After Pope John Paul II died many people reminisced about his life and the immense impact he had on the world. Peggy Noonan wrote a piece for the WSJ on the Pope’s first visit to his homeland of Poland in 1979. Noonan mentioned the efforts of the communist government of Poland to try to diffuse the impact they feared John Paul II would have. She wrote:

Two months before the pope’s arrival, the Polish communist apparatus took steps to restrain the enthusiasm of the people. They sent a secret directive to schoolteachers explaining how they should understand and explain the pope’s visit. “The pope is our enemy,” it said. “Due to his uncommon skills and great sense of humor he is dangerous, because he charms everyone, especially journalists. Besides, he goes for cheap gestures in his relations with the crowd, for instance, puts on a highlander’s hat, shakes all hands, kisses children. . . . It is modeled on American presidential campaigns. . . Because of the activation of the Church in Poland our activities designed to atheize the youth not only cannot diminish but must intensely develop. . . In this respect all means are allowed and we cannot afford any sentiments.”

Of course, the Polish government had no idea what they were getting themselves in for. And we know, looking back, that the world was never the same.

Perhaps John Paul II’s greatest homily of his tenure was given during the mass at Victory Square in Warsaw. This was the Pope’s first mass in Poland. The communist authorities were worried thousands, even tens of thousands of people would show up. Instead, over a million showed up. And then the Pope gave this homily:

HOLY MASS

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS JOHN PAUL II

Victory Square, Warsaw, 2 June 1979 

Beloved Fellow-countrymen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters.
Participants in the Eucharistic Sacrifice celebrated today in Victory Square in Warsaw.

1. Together with you I wish to sing a hymn of praise to Divine Providence, which enables me to be here as a pilgrim.

We know that the recently deceased Paul VI, the first pilgrim Pope after so many centuries, ardently desired to set foot on the soil of Poland, especially at Jasna Gora (the Bright Mountain). To the end of his life he kept this desire in his heart, and with it he went to the grave. And we feel that this desirea desire so potent and so deeply rooted that it goes beyond the span of a pontificateis being realized today in a way that it would have been difficult to foresee. And so we thank Divine Providence for having given Paul VI so strong a desire. We thank it for the pattern of the pilgrim Pope that he began with the Second Vatican Council. At a time when the whole Church has become newly aware of being the People of God, a People sharing in the mission of Christ, a People that goes through history with that mission, a “pilgrim” People, the Pope could no longer remain a “prisoner of the Vatican”.  He had to become again the pilgrim Peter, like the first Peter, who from Jerusalem, through Antioch, reached Rome to give witness there to Christ and seal his witness with his blood.

Today it is granted to me to fulfil this desire of the deceased Pope Paul VI in the midst of you, beloved sons and daughters of my motherland. When, after the death of Paul VI and the brief pontificate of my immediate Predecessor John Paul I, which lasted only a few weeks, I was, through the inscrutable designs of Divine Providence, called by the votes of the Cardinals from the chair of Saint Stanislaus in Krakow to that of Saint Peter in Rome, I immediately understood that it was for me to fulfil that desire, the desire that Paul VI had been unable to carry out at the Millennium of the Baptism of Poland.

My pilgrimage to my motherland in the year in which the Church in Poland is celebrating the ninth centenary of the death of Saint Stanislaus is surely a special sign of the pilgrimage that we Poles are making down through the history of the Church not only along the ways of our motherland but also along those of Europe and the world. Leaving myself aside at this point, I must nonetheless with all of you ask myself why, precisely in 1978, after so many centuries of a well established tradition in this field, a son of the Polish Nation, of the land of Poland, was called to the chair of Saint Peter. Christ demanded of Peter and of the other Apostles that they should be his “witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Have we not the right, with reference to these words of Christ, to think that Poland has become nowadays the land of a particularly responsible witness? The right to think that from herefrom Warsaw, and also from Gniezno, from Jasna Gora, from Krakow and from the whole of this historic route that I have so often in my life traversed and that it is to proclaim Christ with singular humility but also with conviction? The right to think that one must come to this very place, to this land, on this route, to read again the witness of his Cross and his Resurrection? But if we accept all that I have dared to affirm in this moment, how many great duties and obligations arise? Are we capable of them?

2. Today, at the first stopping place in my papal pilgrimage in Poland, it is granted to me to celebrate the Eucharistic Sacrifice in Victory Square in Warsaw. The liturgy of the evening of Saturday the Vigil of Pentecost takes us to the Upper Room in Jerusalem, where the Apostles, gathered around Mary the Mother of Christ, were on the following day to receive the Holy Spirit. They were to receive the Spirit obtained for them by Christ through the Cross, in order that through the power of this Spirit they might fulfil his command: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20). Before Christ the Lord left the world, he transmitted to the Apostles with these words his last recommendation, his “missionary mandate”. And he added: “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20).

It is good that my pilgrimage to Poland on the ninth centenary of the martyrdom of Saint Stanislaus should fall in the Pentecost period and on the solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. Fulfilling the desire of Paul VI after his death, I am able to relive the Millennium of the Baptism on Polish soil and to inscribe this year’s jubilee of Saint Stanislaus in the Millennium since the beginning of the nation and the Church. The Solemnity of Pentecost and that of the Most Holy Trinity bring us close to this beginning. In the apostles who receive the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost are spiritually present in a way all their successors, all the Bishops, including those whose task it has been for a thousand years to proclaim the Gospel on Polish soil. Among them was this Stanislaus of Szczepanow, who paid with his blood for his mission on the episcopal chair of Krakow nine centuries ago.

On the day of Pentecost there were gathered, in the Apostles and around them, not only the representatives of the peoples and tongues listed in the book of the Acts of the Apostles. Even then there were gathered about them the various peoples and nations that, through the light of the Gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit, were to enter the Church at different periods and centuries. The day of Pentecost is the birthday of the faith and of the Church in our land of Poland also. It is the proclamation of the mighty works of God in our Polish language also. It is the beginning of Christianity in the life of our nation also, in its history, its culture, its trials.

 3a. To Poland the Church brought Christ, the key to understanding that great and fundamental reality that is man. For man cannot be fully understood without Christ. Or rather, man is incapable of understanding himself fully without Christ. He cannot understand who he is, nor what his true dignity is, nor what his vocation is, nor what his final end is. He cannot understand any of this without Christ.

Therefore Christ cannot be kept out of the history of man in any part of the globe, at any longitude or latitude of geography. The exclusion of Christ from the history of man is an act against man. Without Christ it is impossible to understand the history of Poland, especially the history of the people who have passed or are passing through this land. The history of people. The history of the nation is above all the history of people. And the history of each person unfolds in Jesus Christ. In him it becomes the history of salvation.

The history of the nation deserves to be adequately appraised in the light of its contributionto the development of man and humanity, to intellect, heart and conscience. This is the deepest stream of culture. It is culture’s firmest support, its core, its strength. It is impossible without Christ to understand and appraise the contribution of the Polish nation to the development of man and his humanity in the past and its contribution today also: “This old oak tree has grown in such a way and has not been knocked down by any wind since its root is Christ” (Piotr Skarga, Kazania Sejmove IVBiblioteka Narodowa, I, 70, p. 92). It is necessary to follow the traces of what, or rather who, Christ was for the sons and daughters of this land down the generations. Not only for those who openly believed in him and professed him with the faith of the Church, but also for those who appeared to be at a distance, outside the Church. For those who doubted or were opposed.

3b. It is right to understand the history of the nation through man, each human being of this nation. At the same time man cannot be understood apart from this community that is constituted by the nation. Of course it is not the only community, but it is a special community, perhaps that most intimately linked with the family, the most important for the spiritual history of man. It is therefore impossible without Christ to understand the history of the Polish nationthis great thousand-year-old communitythat is so profoundly decisive for me and each one of us. If we reject this key to understanding our nation, we lay ourselves open to a substantial misunderstanding. We no longer understand ourselves. It is impossible without Christ to understand this nation with its past so full of splendour and also of terrible difficulties. It is impossible to understand this city, Warsaw, the capital of Poland, that undertook in 1944 an unequal battle against the aggressor, a battle in which it was abandoned by the allied powers, a battle in which it was buried under its own ruinsif it is not remembered that under those same ruins there was also the statue of Christ the Saviour with his cross that is in front of the church at Krakowskie Przedmiescie. It is impossible to understand the history of Poland from Stanislaus in Skalka to Maximilian Kolbe at Oswiecim unless we apply to them that same single fundamental criterion that is called Jesus Christ.

The Millennium of the Baptism of Poland, of which Saint Stanislaus is the first mature fruitthe millennium of Christ in our yesterday, and todayis the chief reason for my pilgrimage, for my prayer of thanksgiving together with all of you, dear fellow-countrymen, to whom Christ does not cease to teach the great cause of man; together with you, for whom Jesus Christ does not cease to be an ever open book on man, his dignity and his rights and also a book of knowledge on the dignity and rights of the nation.

Today, here in Victory Square, in the capital of Poland, I am asking with all of you, through the great Eucharistic prayer, that Christ will not cease to be for us an open book of life for the future, for our Polish future.

