’t exactly boom when he preaches (a fact for which the padded pews and carpeted nave are at least partially to be blamed). But when he takes the pulpit, there can be no doubt that he speaks wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. Like any good preacher, he does not rely on persuasive words of human wisdom. I am by no means suggesting that he lacks eloquence — he does not. But even the greatest of orators cannot marshal the muses to their beck and call with perfect consistency. No, and Pastor Ley can’t, either. But there is something which his words never lack, something which is sure and certain even if his sermon doesn’t give his parishioners goose bumps or make them shout “Eureka!”, and that is the promise which Our Lord gave to His apostles and to all holy ministers who have followed in their stead: “whoever hears you, hears Me” (St. Luke x, 16a).

Thus there can be no doubt that when white-haired Pastor Ley stands in the pulpit to preach, he speaks in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,  that our faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. Rev. Ley speaks the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory.

Two weeks ago, Pastor Ley preached what I have to say is one of the finest sermons that I have ever heard on that most ineffable of all mysteries: God, the Holy Trinity. He has graciously allowed me to present it to you here in both audio and textual form. May God, the Father, Son, and + Holy Spirit, use it.
 

NB: I have misplaced the text of the sermon, but I will add it to this post once I locate it.

 

+VDMA

Quiet George, Dear Robert, communicatio idiomatum, oh my!

"The Incredulity of St. Thomas"; Caravaggio, ~1601-1602.

“The Incredulity of St. Thomas”; Caravaggio, ~1601-1602.

Dear Robert,

It is most important that I begin by saying that I am but a first year seminarian and am by no means an authority or a great theologian. However, I am able to express the position of the historic Lutheran church on matters such as Justification as I have understood them from my readings of the Fathers (both Patristic and Lutheran) and from the lectures of eminent Lutheran scholars here on campus.

I must also admit that I am not much of a “scholastic”, and so I often write with a bit of imprecision. With that said, I hope you can discern the spirit of my words and that you will not hold any semantic inconsistencies against me.

You wrote that, according to the Reformed theology which you have inherited, you have understood Justification as being an attribution of Christ’s righteousness to the sinner, the concept of it being merely an attribution — that is, that some attribute, some nominal predicate, is being connected to the sinner which does not properly belong to him. But why is it merely attributed to him, rather than being truly his?

It is my impression that the Reformed tend vigorously to defend the complete transcendence of God. If God is truly to be “that which nothing greater can be conceived,” if He is to be the “unknowable, infinite, ineffable God,” then He must be infinitely separated from creation, for the distance between any finite thing and any infinite thing is infinite. This is a very rational argument, and there is indeed much good piety to be procured from a consideration of God’s transcendence. However, I believe the Calvinists abuse this doctrine by using it to deny the central mystery of Christianity: that this very infinite and transcendent God has become entirely immanent, that is, that He has united himself with His creation in man, and that He has done so essentially (that is, at the level of his essence).

The most startling way in which Calvinism realizes this separation of the transcendent Creator and the created is in a denial of any real communication between the two natures of Christ. To Calvinists, the hypostatic union between the human and the divine natures in Christ is little more than verbal. This being so, there is surely nothing “deified” about the nature of man in Christ, for human nature is incapable of interacting with the infinite Divine nature in any way. Similarly, the Divine is in no way bound to the human nature of Christ. The two, though in some sense “combined” in Christ, do not in any way communicate their attributes to each other. They are as two boards, glued to one another; connected by a certain tie, but utterly distinct. Theodore Beza writes:

To posit any communication that is an effect of the union and other than the actual and usual uniting that they call ‘grace’, I say, that is nothing other than intolerable Eutychianism (Resp. ad. act. Colloq., p.92).

Similarly, he writes:

We teach on the basis of the hypostatic definition of the union that neither the deity nor the properties of the deity can be said about the humanity in any way, not even in the union (ibid).

Elsewhere he again writes:

We call the communication of properties ‘verbal’ insofar as this is a figurative expression of speech. Yet at the same time we call it ‘real’ and ‘utterly true’ because it is said about the entire person against Nestorius, according as it is one. But if they are said about the natures, as our adversaries take this, we claim that it is neither verbal nor real, but blasphemy, something to be hated (Opera, vol. 1, p. 638).

