Friday, June 29, 2007

Reading Scripture with Irenaeus

On the feast of Saint Irenaeus, the great second century student of holy Polycarp, I think I will share here a small passage from Father Stephen Wiest, of blessed memory. In the fourth chapter of his dissertation (a typological study of Acts 6-7), he holds forth on the interpretation of the Stephen section of Acts on the part of the early Fathers. Here is what he writes regarding Irenaeus:

"Irenaeus is the first among the Greek fathers to exploit typological correspondences between Stephen and Christ. He employs what I shall call the 'typology of humanity'-figural likeness of the narrative circumstances of Christ and Stephen-for his polemics against the Gnostics of the second century. In Adversus haereses (ca. AD 180-190), Irenaeus attacks the Gnostic disjunction between the God of the OT and the God of the NT.

"For his fight Irenaeus drafts Stephen, 'who of all men, was the first to follow the footsteps of the Lord, being the first that was slain for confessing Christ, speaking boldly among the people and teaching them' concerning 'the God of glory' who appeared to Abraham. All of Stephen's words 'announce the same God, who was with Joseph and with the patriarchs, and who spake with Moses.' For Irenaeus, 'the whole range of the doctrine of the apostles proclaimed one and the same God, who removed Abraham, who made to him the promise of inheritance...that He was the Maker of all things, that He was the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that He was the God of glory.' That Stephen was so much like Christ makes it likely that Stephen taught what Christ and all the prophets taught-a 'like unto' argument that remains on the level of the mimetic and deputational views of Stephen.

"Irenaeus transcends, however, the typology of humanity to achieve what I shall call the 'typology of divinity.' Stephen turns out to be far more than 'like' Christ in his circumstances. Stephen's perfection of doctrine-held fast until the perfection of Stephen himself by death-attests the integral union of Stephen with 'perfection incarnate' in Christ. This becomes clear in another passage of Adversus haereses. In this section, Irenaeus ties the God of the OT to the God of the NT and binds the church doctrine of his own day to the doctrine of the apostles with an intricate rhetorical knot tucked around Stephen:

'Both the apostles and their disciples thus taught as the Church preaches, and thus teaching were perfected, wherefore also they were called away to that which is perfect-Stephen, teaching these truths, when he was yet on earth, saw the glory of God, and Jesus on his right hand, and exclaimed, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God." These words he said, and was stoned; and thus did he fulfil the perfect doctrine, copying in every respect the Leader of martyrdom, and praying for those who were slaying him, in these words: "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge." Thus were they perfected who knew one and the same God, who from beginning to end was present with mankind in the various dispensations...Those, therefore, who delivered up their souls to death for Christ's Gospel-how could they have spoken to men in accordance with old-established opinion? If this had been the course adopted by them, they should not have suffered; but inasmuch as they did preach things contrary to those persons who did not assent to the truth, for that reason they suffered.'

"Irenaeus advances his logic by means of word-play. Stephen, preeminent among Christ's disciples, confessed the 'perfect' doctrine and was 'perfected' by his suffering and death for it. Through his martyrdom Stephen both saw and was called away to that which is 'perfect', Christ. The conformity of martyred Stephen to Christ, 'the Leader of martyrdom', the vision of Christ granted Stephen, Stephen's Christ-like final petition for the forgiveness of his enemies and the welcome provided dying Stephen by Christ prove the perfection of perfected Stephen's doctrine about the Perfect One. Stephen's doctrine is identical to that confessed and suffered for by many subsequent Christians made perfect by martyrdom. For Irenaeus, Stephen transcends simple imitation of Christ to partake of Christ's own divine perfection."