4. We are before the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In the ancient and contemporary history of Poland this tomb has a special basis, a special reason for its existence. In how many places in our native land has that soldier fallen! In how many places in Europe and the world has he cried with his death that there can be no just Europe without the independence of Poland marked on its map! On how many battlefields has that solider given witness to the rights of man, indelibly inscribed in the inviolable rights of the people, by falling for “our free­dom and yours”!

“Where are their tombs, O Po-land? Where are they not! You know better than anyoneand God knows it in heaven” (A. Oppman, Pacierz za zmarlych).

The history of the motherland written through the tomb of an Unknown Soldier!

I wish to kneel before this tomb to venerate every seed that falls into the earth and dies and thus bears fruit. It may be the seed of the blood of a soldier shed on the battlefield, or the sacrifice of martyrdom in concentration camps or in prisons. It may be the seed of hard daily toil, with the sweat of one’s brow, in the fields, the workshop, the mine, the foundries and the factories. It may be the seed of the love of parents who do not refuse to give life to a new human being and undertake the whole of the task of bringing him up. It may be the seed of creative work in the universities, the higher institutes, the libraries and the places where the national culture is built. It may be the seed of prayer, of service of the sick, the suffering, the abandoned“all that of which Poland is made”.

All that in the hands of the Mother of Godat the foot of the cross on Calvary and in the Upper Room of Pentecost!

All thatthe history of the motherland shaped for a thousand years by the succession of the generations (among them the present generation and the coming generation) and by each son and daughter of the motherland, even if they are anonymous and unknown like the Soldier before whose tomb we are now.

All thatincluding the history of the peoples that have lived with us and among us, such as those who died in their hundreds of thousands within the walls of the Warsaw ghetto.

All that I embrace in thought and in my heart during this Eucharist and I include it in this unique most holy Sacrifice of Christ, on Victory Square.

And I cryI who am a Son of the land of Poland and who am also Pope John Paul III cry from all the depths of this Millennium, I cry on the vigil of Pentecost:

Let your Spirit descend.
Let your Spirit descend.
and renew the face of the earth,
the face of this land.

Amen.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

This homily can be found here.

I am grabbing the list below from this site (a great site for lots of information on Bible translations, etc). Some of the information in this list is a little strange, such as when so-and-so became President of the U.S., but it’s still interesting to anyone who loves history. I am thinking it should be titled “An Historical Chronology of Christendom and Post-Christendom with the Inclusion of Significant English Bible Translations.”

Listing the events in the history of the English versions
of Scripture, and of the place of Scripture
in the church and in society.