What Beza seeks to make clear here is a teaching found already in the Institutes of Jean Calvin, that the divine and human are unbridgeably separated, not because of sin, but by nature – that is to say, even in the state of grace before the fall, there was an infinite chasm between Adam and God.

So, if to the Reformed there is a separation between the divine and human in the hypostatic union of Jesus himself, it is needless to say that there is an insurmountable divide between humanity in general and God. Because of this, to the Calvinist the goal of Justification is not to be in any real sense “returned to God” but rather just to be in a “right relation” to Him, in the same way that two friends can be put into a right relation. Since Calvinists see the problem to be relational and not ontological, they posit a solution which is relational and not ontological, namely, that God decides to accept the death of one man, Jesus, as a propitiation for the sin of all man, thereby forgiving the elect their sin, and granting them His favor.

The important thing to note about the entire Calvinist system is how much it relies on “decisions” by God, that is, on God’s will, and not on His essence. He decides to save man, and then decides which particular men to save (limited atonement) and then decides on a plan to save mankind (the salvation narrative) and then decides to accept Christ’s death as an atonement, though in and of itself it was of no particular value. God decides to forgive the elect, and since it is merely a decision on behalf of God, it need not have any “objective” substance. In a sense, it is very subjective, for it all occurs within the mind of God. This leads to Calvinism’s famous theology of “decrees” whereby all things pertaining to salvation happen primarily by God’s decreeing from His infinite holiness that it come to pass.

Lutherans differ here, for they would agree with St. Cyril of Alexandria that man was meant from the beginning to have a true, essential communion with God. It is for this reason that St. Peter writes that we will be “partakers of the divine nature” and the Psalmist that “Ye are gods, all of you are children of the most high!” Similarly, the language of adoption assumes an essential union between the adopter and the adopted, for a man can only adopt that which is another man, if a son is to be a son of a father, he must be like unto the father. The image of “family” employed in any way assumes a kinship. Therefore, if we are to be adopted by God, becoming sons of the Father, and the brothers of Christ, we must be likened unto God, or as Paul writes, we must be “transformed into the same image, from glory to glory.”

It is also not to be taken lightly that the communion between God and the Church is likened in the Scriptures to a bridegroom and his bride. God is not distant from His Church, neither does He merely “relate to it.” Rather, just as a bridegroom desires to unite with his wife, so does God long to unite with His Church. God’s love for the church is erotic, that is, He longs to pour Himself into His Church, to pour His being into mankind. It should not seem strange, therefore, that St. Ignatius, in his Epistle to the Romans, refers to Jesus as ‘Eros’ that is, a passionate love.

God, therefore, longs to bring mankind into Himself, not in such a way that man is “merged into” God, but in such a way that man and God might be said to be one, though they are also said to be distinct. Man must be deified. But some problems lie in the way, namely: that man has severed his nature from God’s love, and has instead devoted himself to the devil and all the powers of the demonic. Man is not only, then, separated from God ontologically, but actively hates God and serves Satan. How then, can he be saved?

In the Incarnation, Christ once again reunites the human nature to the Divine in Himself. The Reformed tend to think that the Incarnation means that the Son “became a man.” But note that the Nicene Creed reads that the Son “became man,” that is, humanity. In Him, the schism between the Divine and the human which was wrought by man’s rebellion was ontologically undone. By becoming mankind in this way, by uniting the two natures in his own person, He is able to conquer the devil as mankind, that is — He is able to undo the evil of Adam, not as God, but as man. Similarly, he can be put to death, and die not just as Jesus of Nazareth, but die as mankind. All man died in Jesus, and therefore God’s first promise that “if you eat of this fruit, you shall surely die” comes to pass in Him, not metaphorically, but truly.