Thus far Stephen Wiest, whose whole dissertation is simply outstanding. One day I hope it wil be published. Christians of the 21st century honor Irenaeus by actually reading and meditating upon what he would teach us in his writings, such as his Adversus haereses. In his battle against the enemies of Christ in his own time, he showed us how to read scripture, as a whole, a christological whole. And just as he 'drafted' St. Stephen in this battle, Stephen Wiest drafted Irenaeus, and can help us do the same.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

quote on the Blessed Eucharist

I refuse, out of principle, to comment today on Saint Cyril of Alexandria. Instead, I offer a passage from Saint John, the Golden Mouth. At the moment I cannot tell you where in Chrysostom this can be found, for I found it undocumented (sort of like so many of the dishwashers and prep cooks I have worked with in the restaurant business). The source does seem trustworthy to me, but even if you don't wish to trust it, then just ponder the words, no matter who said them:

"You envy the opportunity of the woman who touched the vestments of Jesus, of the sinful woman who washed his feet with her tears, of the women of Galilee who had the happiness of following him in his pilgrimages, of the Apostles and disciples who conversed with him familiarly, of the people of the time who listened to the words of grace and salvation which came froth from his lips. You call happy those who saw him...But, come to the altar and you will see him, you will touch him, you will give to him holy kisses, you will wash him with your tears, you will carry him within you like Mary Most Holy."

Monday, June 25, 2007

Presentation of the Augustana

It is a pity, in my view, that the Presentation of the Augustana (25 June) does not seem to get a whole lot of attention in the Church of the Augsburg Confession. Yes, I know it gets a bit more attention in years when it falls on a Sunday. And when it falls even just a day or two away from a Sunday, it is not a feast that will be transferred very often, since John's Nativity cannot be tampered. So the Lutheran Church's yearly celebration of her chief Confession seems to have the best chance of exposure only in urban churches that have daily Mass, or at least daily worship in the Divine Office, and at school campuses that have a presence in the summer, and that have a pastor, or dean of chapel, or rector, who cares enough to make it happen. So the odds are not in this feast's favor. In many cases, as I have outlined above, this is for very understandable reasons. I am not nesessarily ranting, in other words.

I strongly believe, however, that men and women who call themselves Confessional Lutheran, and whose circumstances are such that they are vocationally devoted to a life of prayer and service to the Church, that is, for example, seminarians, presbyters of all sorts (whether parish pastors, missionaries, hospital chaplains, military chaplains, campus pastors, seminary instructors, church bureaucrats, etc), deacons, school teachers, deaconesses, etc, would do well to be praying some form of the Daily Office, at least once or twice a day, and at least in that way, keep feasts such as this one.

One of the things that the feast of the Presentation of the Augustana will hopefully inspire in such people, is the renewed desire to immerse oneself in the Augsburg Confession. I myself have no great expertise on the Augustana, no great wisdom to impart regarding the Confession. I cannot help but share a thought or two, though, which if nothing else, will at least broadcast a little something of my own concept of what this great Confession means, and can mean to the Church.

I have never heard of anyone who actually, honestly, read through the Augustana and then concluded that it is a Protestant Confession. The Catholic nature of the Augustana permeates it, and is unmistakable. It comes through in many ways. I will not take the space here to go into them; I just want to share some general observations at this point. Those who have read it with their eyes open, though, know exactly what I am saying. Even a man as firmly Papist and anti-Lutheran as Karl Adam admits this. He writes, for example, in his Roots of the Reformation, "We should be even more struck by the fact that the Confession of Augsburg, drawn up by Melanchthon and approved by Luther, which in evangelical Christianity ranks even today as an authoritative confession of faith, makes no mention in its first part of any fundamental dogmatic difference...and in fact expressly declares that the whole dispute is concerned only with certain abuses..." The Confession of the Christian faith as formulated in the Lutheran Symbols, centering as they do around the Augustana itself, is a deeply and inherently Catholic Confession. The more we read, ponder, and pray the words of the Augustana, the more we will become conviced of the Catholicity of our Confession, and the more willingly we will desire to actually teach it and practice it. The Augustana will prove itself, in other words, to be the perfect tool if we really want to show ourselves distinct (if we really do want to proclaim our "Lutheran distinctives") over against the dominant religious opponents of our time, that is, the Protestant Gnostic milieu which overwhelms us on all sides.