  • 440. Roman legions withdraw from Britain.
  • 450. Anglo-Saxon invasions and settlement of Britain displace the native Celts in the south.
  • 597. Pope Gregory sends missionaries to Ethelbert of Kent, in the southeast of Britain.
  • 629. Mohammed becomes ruler of Mecca in Arabia, publishes the Koran.
  • 633. Christian churches in Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem are seized by Mohammedans and turned into mosques.
  • 669. Theodore of Tarsus becomes archbishop of Canterbury, promotes episcopal hierarchy and Roman culture in the south of Britain.
  • 670. The herdsman Caedmon in northern Britain composes poems based on Biblical narratives in Old English.
  • 700. Beowulf, Nordic epic poem, written about this time.
  • 768. Charlemagne begins rule in France.
  • 825. Vespasian Psalter gives interlinear Old English translation.
  • 856. Danes begin large scale invasion of eastern Britain. Destruction of monasteries there.
  • 878. King Alfred halts Danish invasion, divides Britain by treaty. Danes inhabit northeast half of Britain.
  • 900. Paris Psalter gives Old English version of the first fifty Psalms.
  • 924. Ethelstan becomes King and pursues conciliation and fushion with the Danes. Oda (a full-blooded Dane) appointed archbishop of Canterbury.
  • 950. Aldred (Bishop of Durham) writes Old English between the lines of the Lindisfarne Gospels.
  • 970. Faerman (Priest in Yorkshire) makes the first Old English version of the Gospel of Matthew in the Rushworth Gospels, based upon Aldred’s gloss.
  • 1000. England overwhelmed by new invasion of Danes. King Ethelred flees to allies in Normandy. Aelfric (Abbot in Oxfordshire) translates abridged Pentateuch and several other portions of Scripture into Old English. Wessex Gospels give first Old English version of all four gospels.
  • 1042. King Edward, brought up in Normandy, attempts to Normanize the English Court, appoints a Norman archbishop. Godwin (Earl of Wessex) opposes him and causes the deposition of the archbishop.
  • 1066. Norman conquest of Britain, sponsored by Pope Alexander II, destroys Old English literature, makes Norman French the language of the nobility.
  • 1150. Old English yields to Middle English as the common language of Britain.
  • 1200. Orm composes poetical paraphrase of Gospels and Acts in Middle English.
  • 1300. Midland Psalter gives metrical version of the Psalms in Middle English.
  • 1309. Pope Clement V moves the headquarters of the Papacy from Rome to Avignon under domination of the French King.
  • 1320. Richard Rolle’s Middle English Psalter.
  • 1330. Birth of John Wyclif.
  • 1340. Birth of Chaucer.
  • 1348. English replaces Latin as the medium of instruction in schools (except at Oxford and Cambridge).
  • 1360. Various gospel narratives translated into Middle English.
  • 1362. English replaces French as the language of law in England. English used for the first time in Parliament.
  • 1377. Pope Gregory XI moves the Papacy back to Rome.
  • 1378. French Cardinals create schism in the Roman Catholic Church by electing a rival Pope and returning to Avignon. Rival popes excommunicate one another.
  • 1380. Oxford professor John Wyclif publicly rejects Roman doctrine of transubstantiation, begins translating Latin Vulgate into English.
  • 1381. Peasants revolt in England. They seize London, but are soon overcome.
  • 1382. Wyclif expelled from his teaching post at Oxford for heresy. Completes translation of Bible with help of his students.
  • 1384. Death of Wyclif. His disciples continue to preach against the clergy, copy and sell manuscripts (mostly the Gospels).
  • 1388. Wyclif Bible revised by his student John Purvey.
  • 1400. Death of Chaucer.
  • 1401. English parliament decrees the burning of heretics. Statute is aimed against the followers of Wyclif, called Lollards
  • 1408. Arundelian Constitutions enacted by Convocation of bishops at Oxford forbids unauthorized translation, distribution, or public reading of the Scripture.
  • 1411. Bonfire of Wyclif’s writings at Oxford.
  • 1415. John Hus, the radical Bohemian reformer and advocate of Wyclif’s anti-clerical teachings, is burned at the stake.
  • 1417. Concil of Constance elects Martin V as Pope, and ends Roman Catholic schism.
  • 1450. Middle English yields to Early Modern English as the common language of Britain about now.
  • 1453. Moslems take Constantinople. Great exodus of Greek scholars from there to Western Europe, bringing with them Greek manuscripts of the Bible.
  • 1456. First printed book: Gutenberg Bible, containing the Latin text.
  • 1466. Birth of Erasmus.
  • 1476. First English book printed by William Caxton (The Recital of the Histories of Troy, translated from French).
  • 1478. Caxton prints Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
  • 1483. Birth of Martin Luther.
  • 1484. Birth of William Tyndale.
  • 1485. Henry Tudor becomes king Henry VII of England.
  • 1488. Birth of Miles Coverdale. • Hebrew Old Testament first printed by Jews at Soncino, Italy.
  • 1489. Birth of Thomas Cranmer.
  • 1491. Greek first taught at Oxford University.
  • 1496. John Colet gives lectures on Romans at Oxford.
  • 1499. Erasmus at Oxford.
  • 1500. Birth of John Rogers.
  • 1504. Birth of Matthew Parker.
  • 1505. Birth of Richard Taverner. • Birth of John Knox. • Luther enters the Augustinian Order.
  • 1506. New Cathedral of St. Peter begun in Rome (completed in 1590).
  • 1509. Henry VIII becomes king of England. • Birth of John Calvin. • Erasmus professor of Greek at Cambridge University.
  • 1510. William Tyndale at Cambridge.
  • 1514. Coverdale ordained.
  • 1515. Luther begins lectures on Romans at Wittenberg University. • Tyndale gets M.A. degree at Oxford.
  • 1516. Erasmus’ first Greek New Testament (First printed Greek New Testament).
  • 1517. Pope Leo X decrees preaching and sale of indulgences for the benefit of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. • Luther nails his 95 Theses to the church door at Wittenberg on October 31. Reformation era begins.
  • 1518. Septuagint printed by Aldus in Italy. • Zwingli begins Reformation in Switzerland.
  • 1519. Erasmus’ 2nd Greek New Testament • Birth of Theodore Beza.
  • 1520. Luther excommunicated. • Tyndale goes home to Gloucester, begins translating.
  • 1522. First edition of Luther’s German New Testament • Parker at Cambridge. • Complutensian Polyglot (including Septuagint, Vulgate, Hebrew Old Testament) published. • Erasmus’ 3rd Greek New Testament • Tyndale goes to London in search of financial help.
  • 1524. Tyndale leaves England for Germany. • Peasants revolt in Germany. • William Whittingham born.
  • 1525. Tyndale’s English New Testament (first printed English text) published in Germany. • Rogers gets B.A. degree at Cambridge.
  • 1526. Copies of Tyndale’s New Testament enter England, many burned.
  • 1527. Erasmus’ 4th Greek New Testament
  • 1528. Coverdale preaches against the mass, is compelled to leave England.
  • 1529. Tyndale and Coverdale work together at Hamburg. • Luther’s Small Catechism. • Cranmer commissioned by king Henry to write a treatise justifying his divorce from Catherine.
  • 1530. Augsburg Confession.
  • 1531. Tyndale’s Pentateuch is published. • Zwingli killed in battle.
  • 1533. Cranmer made Archbishop of Canterbury, approves Henry’s divorce.
  • 1534. Tyndale’s New Testament and Pentateuch revised. • Henry VIII excommunicated by the Pope, severs English churches from Rome, becomes head of the Church of England without any intention of reforming it. • Cranmer petitions Henry for creation of an authorized English version. • Luther’s first complete German Bible. • Anabaptists establish short-lived socialist community at Münster. • Geneva becomes independent Protestant commonwealth.
  • 1535. Tyndale’s last revised New Testament • Tyndale betrayed to Roman Catholic authorities, charged with heresy and imprisoned. He continues to translate the historical books of the Old Testament • Coverdale’s Bible published in England. (first printed English Bible). • Erasmus’ 5th edition of the Greek.
  • 1536. Tyndale’s New Testament reprinted in England. • Tyndale condemned. He commits his manuscript to his friend John Rogers, and is burned at the stake. • Calvin publishes his Institutes of the Christian Religion.
  • 1537. “Matthew’s Bible” published by John Rogers in Germany, giving Tyndale’s translation of the New Testament, Pentateuch, and historical books of the Old Testament • John Calvin preaches in Geneva. • Matthew’s and Coverdale’s Bibles licensed for unhindered sale in England.
  • 1538. Coverdale in Paris editing Great Bible. • English bishops instructed to display largest English Bible in parish churches.
  • 1539. Coverdale returns to England. • Great Bible (dedicated to Henry VIII) published and authorized in England. • Taverner’s Bible (a revision of Matthew’s Bible) published. • English parliament adopts the Act of Six Articles, reaffirming various Roman Catholic teachings. “Lutherans” subjected to persecution.
  • 1540. 2nd edition of Great Bible with preface of Cranmer, called Cranmer’s Bible. • Coverdale, under pressure as a “Lutheran,” leaves England again.
  • 1543. English Parliament bans Tyndale’s version and all public reading of Bible by laymen.
  • 1545. Council of Trent convened.
  • 1546. Death of Luther. • Council of Trent decrees that the Latin Vulgate (with Apocryphal books) is authoritative version of Scripture. • Henry VIII bans Coverdale version. • Stephens publishes his first Greek New Testament
  • 1547. Death of Henry VIII. • Edward VI becomes king of England. • Parliament repeals the anti-Protestant Act of Six Articles, and removes restrictions on printing and reading of English versions. Cranmer begins Protestant reformation of the Church of England. • Coverdale, Rogers return to England. • John Knox preaches Reformation in Scotland.
  • 1549. English Book of Common Prayer compiled by Cranmer. • Stephens’ 2nd Greek New Testament
  • 1550. Stephens’ 3rd Greek New Testament
  • 1551. Last edition of Matthew’s Bible. • Coverdale appointed bishop of Exeter. • Stephens’ 4th Greek New Testament
  • 1552. John Knox refuses offer to become an English bishop.
  • 1553. “Bloody” Mary Tudor becomes queen of England. • Last edition of Coverdale Bible.
  • 1554. Mary reverses the reforms of Edward and enforces Romanism in England. • Knox leaves England for Geneva.
  • 1555. John Rogers burned at the stake. • Cranmer burned at the stake. • Coverdale and other leading Protestants flee England for Geneva. • Peace of Augsburg ends wars between Lutherans and Romanists in Germany, legitimizes Lutheranism.
  • 1556. Beza’s Latin New Testament
  • 1557. William Whittingham’s English New Testament published in Geneva. English exiles there begin work on English Old Testament
  • 1558. Elizabeth becomes queen of England.
  • 1559. Elizabeth repudiates Romanism. Act of Supremacy makes her head of Church of England. Romanist bishops expelled. Coverdale and other leading Protestants return to England. Matthew Parker made Archbishop of Canterbury.
  • 1560. Geneva Bible with revised New Testament published by Whittingham in Geneva. • Whittingham returns to England. • Knox’s Scots Confession ratified by the Scottish parliament.
  • 1563. Whittingham made Dean of Durham. • Archbishop Parker and eight of his bishops begin work on the “Bishops’ Bible.” • Thirty-nine Articles of Religion adopted as doctrinal standard for Church of England. • Heidelberg Catechism published. • Apostolic Constitutions (ancient book of church order and dogma, purporting to be from the apostles) published by the Jesuit Turrianus.
  • 1564. Death of John Calvin. • Birth of Shakespeare.
  • 1565. Beza’s Greek-Latin New Testament
  • 1566. Last edition of Tyndale’s New Testament
  • 1567. Mary Stuart abdicates throne of Scotland, is succeeded by her son James under Protestant regency.
  • 1568. Bishops’ Bible (dedicated to Elizabeth) published by Archbishop Parker, and authorized for church use.
  • 1569. Last edition of Cranmer’s Great Bible. • Death of Coverdale.
  • 1571. Every bishop and cathedral in England ordered to have Bishops’ Bible.
  • 1572. Bishops’ Bible revised and published with the old Great Bible Psalter. • Antwerp Polyglot published. • Death of John Knox.
  • 1575. Death of Taverner and Parker. Parker succeeded as Archbishop of Canterbury by the strongly Calvinistic Edmund Grindal, who actively promotes the Geneva Bible during the next eight years.
  • 1578. Martin begins Rheims version of the New Testament (authorized Roman Catholic version, translated from the Vulgate).
  • 1579. Geneva Bible reprinted and authorized in Scotland. Every Scotch household of sufficient means is required by law to buy a copy. • Death of Whittingham.
  • 1580. Lutheran Formula of Concord.
  • 1582. Rheims New Testament (translated from the Latin) published by English Roman Catholics living in France. • Beza’s 2nd Greek New Testament
  • 1583. Grindal succeeded by John Whitgift as Archbishop of Canterbury.
  • 1587. Death of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots.
  • 1588. Destruction of Spanish Armada.
  • 1589. Beza’s 3rd Greek New Testament
  • 1592. Sixtine-Clementine Latin Bible.
  • 1598. Beza’s 4th Greek New Testament
  • 1602. Last edition of Bishops’ Bible.
  • 1603. James I made king of England.
  • 1604. English bishops and Puritan leaders meet with King James in the Hampton Court Conference. Revision of Bishops’ Bible proposed. King James nominates revision committee of 54 scholars. • First English dictionary published by Robert Cawdry.
  • 1605. English Romanists attempt to blow up Parliament in the “Gunpowder plot,” arousing great and lasting public indignation against Rome. • Death of Theodore Beza.
  • 1607. Work on King James Bible begun.
  • 1608. Pilgrim Fathers leave England for Holland.
  • 1609. Douay Old Testament (translated from the Latin) published by English Roman Catholics living in France.
  • 1611. King James Bible (dedicated to James) published and authorized in England.
  • 1615. Archbishop Abbot forbids printing of the Bible without Apocrypha.
  • 1616. Birth of John Owen. • Death of Shakespeare.
  • 1618. Beginning of Thirty Years War on Continent.
  • 1619. Synod of Dort condemns Arminianism as heresy, propounds five points of orthodox Calvinism.
  • 1620. Pilgrims land at Plymouth.
  • 1624. Elzevir’s first Greek New Testament • Louis Cappel publishes his opinion that the vowel points of the Hebrew text were added by rabbis in the fifth century.
  • 1625. Charles I (Romanist) made king of England.