To understand the Lutheran doctrine of “Forensic Atonement” you must first grasp the concept that Jesus was not just “God taking on flesh” but the Son taking on the human race in every respect. Further, you must realize that when the Bible says “He became sin for us,” this is not merely saying “our sins were attributed or imputed to Him” but rather that in some mysterious way He truly was sin. He was the greatest sinner of all. He was a murderer, a harlot, an adulterer, a thief, a backbiter, a rapist. He was all evil, and for this, He was put to a terrible death. Even more so, He was not just a generic “murderer” or a generic “harlot” but He was every murder and harlot individually. He was David, the killer and adulterer; He was Rahab, the prostitute; He was Adam, the rebel, the hater of God. He was them all, and they all received their death in Him, and so justice was wrought. The “account was settled” before God, for mankind had truly been punished. Jesus “bore our sorrows.” The more strongly and less metaphorically we are able to accept these truths, the closer we come to comprehending the great mystery of the religion.

But it is not just the case that the Son, being made man, was able to effect the forensic justification of mankind by dying as mankind, but rather, man has also been united to the Son, and so just as the Son is essentially eternal, so those united to him will be eternal as well. Death cannot bind us, for we partake of undying Divinity. We therefore will “rise to new life,” passing from “glory to glory.”

So the question then becomes, how is it that we are made such partakers of the divinity? How do we participate in the fruits of the Incarnation and Atonement of the Son? The answer is found in the ancient “economy of salvation.”

The Father is the fount of the divinity, it is to Him that man must be brought. The Father and the Son have an essential communion within the Trinity, and in the Incarnation, the Son takes on a human body and fills it with all the power of the Divine glory. His body, therefore becomes truly life giving. We, as lowly men can not directly commune with the Father, for, as the Reformed are quite apt to inform us, He is infinitely above us. But we can commune with flesh, for we are flesh, and so we commune with the flesh of Christ in the mysteries of the Church. By that flesh which is united to the Son, we too are united to the Son, and as the Son is united to the Father, so we are then united to the Father. It is therefore by the physical Body and Blood of Christ that we are found to be born unto the Father’s glory, and without this Body and Blood, there can be no union, and therefore no Christian religion. It is with this understanding that the Lutheran is glad to affirm St. Athanasius’s dictum, “God became man that man might become God.”

Now that I look back at what I have written, I realize it is terribly unorganized. You must forgive me, for I am currently battling a very resilient flu, and am therefore not at the heights of my intellectual capacity.

Again, I am but a lowly seminarian. I would, however, be glad to answer any other questions you might have, Robert. Also, I have been informed that Jordan Cooper (an actual pastor and a well studied theologian!) has been brought into the conversation, perhaps he can help you as well, and also perhaps correct me where I have been misled or at least unclear.

I hope and pray you are very well.

~ Q.G.

 

+VDMA

A ghost of pseudepigraphy-past: “The Myth of Strong Christians” — June 15, 2009

Truth.

Occasionally I find myself thinking of something that I wrote way back in the day, but, upon searching for it, I discover that it’s nowhere to be found here on tdaviddemarest.com. Horrifying! It seems that some of the posts from my old blog never did transfer over.

What follows is a piece that I wrote in June of 2009, the summer between my junior and senior years of college. I present it to you unedited — aside from typos. While I might not say everything I said then in the exact same way today (and while I think I’m ever so slightly off in some places — guess which ones), I guess I’m pretty proud of my work. All I mean to say by this is that I think it’s good enough to share, and that the point of such sharing is that some may find it encouraging and edifying. That is certainly my hope.

Oh, and as an aside, I only thought of this ol’ piece because ye olde bloge notified me that it had received a visit. A ping, as it were, arrested my attention with its crystal clear clarion call. Tis doesn’t happen too terribly often anymore, understandably.

One last thing. You’ll notice that I open with a quotation from C.F.W. Walther. I remember having a hard time tracking down that particular excerpt, because I didn’t own any of Walther’s works at the time…

…can I confess something? I still don’t own any of Walther’s books. I’m actually not…a huge…fan of Walther…

Milhouse

“I’m sorry! Please don’t hit me!”

I’ll have to take that up in anudder post…

Without further ado, my piece from five yesteryears ago:

 

“One wants to look for Christ only within oneself and will not be satisfied until one has supposedly found him there. One is always wont to ask only ‘Do you have Christ in your heart? Do you feel how He works in it?’ If the answer is ‘Yes!’ only then is there to be [any] comfort and hope; then one can say that he believes…Woe to him who trusts in that! For doing that is the same as creating a false Christ for oneself and rejecting the Christ who hung on the cross and gives Himself to us in the Gospel. A tree remains a tree, also in winter when it shows no fruit, even no blossoms or leaves, and seems to be completely dead. Likewise a Christian remains a Christian so long as he seizes the merit of Christ by faith in the Gospel, even if in his heart he feels nothing of Christ, in fact nothing but death.”[emphasis mine] – C. F. W. Walther

* * *

“…and you know me, I’m a very strong Christian!”