I would make just one more observation at this point. The best way to read the Augustana is not merely as a series of articles, but as an organic body. It is one Confession, which finds its center in the Person of Christ, or our Redemption, that is to say, the third and fourth articles together form the center, the heart, which gives meaning, and relevancy, to the rest. The other articles are not less important, or unimportant, but concentrate around, and have their real meaning in Christ. As Dr. David Scaer said at the Concordia Catechetical Academy Symposium about fourteen years ago (I will paraphrase from memory, since my copy is now lost), the message of the Augustana is that Jesus Christ is the full and complete manifestation of God to men. This is great comfort, for it means that we need not look for God out in the cosmos, nor in the inner abyss of the self, but only in Christ, our Immanuel.

Those are my meager thoughts on a Monday night in Fort Wayne.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Weigel on new Missal

George Weigel offers a refreshing perspective on the upcoming revisions to the English translation of the Roman Rite. I highly recommend it to you. You can find it at the following site:
He is surely going against the current, at least in the American Church, which is one reason I like him.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Boniface and Trinity Sunday

I let yesterday go by without commenting on St. Boniface, whose feast it was. So I thought I'd share one little tidbit about him, something which is not usually found in summaries of his life. I have been studying the history of the feast of the holy Trinity, and just today I came across an interesting connection between Boniface and the subject of my study. The development of a special liturgy in praise of the Holy Trinity is quite involved, and a coherent summary of it will have to wait. One chapter, you might say, in that development, however, is that Alcuin, the great liturgical scholar of the Carolingian era, composed a Mass in honor of the Blessed Trinity. And it was likely St. Boniface himself who asked him to do so. That is the opinion of at least one writer I have consulted so far. Out of deep concern for the present age, and well as love of Christ's Church, which is timeless, my pilgrimage into the past continues.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

The Athanasian Creed

Yes, today is Trinity Sunday, the day on which many Lutheran parishes recite the Athanasian Creed in the Mass. There is much to say about the liturgical use of this creed, and about the peculiar character of Trinity Sunday. For now, though, let me just say that the Athanasian Creed need not go away so quickly for another year of hibernation. It is worthy of prayer, study, and memorization. What you see below is the Creed attributed to Saint Athanasius, in its venerable Latin form, and then in English. If you are a student, whether grade school or university or seminary, study this creed hard. By the end of summer you could have it memorized. If you are the parent of such a student, this could be a good resource for you.

Quicumque vult salvus esse, * ante omnia opus est, ut teneat catholicam fidem.

Quam nisi quisque integram inviolatamque servaverit, * absque dubio in aeternum peribit.

Fides autem catholica haec est, * ut unum Deum in Trinitatem in unitate veneremur.

Neque confundentes personas, * neque substantiam seperantes.

Alia est enim persona Patris, alia Filii, * alia Spiritus Sancti:

Sed Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti una est divinitas, * aequalis Gloria, coaeterna maiestas.

Qualis Pater, talis Filius, * talis Spiritus Sanctus.

Increatus Pater, increatus Filius, * increatus Spiritus Sanctus.

Immensus Pater, immensus Filius, * immensus Spiritus Sanctus.

Aeternus Pater, aeternus Filius, * aeternus Spiritus Sanctus.

Et tamen non tres aeterni, * sed aeternus.

Sicut non tres increati, nec tres immensi, * Sed unus increatus, et unus immensus.

Similiter omnipotens Pater, omnipotens Filius, * omnipotens Spiritus Sanctus.

Et tamen non tres omnipotens, * sed unus omnipotens.

Ita Deus Pater, Deus Filius, Deus Spiritus Sanctus. * et tamen non tres Dii, sed unus est Deus.

Ita Dominus Pater, Dominus Filius, Dominus Spiritus Sanctus. * et tamen non tres Domini, sed unus est Dominus.

Quia, sicut singillatim unamquamque personam Deum ac Dominum confiteri christiana veritate compellimur, * ita tres Deos aut Dominos dicere catholica religione prohibemur.

Pater a nullo est factus, * nec creatus, nec genitus.

Filius a Patre solo est, * non factus, nec creatus, sed genitus.

Spiritus Sanctus a Patre et Filio, * non factus, nec creatus, nec genitus, sed procedens.

Unus ergo Pater, non tres Patres, unus Filius, non tres Filii, * unus Spiritus Sanctus, non tres Spiritus Sancti.