  • 1627. William Ames’ Marrow of Theology spreads knowledge of Dutch Covenant Theology in England.
  • 1633. Elzevir’s 2nd Greek New Testament • William Laud (Romanist) is made Archbishop of Canterbury, begins to persecute Puritans. Forbids importation of the Geneva Bible.
  • 1643. Puritan Solemn League and Covenant for Reformation and Defense of Religion sworn throughout Scotland and England.
  • 1642. Parliament raises an army and makes war against the despotic king Charles and his Romanizing bishops. • Brian Walton (Romanist) deprived of office. • Parliament closes theaters of England.
  • 1643. Westminster Assembly convened.
  • 1645. Archbishop Laud put to death.
  • 1647. Westminster Confession published.
  • 1648. Parliament adopts the Westminster Confession of Faith, establishing Calvinistic doctrine and presbyterianism in England. • Buxtorf assails Cappel’s view of the Hebrew vowel points. • Peace of Westphalia ends the Thirty Years War on the continent, legitimizes Calvinism.
  • 1649. King Charles I put to death. Cromwell rules as “Protector of the Commonwealth.” • John Owen (Puritan) preferred to offices. • George Fox disrupts church service in Nottingham, begins preaching Quakerism.
  • 1650. Louis Cappel’s book advocating critical reconstruction of the Hebrew text is published in Paris by his son Jean, after turning Roman Catholic. Publication of the work had been prevented by Cappel’s opponents in Protestant lands.
  • 1651. Thomas Hobbes’ The Leviathon.
  • 1657. Brian Walton publishes the London Polyglot with revision of Hebrew vowel points, several ancient versions, and appendix of various readings of the Greek manuscripts.
  • 1658. Death of Cromwell. • John Owen deprived of office.
  • 1659. Walton’s Polyglot assailed by John Owen.
  • 1660. Monarchy restored with king Charles II. • Walton made a bishop.
  • 1662. New England churches begin to admit unconverted members under the “Half-Way Covenant.”
  • 1665. Great Plague of London kills over 68,000.
  • 1666. Great Fire of London.
  • 1667. Milton writes Paradise Lost.
  • 1675. John Fell’s Greek New Testament with critical annotations. • Helvetic Consensus Formula maintains verbal inerrancy of Scripture, extending to vowel points in the traditional Hebrew text (against Cappel and Walton).
  • 1678. Bunyan writes Pilgrim’s Progress.
  • 1679. Publication of the first volume of Francis Turretin’s Institutio Theologiae Elencticae.
  • 1683. Death of John Owen.
  • 1685. Death of Charles II. He is succeeded by a Roman Catholic king, James II.
  • 1688. James II deposed by Parliament, and replaced by William of Orange, with regulation for Protestant succession and greatly enlarged powers of Parliament. Threat of Romanism forever ended in England.
  • 1689. Toleration Act of parliament grants freedom of worship to all Protestants except Unitarians. • Richard Simon (French Roman Catholic) publishes first treatise on textual criticism in Paris.
  • 1690. John Locke publishes his Essay concerning Human Understanding.
  • 1695. Abolition of censorship in England. • John Locke publishes The Reasonableness of Christianity as Delivered by the Scriptures.
  • 1697. Blasphemy Act of Parliament bars Unitarians, Deists and atheists from public office.
  • 1702. Publication in London of the first regular daily newspaper in English.
  • 1704. Publication of Sir Isaac Newton’s Optics marks the point at which significant scholarly work begins to appear in English instead of Latin.
  • 1705. Humphrey Hody’s De Bibliorum textis originalibus (“On the Original Text of the Bible”) thoroughly examines the text of the ancient versions and the ancient canon of Scripture.
  • 1707. John Mill’s annotated Greek New Testament displays 30,000 various readings of the Greek manuscripts. • England and Scotland are united under the name of United Kingdom of Great Britain.
  • 1711. William Whiston’s Primitive Christianity Revived.
  • 1714. Death of Matthew Henry.
  • 1720. Richard Bentley publishes his Proposals for critical revision of the Greek New Testament
  • 1725. Johann Albrecht Bengel publishes his prospectus for a critical revision of the Greek New Testament
  • 1726. Jeremiah Jones publishes first English translation of several “apocryphal New Testament” books in his New and Full Method of Settling the Canonical Authority of the New Testament.
  • 1729. American Presbyterians constitute first Synod in Philadelphia, requiring subscription of ministers to “essential and necessary” doctrines of the Westminster Standards.
  • 1730. Wettstein’s treatise on textual criticism.
  • 1734. Bengel’s revised Greek New Testament with notes. • Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man.
  • 1739. John Wesley organizes the first Methodist Society, begins widespread preaching.
  • 1740. Frederick the Great becomes king of Prussia. German culture flourishes under his patronage. • George Whitefield draws large crowds in revivalistic preaching tour of American colonies.
  • 1741. Jonathan Edwards preaches Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. • George Frideric Handel composes The Messiah.
  • 1742. Bengel’s Greek textual commentary. • Height of “Great Awakening” revivalism in America.
  • 1743. First Bible printed in America at Germantown, Penn. (Luther Bible). • Revivalist James Davenport instigates public bonfire of Puritan books. End of “Great Awakening.”
  • 1745. William Whiston’s Primitive New Testament
  • 1750. Jonathan Edwards forced from his pastoral office for withholding Communion from the unsaved. • Death of Johann Sebastian Bach.
  • 1755. John Wesley’s New Testament revises the KJV with use of Bengel’s Greek New Testament • Samuel Johnson publishes his comprehensive Dictionary of the English Language.
  • 1769. “Oxford Standard Edition” of King James version published.
  • 1771. Francis Asbury arrives in America.
  • 1774. Griesbach’s critically revised Greek Testament.
  • 1775. J.S. Semler (the German “father of rationalism”) advocates re-examination of the Biblical canon in his Treatise on the Free Investigation of the Canon. • American Revolutionary War begins.
  • 1776. Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations.
  • 1783. American Revolutionary War ends. • First daily newspaper in America begins in Philadelphia.
  • 1784. Ethan Allen’s Reason the Only Oracle of Man rejects the authority of the Bible. • John Wesley organizes Methodists as a separate denomination in the American colonies, prepares his Twenty-Five Articles of Religion for their constitution. Francis Asbury appointed as general superintendent.
  • 1785. New York’s first daily newspaper begins.
  • 1786. Woide publishes facsimile of Codex Alexandrinus.
  • 1788. Birch’s collation of Codex Vaticanus in the Gospels published.
  • 1789. Federal Constitution ratified by American states. • French Revolution begins.
  • 1790. America has eight daily newspapers.
  • 1791. Death of John Wesley.
  • 1793. Reign of Terror in France. • Eli Whitney invents the Cotton Gin.
  • 1795. Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason bitterly attacks the Bible and Christianity.
  • 1796. Griesbach’s 2nd Greek New Testament
  • 1797. First Sunday newspaper in America begins in Baltimore.
  • 1798. Birch publishes collation of Codex Vaticanus for entire New Testament • Napoleon wages war in Egypt and Palestine.
  • 1800. Birth of John Nelson Darby, first theologian of modern Dispensationalism.
  • 1801. “Plan of Union” adopted by American Presbyterians and Congregationalists for cooperative ministry in frontier districts. • Barton Stone directs giant camp meeting revival at Cane Ridge in Kentucky, sparking “Second Great Awakening” in America.
  • 1802. Marsh publishes English translation of Michaelis’ Introduction (basic source of text-critical information for English scholars).
  • 1803. U.S. purchases Louisiana territory (Great Plains) from France, doubles in size.
  • 1804. Napoleon declared Emperor in France.
  • 1805. Griesbach’s last Greek New Testament • Unitarian control of Harvard College becomes evident with the appointment of Henry Ware to Chair of Divinity.
  • 1807. Slave trade abolished in England.
  • 1808. “Improved” Version of the New Testament published by Unitarians in England.
  • 1812. London has 18 Sunday newspapers.
  • 1813. English Parliament extends Toleration Act (cf. 1689) to cover Unitarians.
  • 1814. Richard Laurence (English Archbishop) publishes defense of the traditional Greek text against Griesbach.
  • 1815. Nolan publishes defense of traditional Greek text against Griesbach. • Napoleon defeated by British and German armies at Waterloo.
  • 1816. Death of Francis Asbury.
  • 1819. Political agitation leads to labor riots in Manchester, put down by troops. • Revivalist movement known as the Second Great Awakening underway in America. • William Channing publicly espouses Unitarianism in his “Baltimore Sermon.” • U.S. purchases Florida from Spain.
  • 1820. William Hone publishes in popular and inexpensive form a collection of early Christian writings under the title Apocryphal New Testament. • America has forty-two daily newspapers.
  • 1821. Richard Lawrence publishes English translation of The Book of Enoch. • Death of Thomas Scott.
  • 1824. Premiere of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony in Vienna. • First steam-powered cylinder newpaper press in America.
  • 1825. American Unitarian Association formed at Boston.
  • 1826. Alexander Campbell publishes his edition of the New Testament. • British and Foreign Bible Society stops printing Apocrypha.
  • 1827. Charles Finney emerges as leading American revivalist.
  • 1828. Noah Webster publishes his American Dictionary of the English Language. • Liberal English journalists called “a fourth estate of the realm” by essayist Thomas Macaulay.
  • 1829. Catholic Emancipation Act removes legal disabilities of Romanists.
  • 1830. Scholz’s Greek New Testament published. • Revivalist movement known as the Second Great Awakening reaches its high point in America. • John Nelson Darby leads the Plymouth Brethren movement in Dublin. • Alexander Campbell breaks with American Baptists to found the independent “Restoration Movement” in America. • Joseph Smith publishes The Book of Mormon in New York.
  • 1831. Karl Lachmann publishes first thoroughly revised critical Greek New Testament
  • 1832. English Parliament adopts Reform Bill, extending voting rights to the middle class.
  • 1833. Abolition of slavery in the British Empire. • Revivalist Charles Finney conducts abolitionist rallies in America • American Antislavery Society formed by Christian abolitionists. • First “penney” newspaper begins in New York.
  • 1835. David Strauss, Leben Jesu (Atheistic critical treatment of the life of Jesus) published in Germany. • Charles Finney becomes professor of theology at newly-formed Oberlin College in Ohio. Oberlin becomes center of perfectionist teaching, feminism, and abolitionist movement.
  • 1836. Union Theological Seminary founded by liberal-Arminian “New School” Presbyterians.
  • 1837. Calvinist majority in General Assembly of PCUSA abrogates 1801 Plan of Union; New School Presbyteries organize separate church. • Victoria made Queen of England.
  • 1838. Romish “Oxford Movement” party in the Church of England is at its peak of influence about now. • Ralph Waldo Emerson espouses mystical transcendentalism in an address at Harvard Divinity School.
  • 1840. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit.
  • 1841. Tischendorf’s first Greek New Testament • Bagster’s English Hexapla. • Emerson’s Essays.
  • 1842. Lachmann’s 2nd Greek New Testament
  • 1843. Greek text of Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus published by Tischendorf. • Phoebe Palmer’s The Way of Holiness.
  • 1844. Year of Christ’s return as predicted by William Miller, founder of the Adventist movement. • Methodists split over the slavery controversy in America.
  • 1845. Baptists split over the slavery controversy in America. Sothern Baptist Convention is formed. • Texas annexed by the U.S.
  • 1846. Potato famine in Ireland leads to emigration of nearly a million Irish Catholics to American cities. • Strauss’ atheistic Life of Jesus translated into English. • U.S. claim to Oregon country recognized by Great Britain.
  • 1848. Karl Marx publishes his Communist Manifesto in England. Revolutions break out in several nations of Europe. • Perfectionistic Oneida commune established by John Noyes. • Kate and Margaret Fox of New York cause public sensation with claims of ability to communicate with the dead: beginning of Spiritualist séance craze in America. • Southwestern territory ceded to the U.S. by Mexico.
  • 1849. Tischendorf’s 2nd Greek New Testament • Alford’s annotated Greek New Testament • Cholera epidemic kills 14,000 in London.
  • 1850. Antoinette Brown becomes first woman to complete theological course at Oberlin. • Ellen White begins to publicize “visions” fundamental to Seventh-Day Adventism.
  • 1851. Great Exhibition of science and industry held in London.
  • 1852. Greek text of Codex Claromontanus published by Tischendorf. • Publication of Roget’s Thesaurus.
  • 1853. Antoinette Brown becomes first woman formally ordained as a minister in the U.S. (in an independent Congregational church in New York).
  • 1854. Tregelles’ Account of the Printed Text. • Dogma of Immaculate Conception promulgated by the Roman Pope. • Cholera epidemic kills 11,000 in London.
  • 1855. Charles Spurgeon preaches to thousands in public halls of London. • Abolition of Stamp Tax in England removes financial burden from newspaper publishers; cheap and vulgar daily newspapers begin to flourish.
  • 1856. Tregelles’ Introduction to Textual Criticism. • Tischendorf’s 3rd Greek New Testament • Wordsworth’s Greek New Testament • Western Union Telegraph Co. formed • Slavery controversy rages in America. Southern scholar Albert Taylor Bledsoe’s Essay on Liberty and Slavery presents a Scriptural defense of slavery.
  • 1857. Tregelles’ Greek text of Gospels.
  • 1858. Brief “Prayer Meeting Revival” sweeps America. • Act for the admission of the Jews to the Parliament adopted in England.
  • 1859. Vercellone’s edition of Codex Vaticanus. • John Nelson Darby’s New Translation of New Testament with critical notes. • Darwin’s Origin of Species. • John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty.
  • 1860. Liberal scholars in the Church of England “come out of the closet” in Essays and Reviews.
  • 1861. Scrivener’s Plain Introduction to Textual Criticism. • American Civil War begins. • President Lincoln attends Spiritualist séances in Georgetown, receives advice from the famous medium Nettie Colburn Maynard in the White House.