Thus closed a friend of mine by way of explaining how surprising it was that he had gone through a period of intensely doubting his faith. Randian objectivism had thrown him for a loop, and (methinks for the first time) he had begun to perceive a degree of dissonance between the totalizing, rationally coherent ideology of economics favored by our school’s Economics department, and the Gospel of Christ. Yet where before he had merely ignored the conflict and continued with his mind divided, this time he had actually considered the possibility that the whole of Christianity was, well, bunk. After relating his struggle to me in some detail, he paused, and then added, “and you know me, I’m a very strong Christian!” as though he were conscious of the fact that I was flabbergasted that he had doubted his faith (I wasn’t), and unable to comprehend how this could have happened.

I wasn’t flabbergasted, because I, too, have doubted my faith before — struggled pitifully, feared hell, wondered if Christian revelation was all a grand hair-brained fabrication. I’ve read Hume, I’ve read Nietzche, I’ve read Hegel, Marx, Spencer, and, more recently Rorty and Dawson. I’ve questioned, I’ve stared at the abyss and been tempted by it, for the chasm is in my soul, too, as I am but a man. I’ve looked at the perfect systems dreamt up by the great ideologues of the post-Enlightenment West, those “systems so perfect, that no one will have to be good” of which Eliot wrote. I have been tempted to slavishly bind myself to logic, over and above the Word of God, Christ, and the testimony of Scripture. Yet Christ’s grace has availed, and His Holy Spirit has strengthened me in these intellectual and spiritual struggles. Yet I would never say that I am a strong Christian.

Quite the opposite. I am a weak Christian. Where does my strength lie, or rather, in what way am I strong? I am strong in my sins, strong in my unrighteousness, strong-willed in the service of myself, rather than my Lord. I am a strong sinner, and a weak Christian. Yet Christ is strong. My faith in Christ is a gift, a working of His Holy Spirit in me, for by my own reason and strength, I could not have come to Christ, nor could I continue to come, except He draws me. My faith is not of myself, but is Christ in me.

Christ, the object of our faith, is far greater than our faith. Faith is then a means, not an end. It is the means of our union with Christ. I believe it is known as fideism when one elevates one’s own faith to the level of a work, and sets faith above its very object, which is Christ.

We delude ourselves if we think that our ability to triumphantly, happily and assuredly say “Yes! I have Christ in my heart, and I feel him working there!” is the measure of our faith. Such was a very troubling standard of measuring my faith when I was in high school. I didn’t feel the feeling, and I was bothered by the constant quest at the different churches my family visited to find ways to generate that feeling. Some churches are more subtle in this quest for “meaningful faith” and don’t even know that they are on such a (perpetual) quest. Most who are would certainly not describe it that way. Still and all, such is the substance of so much modern Evangelical church practice. It’s as if the goal is to get to a point where you can say, “Well of course, that’s obvious! How could anyone think otherwise?” of the Gospel of Christ. After all, when something is obvious, one doesn’t need any supernatural assistance to believe it, or even to exercise one’s reason discursively until one is convinced: it’s just true — “self-evident,” you might say — and verified by a burning in the bosom.

But then what do you do when the burning stops? Uh-oh. Wait a second. Maybe you were never actually saved to begin with! Because if you had been–or “gotten”, as the saying goes, saved, naught but a river of life would ever flow from your heart, nor would the burning cease. Because once God presses ‘play’ (whenever He actually does…and this is sometimes difficult to verify) you’re just going to cruise from now ’til the rapture. You will then be what is known as a strong Christian. You will essentially operate on your own power. Sweet release!

Wow. How can I get saved? I’d like to be a strong Christian.