Et in hac Trinitate nihil prius aut posterius, * nihil maius aut minus.

Sed totae tres personae coaeternae sibi sunt et coaequales. * Ita ut per omnia, sicut iam supra dictum est, et unitas in Trinitate, et Trinitas in unitate Veneranda sit.

Qui vult ergo salvus esse, * ita de Trinitate sentiat.

Sed necessarium est ad aeternam salutem, * ut incarnationem quoque Domini Nostri Iesu Christi fideliter credat.

Est ergo fides recta ut credamus et confiteamur, * quia Dominus noster Iesus Christus, Dei Filius, Deus et homo est.

Deus est ex substantia Patris * ante saecula genitus,

et homo est es substantia matris * in saeculo natus.

Perfectus Deus, perfectus homo, * ex anima rationali et humana carne subsistens.

Aequalis Patri secundum divinitatem * minor Patre secundum humanitatem.

Qui, licet Deus sit et homo, * non duo tamen, sed unus est Christus.

Unus autem non conversione divinitatis in carnem, * sed assumptione humanitatis in Deum.

Unus omnino, non confusione substantiae, * sed unitate personae.

Nam sicut anima rationalis et caro unus est homo, * ita Deus et homo unus est Christua.

Qui passus est pro salute nostra: descendit ad inferos, * tertia die resurrexit a mortuis.

Ascendit ad caelos, sedet ad dexteram Dei Patris omnipotentis, * inde venturus est iudicare vivos et mortuos.

Ad cuius adventum omnes hominess resurgere habent cum corporibus suis, * et reddituri sunt de factis propriis rationem.

Et qui bona egerunt, ibunt in vitam aeternam, * qui vero mala, in ignem aeternum.

Haec est fides catholica, quam nisi quisque fideliter firmiterque crediterit, * salvus esse non poterit.

Gloria Patri, &c.

Whosoever will be saved, * Before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith.

Which faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, * without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

And the catholic faith is this, * That we worship one God in Trinity And Trinity in Unity,

Neither confounding the Persons * nor dividing the Substance.

For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, * and another of the Holy Ghost.

But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one: * The glory equal, the majesty coeternal.

Such as the Father is, such is the Son, * And such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, * And the Holy Ghost uncreate.

The Father incomprehensible, the Son Incomprehensible, * And the Holy Ghost incomprehensible.

The Father eternal, the Son eternal, * And the Holy Ghost eternal.

And yet they are not three Eternals, * but one Eternal.

As there are not three Uncreated nor three Incomprehensibles, * But one Uncreated and one Incomprehensible.

So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty,* and the Holy Ghost almighty.

And yet they are not three Almighties, * but one Almighty.

So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. * And yet they are not three Gods, but one God.

So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Ghost Lord. * And yet not three Lords, but one Lord.

For like as we are compelled by the Christian Verity to acknowledge every Person by Himself to be God and Lord, * So we are forbidden by the catholic religion to say, there be three Gods or three Lords.

The Father is made of none, * Neither created nor begotten,

The Son is of the Father alone, * not made nor created, but begotten,

The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son, * neither made nor created nor begotten, but proceeding.

So there is one Father, not three Fathers, one Son, not three Sons, * One Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.

And in this Trinity none is before or after other, * none is greater or less than another.

But the whole three Persons are coeternal Together and coequal, * so that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.

He, therefore, that will be saved * must thus think of the Trinity.

Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation * that he also believe faithfully the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

For the right faith is that we believe and confess * that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man;

God of the substance of the Father, * begotten before the worlds;

and Man of the substance of His mother, * born in the world;

Perfect God and perfect Man, * of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.

Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead * and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood;

Who, although He be God and Man, * yet He is not two, but one Christ.

One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh,* but by taking the manhood into God.

One altogether; not by confusion of Substance, * but by unity of Person.

For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, * so God and man is one Christ;

Who suffered for our salvation; descended into hell; * rose again the third day from the dead;

He ascended into heaven; He sitteth on the right hand of the Father, God almighty; * from whence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies * and shall give an account of their own works.

And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; * and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire.

This is the catholic faith; which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, * he cannot be saved.

Glory be &c.