  • 1862. Greek text of Codex Sinaiticus published by Tischendorf. • Young’s Literal Translation of the Bible.
  • 1863. President Lincoln proclaims Thanksgiving Day holiday.
  • 1864. John Nelson Darby visits America for the first time, promotes fully developed Dispensationalism among Presbyterians in lecture tour. • “In God We Trust” first put on U.S. coins.
  • 1865. American Civil War ends. • President Lincoln assassinated.
  • 1866. Trans-Atlantic telegraph cable connects England and America. • Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution greatly increases Federal power.
  • 1867. Tischendorf’s edition of Codex Vaticanus. • Parliament adopts Second Reform Act, giving vote to the working class.
  • 1868. Vercellone’s facsimile edition of Codex Vaticanus.
  • 1869. Tischendorf’s 4th Greek New Testament • New and Old School American Presbyterians reunite. • American transcontinental railroad line completed • Susan Anthony and Elizabeth Stanton organize the National Woman Suffrage Association.
  • 1870. English parliament asks bishops of the Church of England to form a committee for the revision of the King James version. Revision committee is formed, and work begins on the English Revised Version. • Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church sets forth dogma of Infallibility of the Pope. • German principalities unified under imperial crown of Prussia by Bismarck. • Manufacture of new wood-pulp paper greatly reduces cost of newspaper publishing.
  • 1871. J.N. Darby’s 2nd edition of the New Testament • Darwin’s Descent of Man.
  • 1872. Last portion of Tregelles’ Greek New Testament published. • Alford’s New Testament for English Readers.
  • 1875. Premillennialist evangelist Dwight Moody begins sensational preaching tour of American cities. • Foundation of annual Niagara Bible Conference. • Mary Baker’s Science and Health publicizes principles of Christian Science.
  • 1876. Charles Taze Russell begins publication of Zion’s Watchtower.
  • 1878. Rotherham’s English translation of Tregelles’ text. • Julius Wellhausen, History of Israel. • William Blackstone’s Jesus is Coming. • Ninth edition of theEncyclopaedia Britannica makes critical arguments and essays on the Bible generally available in English. • First commercial telephone exchange set up in Boston.
  • 1879. Robert Ingersoll attacks the Bible in popular lecture tours, publishes his Some Mistakes of Moses.
  • 1881. English Revised Version of the New Testament is published, immediately followed by the innovative Greek New Testament of Westcott and Hort.
  • 1882. Death of John Nelson Darby. • Charles Darwin buried in Westminster Abbey with full Christian rites.
  • 1883. Dean Burgon leads strong conservative attack on the English Revised Version and against all critical Greek texts. The new version is eventually refused by the British churches.
  • 1884. Parliament adopts Third Reform Act, granting vote to agricultural laborers. • Telephone service between New York and Boston.
  • 1885. English Revised Version of the Old Testament
  • 1886. Benjamin Warfield appointed Professor of Theology at Princeton.
  • 1888. British Baptist Union censures Charles Spurgeon for his campaign against liberal Baptists.
  • 1890. J.N. Darby’s English Old Testament • Great labor strikes throughout England. • National American Woman Suffrage Association formed.
  • 1893. Ecumenical and inter-faith “World’s Parliament of Religions” held in Chicago. • Dwight Moody preaches to huge crowds at Chicago World’s Fair.
  • 1895. American Anti-Saloon League founded in Washington, D.C. • Elizabeth Stanton’s Woman’s Bible repudiates Biblical teaching on woman’s place.
  • 1898. Eberhard Nestle’s Greek New Testament • Spanish-American War.
  • 1899. Death of Dwight Moody, foundation of Moody Bible Institute.
  • 1900. Final meeting of the Niagara Bible Conference.
  • 1901. American Standard Version.
  • 1903. First edition of Weymouth’s New Testament (modern English version).
  • 1904. Twentieth Century New Testament (modern English version). • Sigmund Freud, Psychopathology of Everyday Life.
  • 1906. Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles inaugurates modern Pentecostal movement.
  • 1907. The foundation of Hollywood as a film-making center. • Walter Rauschenbusch’s Christianity and the Social Crisis articulates the “Social Gospel.”
  • 1908. Delegates from 33 denominations meeting in Philadelphia establish the Federal Council of Churches to promote Social Gospel. • Ford Motor Company introduces the “Model T.”
  • 1909. First edition of Scofield Reference Bible.
  • 1910. First volume of The Fundamentals is published to counter liberal theology in America. • General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. adopts “Five Point” doctrinal test (Biblical inerrancy, virgin birth, substitutionary atonement, bodily resurrection, and reality of miracles).
  • 1913. Von Soden’s Greek New Testament • Moffat New Testament (popular paraphrase).
  • 1914. British declare war on Germany. • Ford Motor Co. installs chain-driven assembly lines.
  • 1915. Telephone service between New York and San Francisco.
  • 1917. Improved edition of Scofield Reference Bible. • U.S. declares war on Germany. • Communist revolutionaries gain control of Russian Empire.
  • 1918. English Parliament adopts the “Representation of the People Act,” giving women the right to vote. • Treaty of Versailles humiliates Germany, ends First World War. League of Nations established.
  • 1919. Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits manufacture and sale of alcohol.
  • 1920. Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires all states to give voting rights to women. • First commercial radio station in U.S. (KDKA Pittsburgh) begins broadcasting.
  • 1922. Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. approves ordination of women as deacons. • Harry Emerson Fosdick preaches against Second Coming of Christ, Biblical inerrancy, Virgin Birth. • Lincoln Memorial dedicated in Washington, D.C.
  • 1923. J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism. • Time magazine founded. • Radio becomes popular craze in America.
  • 1924. Methodist Episcopal Church approves ordination of women as local preachers.
  • 1925. Major newspapers ridicule conservative opposition to theory of evolution in coverage of Scopes “Monkey” Trial in Dayton, Tennessee. • Liberals of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. overturn the “Five Point” test adopted in 1910. • Canadian Mehodists, Presbyterians and Congregationalists merge to form the United Church of Canada.
  • 1928. Moffat Bible published with Old Testament
  • 1929. Exodus of conservatives from Princeton; Westminster Theological Seminary founded in Philadelphia.
  • 1930. Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. approves ordination of women as elders • First television program with sound broadcast by the BBC.
  • 1932. General Association of Regular Baptist Churches formed by fundamentalists leaving the Northern Baptist Convention.
  • 1933. Eighteenth Amendment (prohibiting alcohol) repealed.
  • 1935. Moffat Bible revised.
  • 1936. Orthodox Presbyterian Church founded by conservatives leaving the PCUSA. • United Church of Canada (uniting Methodists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists) approves ordination of women.
  • 1937. Charles Fuller begins weekly nation-wide radio broadcasts of “Old Fashioned Gospel Hour.”
  • 1939. Sigmund Freud, Moses and Monotheism. • Britain declares war on Germany.
  • 1940. Lamsa translation of Peshitta New Testament
  • 1941. U.S. declares war on Japan after attack on Pearl Harbor.
  • 1942. National Association of Evangelicals formed by anti-fundamentalist “neo-evangelicals” in St. Louis, to promote conservative Christian involvement in public affairs.
  • 1943. Pope Pius XII issues encyclical letter Divino Afflante Spiritu, giving Roman Catholic Bible translators permission to base their translations on the Greek and Hebrew texts instead of the Latin Vulgate.
  • 1944. U.S. Army lands at Normandy. • Youth for Christ founded by neo-evangelicals in Chicago.
  • 1945. U.S. Air Force destroys 2 Japanese cities with atomic bombs. End of 2nd World War.
  • 1946. Revised Standard version of the New Testament published with great fanfare.
  • 1947. Dead Sea Scrolls (dated c. 150 B.C. to A.D. 75) discovered in Qumran. • Conservative Baptist Association founded by conservatives leaving the Northern Baptist Convention. • Fuller Theological Seminary founded by neo-evangelicals in Pasadena.
  • 1948. Communist agents discovered in U.S. State Department. “Red Scare” begins. • World Council of Churches constituted in Amsterdam.
  • 1949. Billy Graham’s evangelistic campaign in Los Angeles attracts national attention.
  • 1950. National Council of Churches constituted in Cleveland. • Billy Graham begins television broadcasts.
  • 1952. Revised Standard version of the Old Testament published by National Council of Churches. The version is severely denounced by conservatives. • One third of all American homes have television. • Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking.
  • 1954. Methodist Episcopal Church approves full denominational ordination of women. • U.S. Supreme Court mandates racial integration of public schools. Beginning of “Civil Rights Movement.”
  • 1955. United Bible Societies constituted by union of Bible societies of England, Scotland, America, Germany and the Netherlands. Committee appointed to produce a Greek New Testament • Robert Schuller opens drive-in theater church in Orange County, California.
  • 1956. Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. approves ordination of women as ministers. • Christianity Today founded by neo-evangelical writers.
  • 1957. Bertrand Russel’s Why I am not a Christian. • United Church of Christ formed by association of various Reformed churches.
  • 1958. Phillips New Testament (paraphrase) • Bultmann, Jesus Christ and Mythology.
  • 1959. Revised Standard version New Testament slightly revised.
  • 1960. Revised Standard Version adopted by most “mainline” congregations. • 80% of American homes have television.
  • 1961. New English Bible New Testament (British)
  • 1962. New American Standard Bible New Testament
  • 1963. Blacks riot in Birmingham, Alabama. • President Kennedy assassinated.
  • 1964. Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (southern) approves ordination of women as ministers. • Fuller Thelogical Seminary opens its Graduate School of Psychology. • Civil Rights Act passed by U.S. Congress.
  • 1965. Catholic edition of Revised Standard Version.
  • 1966. United Bible Societies’ first Greek New Testament • Jerusalem Bible (Roman Catholic). • “Good News for Modern Man” New Testament published by the American Bible Society.
  • 1967. New American Standard Bible Old Testament • Living Bible New Testament (paraphrase). • Blacks riot in Detroit.
  • 1968. United Bible Societies’ 2nd Greek New Testament • Blacks and college students riot in several U.S. cities. • Martin Luther King assassinated.
  • 1969. Homosexuals in New York City riot against enforcement of sodomy laws. • American astronauts land on the Moon.
  • 1970. New American Bible (Roman Catholic). • New English Bible Old Testament (British) • Lutheran Church in America approves ordination of women. • Robert Schuller begins weekly “Hour of Power” television broadcast.
  • 1971. 2nd ed. of Revised Standard Version.
  • 1972. Neo-evangelical Fuller Theological Seminary officially renounces doctrine of Biblical inerrancy. • U.S. Supreme Court rules that all existing death penalty statutes are unconstitutional.
  • 1973. Neo-evangelical scholars publish the New International Version New Testament • Chicago Declaration of Social Concern expresses neo-evangelical support for liberal political agenda. • U.S. Supreme Court legalizes abortion nationwide. • Presbyterian Church in America founded by conservatives leaving the PCUS. • Executive Council of the United Church of Christ recommends ordination of homosexuals.
  • 1975. United Bible Societies’ 3rd Greek New Testament • Bill Hybels organizes Willow Creek Community Church in a suburban movie theater near Chicago.
  • 1976. Good News Bible (Today’s English Version) published by the American Bible Society. • Episcopal Church approves ordination of women as priests. • Harold Lindsell’s The Battle for the Bible exposes widespead liberalism among neo-evangelicals. • Jimmy Carter elected U.S. President.
  • 1978. Neo-evangelical scholars publish the New International Version Old Testament. • Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.
  • 1979. New King James Version New Testament • American Lutheran Church approves ordination of women. • Jerry Falwell founds “Moral Majority” political lobby to promote Reagan election campaign.
  • 1980. Ronald Reagan elected U.S. President.
  • 1982. Hodges and Farstad “Majority Text” Greek New Testament • New King James Version Old Testament • Robert Schuller’s Self-Esteem: The New Reformation.
  • 1983. General Synod of the United Church of Christ recommends ordination of homosexuals. • AIDS epidemic begins.
  • 1985. New Jerusalem Bible (Roman Catholic).
  • 1987. Pentecostal television preacher Oral Roberts says that God had threatened to kill him if supporters did not send him 8 million dollars immediately. • Pentecostal television preacher Jim Bakker disgraced in revelations of vice and fraud. • Pentecostal television preacher Pat Robertson enters race for U.S. Presidency.
  • 1988. Pentecostal television preacher Jimmy Swaggart disgraced in revelations of vice.
  • 1989. Revised English Bible (British).
  • 1990. New Revised Standard Version.
  • 1992. Bill Clinton elected U.S. President.
  • 1993. “Re-Imagining” conference of female mainline ministers in Minneapolis features worship of pagan fertility goddess. • Federal agents attack Adventist sect in Waco.
  • 1995. Holy laughter breaks out at Pentecostal Vineyard Christian Fellowship church in Toronto. • Contemporary English Version.
  • 1996. NIV Inclusive Language Edition published in Great Britain. • New Living Translation.
  • 2000. George W. Bush elected U.S. President.
  • 2001. Holman Christian Standard Bible New Testament. • English Standard Version • World Trade Center towers in New York destroyed by fanatical Mohammedans.
  • 2002. Today’s New International Version New Testament.
  • 2008. Barack H. Obama becomes first non-white man to be elected President of the United States.