But it’s impossible. We do not know our own natures or the nature of our strength if we think that our will and our strength is so impervious. Yes…the wills of those who are in Christ are free. Do we know that that freedom is a burden, and should sober us, not send us into fits of glee or make us utter sighs of relief? The freedom to act apart from Christ is quite simply the freedom to wreak one’s own destruction. The myth of the strong Christian who proudly, or even matter-of-factly self-identifies as such is problematic, to say the least.

Yes, I’m using a certain operative definition of the term “strong Christian.” As unfair as it may seem to do so, I’m quite simply extrapolating what necessary attends the usage of this term among those Christians whose understanding of the life of faith is anti-sacramental, highly personal, anti-creedal, and consciously or unconsciously progressive. I do not wish to villify any and all who make use of the term, as I am aware that one could argue quite oppositely than I have done for a different signification. Regardless, the myth of the “strong Christian” which I have offered my thoughts on here, joins such novelties as the “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” as a more or less innocuous sounding Christian phrase the meaning of which is often more or less heterodox.

To iterate: we are strong sinners, and weak Christians. We are weak Christians because the image of Christ, the new Adam and the perfect Man, is not fully formed in any of us who claim the name of Christian, and we daily work to the tarnishing of that incorruptible image. That is why we must daily remember our baptism and remember that we have put on Christ, that He has put His name on us, and that in Him we are new creations. We must bind ourselves to Christ’s Body, the Church, where our faith is strengthened and renewed, where forgiveness is always already there and freely delivered in the preaching of the Word and the celebration of the sacraments. What a loss it is when the sacraments, the “things of this world” which Christ has ordained for the feeding of our souls as his means of grace, are traded for spiritualist notions of self-sufficiency and “strong Christianity.”

St. Paul sums up the matter more beautifully and succinctly than I could ever hope to:

For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God— and righteousness and sanctification and redemption — that, as it is written, ‘He who glories, let him glory in the LORD (I Corinthians 1:26-31).

I pray that we would all be made more willing to trade our autonomous self-acclamations, whether they be “strong Christian” or some other badge, for Christ, who is our strength.

 

+VDMA

“We have not yet convinced ourselves that the Law is beautiful…”

Some thoughts from a close friend, offered without comment:

“I tend to agree with the statement that is made in these articles*, that the preaching of the Law is meant to produce an actual result, and not merely to convict. However, I have noticed something (this is not an accusation, just an observation): Many Lutherans who would like to reintroduce the practice of exhortation into the life of the Church seem incessantly to base their argument upon the fact that St. Paul preaches the law in such a way as to encourage a goodly result.

“The argument is based on the particular example set by St. Paul and is an extrapolation from his style. This is not bad. However, I think I would find a better argument in the work of King David:

But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law doth he meditate day and night… For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish (Psalm i, 2 & 6).

 
“I perceive that some of these theologians do not rightly comprehend the problem. The problem is not so much that we are limiting the Law to one use, or that we are failing to lead our people into good works for our neighbor. I find the problem to be this: that we have not yet convinced ourselves that the Law is beautiful, and should in every way be our delight, simultaneously the object of our meditation, the joy of our contemplation, and ultimately (though not necessarily most importantly) the true work of our hands; for God is the Law, just as God is Love. If we say the Law only accuses, then we say that God only accuses. But it is the Love of God, that is, the Law of God, which effected our salvation. Therefore, we should rejoice in the Law always, for the Law is not something separate from God, a list of requirements; it is the essence of God made comprehensible to a created mind. It is for this reason that Luther can say ‘Only the Decalogue is Eternal’ for it is one with the Divinity.

“As long as we believe the Law to be something external to God, we will always fail to preach the Law properly.”

__________________________________________________

admin note:

* The articles in question:

 

+VDMA




Martin Luther's Complete Antinomian Theses & Disputations.
Why the Antinomian disputations? Why now? Whether it is the disappearance of the last generation of native-German speaking Americans, a residual post-World War II anti-German bias, or simply neglect, the theology of Luther that made its way out of the 16th century seems to have devolved, at least in the United States, into simple caricature. If known at all, Lutheran theology seems simply to be that which bolsters or buttresses contemporary theological concepts, ideas and trends...By bringing an unknown work of Luther to light, once again the reader is forced to consider the greater question of his theology in toto.
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