*snark*

I have become increasingly sensitive to the character of the reformers. This comes, in part, because I have become increasingly interested in the character of the early and medieval Christian saints. I have also become more sensitive to how bad is my own character, and yet how easy it is for me to be hypocritical and  judgmental.

Martin Luther was a hero of mine for many years. I love that scene at the Diet of Worms when he stands up to the “bad guys” and declares he will not recant. There is something powerful in standing up for one’s convictions. But my views on Luther have changed. I no longer see him as a hero, but as a deeply problematic figure in the history of Christianity, perhaps even someone who has caused far more harm than good. And though I am still terribly ignorant of Luther’s teaching, I have grown to distrust his gospel−not all of it, but some important parts. Perhaps that’s my fault. But more than doctrine, my perspective on Luther has come about because of what I’ve learned about Luther’s character. And tell me if I am wrong, if I am.

In reading some of Erasmus’ letters, and other accounts of Luther’s life, I get the idea that Luther tended to be petty, mean, and prone to vindictiveness. He too frequently lacked graciousness and humility, and that this is often overlooked by Protestants. He tends to typify something opposite of what we see in the Apostles, even though one could say Luther was merely fighting heresy like the Apostles did. But he did not fight like the Apostles. He didn’t fight for truth with love. Paul says the greatest of these (of faith, hope, and love) is love. I think Luther turned Paul’s saying on its head. That, at least, is the impression I get in the little I have studied of Luther. I say this and I still love some of his quotes, and he wrote some provocative essays, and I’m all for closely examining one’s beliefs and raising objections to falsehood. In some ways he was a brilliant man. But I don’t like him like I did. Tell me if I should.

And then I came across Luther’s Small Catechism (see below) and my negative opinion of him deepened. When I read the introductory paragraphs I was somewhat shocked at his approach. Rather than lifting up, he tears down. He berates and openly (rather than privately) chastises. And he lacks pity on the bishops while he entreats them to have pity on their flocks. Certainly he might have been right in his assessment, but what he does not own up to is the reality that what he saw wrong with other Protestants was the direct result of what he created, the inevitable result of fomenting rebellion, of applying an innovative progressive “man is the measure” philosophy to Christian faith. He makes every man a pope and then berates them for not following pope Luther. Though I believe he was not as bad in this regard as John Calvin.

Just as I would have a very difficult time in being an Anglican because they established their rebellion, in part, by murdering Saint Thomas More and Saint John Fisher, I cannot be a Lutheran because their hero is Luther. Of course, I lack all generosity myself much of the time. And I’ve been in rebellion most of my life. So, really, I’m no better. God have mercy. Fortunately there are no churches named after me. I do hope to see Luther in God’s kingdom someday (as long as it is God’s will that I get there too) and I hope to get to know him. Still, for now at least, he and his legacy trouble me.

Luther’s Small Catechism: Introduction

Martin Luther to All Faithful and Godly Pastors and Preachers:

Grace, Mercy, and Peace in Jesus Christ, our Lord.

The deplorable, miserable condition which I discovered lately when I, too, was a visitor, has forced and urged me to prepare [publish] this Catechism, or Christian doctrine, in this small, plain, simple form. Mercy! Good God! what manifold misery I beheld! The common people, especially in the villages, have no knowledge whatever of Christian doctrine, and, alas! many pastors are altogether incapable and incompetent to teach [so much so, that one is ashamed to speak of it]. Nevertheless, all maintain that they are Christians, have been baptized and receive the [common] holy Sacraments. Yet they [do not understand and] cannot [even] recite either the Lord’s Prayer, or the Creed, or the Ten Commandments; they live like dumb brutes and irrational hogs; and yet, now that the Gospel has come, they have nicely learned to abuse all liberty like experts.

O ye bishops! [to whom this charge has been committed by God,] what will ye ever answer to Christ for having so shamefully neglected the people and never for a moment discharged your office? [You are the persons to whom alone this ruin of the Christian religion is due. You have permitted men to err so shamefully; yours is the guilt; for you have ever done anything rather than what your office required you to do.] May all misfortune flee you! [I do not wish at this place to invoke evil on your heads.] You command the Sacrament in one form [but is not this the highest ungodliness coupled with the greatest impudence that you are insisting on the administration of the Sacrament in one form only, and on your traditions] and insist on your human laws, and yet at the same time you do not care in the least [while you are utterly without scruple and concern] whether the people know the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, the Ten Commandments, or any part of the Word of God. Woe, woe, unto you forever!

Therefore I entreat [and adjure] you all for God’s sake, my dear sirs and brethren, who are pastors or preachers, to devote yourselves heartily to your office, to have pity on the people who are entrusted to you, and to help us inculcate the Catechism upon the people, and especially upon the young. And let those of you who cannot do better [If any of you are so unskilled that you have absolutely no knowledge of these matters, let them not be ashamed to] take these tables and forms and impress them, word for word, on the people, as follows…

I am increasingly interested in the Church Christ established, that is, in Christ’s body, His bride.  But the more I know the more I am at a loss. I grew up a Baptist, which meant that going to church was important because one was already “saved” and needs now to “plug into” a local body of believers for encouragement and teaching. I now think the Baptist idea of the Church (as I understand it), with its own idea of being the Church, may be (surprising to me) partially and perhaps fundamentally un-biblical, though my thinking is only preliminary at this point. A more-or-less Reformed perspective, with which I’ve been somewhat engaged for about 25 years, seems a little better, but I also think it may be fatally flawed. For a host of reasons I find my fingers loosening their grip on my Protestant/Reformed assumptions. I don’t know yet where I stand or where God is leading me.

Below I take a look at the Westminster Confession’s theology of the Church. For what it’s worth I have added my thoughts after each section−and I realize many already have answers to my questions that are, for them, as solid as Mount Zion. I still may not be convinced, but I welcome dialog.

Three caveats:

  1. I know very little of classic Reformed theology. So take everything I write with a grain of salt.
  2. I know almost nothing of the Westminster Confession, and I am only looking at this one chapter.
  3. I have some tough questions and harsh musings about the Protestant and Reformed positions, but I am being tough and harsh for myself, to force me to be less complacent in my thinking.

The Westminster Confession of Faith: Chapter XXV

Of the Church

I. The catholic or universal Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of Him that fills all in all.[1]

My thoughts: The word “catholic” can be understood to mean universal, but it also means “throughout the whole.” The emphasis can be on the idea of “everywhere” or “for everyone,” but the emphasis should fall more strongly on the ideas “completeness” and “wholeness” of the Church. This can only be, however, if the Church is not an establishment of man but of God. Do we truly believe Christ founded a Church, that the Holy Spirit has always been active in maintaining that Church, and that the Church−though an expression of faith−is fundamentally and essentially visible? By claiming that the Catholic Church of the 16th century was merely an establishment of men, did the reformers provide for themselves the self-justification to create another man-made church? Or was the Catholic Church established by God but maintained by both the Holy Spirit and by sinful men (doing what sinful men do)? Was it the Church that needed reform (even to the point of schism) or the men in the Church? If the men, then did not the reformers need to be reformed as well−as we all do? History tells us they did. The evidence just might be devastating. These are critical questions.

Considering that the Church is made up of both those who are living (in this life) and those who have died (more fully alive in the next life), it makes sense to see the Church as both visible and invisible. However, does not the statement of invisibility, standing, as it does, as the first statement made in this chapter about the Church, imply that invisibility is the first characteristic which makes the Church catholic or universal? I grew up with the idea of an invisible church, and that invisibility “allowed” me (us Baptists-for that’s the “expression” in which I grew up) to downplay the disunity of the visible Church. Both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox emphasize the visibility of the Church over its invisibility, though ironically they also place greater emphasis (in various ways) upon the living saints who have died than do Protestants. But to be alive in this life and to be in the Church is to be visibly in the Church. Therefore there is no invisible Church, not really, though many have gone to Heaven. Does this make sense?

To emphasize the Church’s invisibility seems to be a “requirement” in order to defend the Reformed/Protestant (schismatic) perspectives−for a body, a bride, cannot actually be divided without dying, and neither is a body or bride invisible.  Emphasizing the invisibility of the Church, supposing the invisible church to be the true Church, is to be able to maintain the idea that the Church is not really divided, that to be Presbyterian (or any other splinter) is not fundamental. But if not fundamental why maintain (often vigorously) division? On the other hand, to emphasize the Church’s visibility seems to be a “requirement” in order defend the Catholic & Orthodox perspectives. Of course we have to determine what visibility means. Which perspective is best?

II. The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion;[2] and of their children:[3] and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ,[4] the house and family of God,[5] out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.[6]

My thoughts: “The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal…” Is this true? In practice it is not true; the Church is divided and there is not one universally accepted baptism, or liturgy, or even understanding of salvation. However, it is true that the Gospel is for all, but then we have to make the shift and talk of the invisible Church if we are to maintain the idea of “catholic.” But again I think the emphasis here is on the meaning of “catholic” being “universal” rather than on the ideas of “completeness” and “wholeness.” It’s much easier to like the idea of universality−Christianity is for everyone−than to bring up the specter of disunity. And one must not fall into the all-to-human behavior of being schismatic and then blaming the other of schism (which is the unfortunate way of Protestantism). But, of course, there is nothing so predictably human as to be taken captive by Babylon and then arguing it’s really the other who has, instead, become Babylon’s captive.

As with all the various creeds, confessions, statements of faith, etc., one must take statements like “…that profess the true religion” as balancing upon provisional grounds. Who is to say this confession clearly defines what is true religion? Who is to arbitrate between the Westminster Confession, the Heidelberg Confession, the Augsburg Confession, and a plethora of catechisms? Many claim to provide adequate arbitration, but do they really? On what authority? There are those who have “stepped up” and become champions of different positions, but their authority rests upon the strength of their interpretations of scripture (and perhaps the force of their personality and the inertia of their “status”). The struggle becomes about who can win the argument. This is the continuing problem with Protestantism, and with the apostolic succession claims (and split) between the Catholic and Orthodox churches. I am convinced there is truth and that it can be known, so I’m disinclined to throw my hands up and say “oh well,” though I know much we may not know until the other side of this life. But at least what is critical must be able to be known in human terms.

I find the statement “out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation” interesting since my own upbringing would say there is no need to be part of the visible Church to be saved. This statement, however, implies at least that one must be part of the visible Church in order to be saved (or at least saved in an “ordinary” sense−whatever that means). Still, if one cannot be saved outside of the Church, then the Church’s visibility or invisibility makes a big difference in how one behaves as a Christian, what steps one goes through to become a Christian (and member of the Church), and which confession one adheres to.

III. Unto this catholic visible Church Christ has given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and does, by His own presence and Spirit, according to His promise, make them effectual thereunto.[7]

My thoughts: But which catholic visible Church? As I understand it, by the time Martin Luther died there were over 60 splits within his new founded church, and in his later years he said he wish he had never started down that path. (true?) The Westminster Confession represents additional divisions of the visible Church. Today the splits continue and division and disunity are so rampant that few shed tears over the tragedy of our Christian witness or seriously pursue genuine unity (rather than a merely emotional and bland ecumenism) with the kind of humility fit for a follower of Christ. If Protestantism implies “go do what you want” then America was tailor made for Protestantism. But which of the 35,000 denominations in the U.S. has the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God? Can one actually hold to this confession and still claim to stand with those saints who are being gathered and perfected in this life, to the end of the world? Perhaps, and God is gracious and merciful and in charge, but what do we do with this tension? I am full of questions about this section.

As I look at the history and implications of the Protestant Reformation I see much that is far worse in terms of both theology and practice than the problems of the Catholic Church. In fact, the issues that fomented the Reformation look rather small compared to the ravages produced by the Reformation. I now see that I have been trained to see the problems of the Catholic Church as huge failures and the problems of the Protestant churches as far less important.  I hate to say it, but I think I’ve been brainwashed, and because I’m a sinner I bought it. The Catholic Church over the centuries seems to mirror the nature of a flawed, sinful person who struggles with faith and right action, often doing bad things, being prideful and hurtful at times, and giving into bureaucracy, but who, in various and incomplete ways, comes back to God again and again. Outside the Catholic Church (I’m not including the Orthodox Church here) we have division upon division, theological wrangling that makes scholasticism look like a walk in the park, emotionalism, a “man is the measure” attitude, and the ever creeping concessions to the sinful demands of opportunists and wolves. Plus we have gross disunity. And what I frequently find in myself and others is a kind of defense mechanism against all this. We tend to adopt a kind of blasé attitude, acting as though none of this really matters, not thinking at all about it, often finding comfort in just bobbing along in the current of our culture. If we seek more solid ground we will often place our trust in a particular Bible teacher or a pastor, or in a particular method of Biblical interpretation. This does not, however, answer the question of which is the true Church that Christ founded and that His Spirit maintains. What should we do?

IV. This catholic Church has been sometimes more, sometimes less visible.[8] And particular Churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the Gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them.[9]

My thoughts: “…sometimes more, sometimes less visible.” This seems a rather convenient phrase, though it may also be true. “…performed more or less purely…” I am not sure what this means, or how one is to measure it. What is the scale on which an individual church slides between more and less pure? And who measures? And on what authority? Am I to be the judge?

A thought on authority: For a Roman Catholic apologist the question of authority is a big deal. The Catholic will place emphasis on scripture, tradition, the Magisterium, and apostolic succession. In short, the Catholic Church claims authority and places that authority in the context of an historical lineage going back to the apostles. This lineage includes apostolic succession of course, but also includes written scripture and spoken (unwritten) teaching, church practice and structure, and the selection of which writings should be considered scripture. Protestants place emphasis on scripture alone (in theory at least). But scripture requires interpretation, thus scripture alone is not truly scripture alone, but the individual who interprets and the individual who accepts or rejects that interpretation. The history of Protestantism provides enough evidence that the cry of sola scriptura may, in fact, be merely a diversion from the more subversive, unspoken, and fundamental claim of Protestant authority, namely that “man is the measure.” This is not to say that Rome has the truer claim, for I do not know, but the issue is too serious to shrug off.

V. The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error;[10] and some have so degenerated, as to become no Churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan.[11] Nevertheless, there shall be always a Church on earth to worship God according to His will.[12]

My thoughts: “…there shall be always a Church on earth to worship God according to His will.” This can only be claimed if Jesus’ keeps his promises, if the Holy Spirit has continued to be active in establishing and maintaining the Church. But if those promises have always been kept then should we not show more grace towards the Church that existed between the death of the last apostle and the beginning of the Reformation? That historical Church is entirely missing (as though it did not exist) from Baptist teaching, and perhaps from most Protestant/Reformed teaching. This makes sense especially since the Protestant/Reformed churches of today are overwhelmingly willing to grant themselves almost unlimited grace when they confront their disunity and divisions. Time has shown that the Protestant/Reformed churches are experts at finding the specks in each others (and Roman Catholic) eyes and are blind to the logs in their own. (Matthew 7:5) The Protestant Reformation may, in fact, be the visible, historical denial of this critical teaching of Christ.

I have come to believe that one can only and truly be committed to the reformation of something (or someone) that one loves. One sticks with the beloved and works for change or one walks away. Erasmus stayed, Luther left. Erasmus had grace, Luther did not (this is evidenced in their lives and writings). Calvin was a lawyer and most definitely not a saint. Aquinas was a saint (and would probably have made a better lawyer). Can it be that the term “Reformation” is a misnomer? Should it not be “Rebellion” or maybe better, “Revolution,” including the throwing off of authority and the (figuratively) lopping off of heads? Rarely do revolutions bring unity, rather they foment divisions and factions−hence the history of Protestantism. Beware of “isms” for they can quickly become false gods, do they not? I have been wrestling with these questions for some time. I still don’t have an answer.

VI. There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ.[13] Nor can the Pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalts himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God.[14]

My thoughts: Christ is the head of the Church, this is profoundly true. And the apostles were given authority in the name of Christ to take the Gospel to the world, to begin churches, to admonish, to defend the truth, and to establish hierarchies of church structure within the local churches (and perhaps more broadly). It appears that the apostles are to be seen as representatives or vicars (a representative, deputy or substitute; anyone acting “in the person of” or agent for a superior) of Christ, especially in the “visible Church” sense of the term. Could it be that Christ had in mind a hierarchical structure of representation with someone in this life visibly representing Christ at the “head” of the visible Church? That I am not sure, but it makes some sense. But if the Pope is the Vicar of Christ as Catholics claim, then he is not the head of the church as much as he is the visible representative, or deputy, or agent of the true head who physically left this world, sits at the right hand of the Father, sent his Spirit to us, and lets us work it all out with fear and trembling. We should be careful not to fall into ad hominen or tu quoque arguments merely because we don’t like the leaders Christ gave us, including the Pope. Still, we must be cautious not to assume power or authority in individuals on false premises. I still don’t have an answer for this.

“…but is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalts himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God.” If there is any statement I have found thus far in the Westminster Confession that turns me away it is this one. This statement just drips with arrogance and punky, snotty rebellion. I realize there are historical reasons for such strong language, and that there are brilliant and level-headed minds who have defended such wording, and I am even sure many who follow this confession today might turn a blind eye to these particular words, but it smacks of something altogether sinful and suspect which may underlie the confession as a whole and call into question the true nature and heart of the Reformation. The irony is that such wording is exactly the kind that would drive me into the arms of Rome. I have yet to either meet or hear about any man or woman in modern times (as far as I know) who follows this confession (or any Protestant confession) who surpasses Pope John Paul II as an example of Christ to me. Was he the Antichrist, a son of perdition, exalting himself against Christ? No, the opposite. Am I entirely off base here?

As you can see, though I grew up a Protestant, and though I was taught to be anti-Catholic and see the Pope as the Antichrist and see Catholics as not (or barely) Christians, and though I was taught that church history began in the 16th century (even then largely forgotten until the 20th), I now find myself deeply skeptical of the Protestant Reformation. The arguments that once seemed so obvious to me now appear thin and even troubling. I love the Protestant emphasis on scripture and on the evangelical nature of faith, but I see the Protestant Reformation as probably more an expression of “man is the measure” than anything else. I also wonder if the Protestant Reformation was not really about reforming anything, but creating something new−perhaps in some way a new gospel? Or something like the old Gospel but on man’s terms? I’m sure for many it was just this. For others perhaps the motives were and are more pure. And yet the Reformation, as it played out in history, feels not unlike the man who leaves a difficult marriage by divorcing his wife and seeks a new and better life with a new wife. I can have empathy for the struggle but not for the divorce. I can sympathize with the desire for a better life but with not the hardness of heart. These are live issues for me and, I believe, are at the heart of what it means to be a Christian, to raise our children properly, and to bow the knee to Christ.

Footnotes

[1] EPH 1:10 That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him. 22 And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, 23 Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. 5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. 27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. 32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. COL 1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.

[2] 1CO 1:2 Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours. 1CO 12:12 For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. PSA 2:8 Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. REV 7:9 After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands. ROM 15:9 And that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name. 10 And again he saith, Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people. 11 And again, Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and laud him, all ye people. 12 And again, Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust.

[3] 1CO 7:14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. ACT 2:39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. EZE 16:20 Moreover thou hast taken thy sons and thy daughters, whom thou hast borne unto me, and these hast thou sacrificed unto them to be devoured. Is this of thy whoredoms a small matter, 21 That thou hast slain my children, and delivered them to cause them to pass through the fire for them? ROM 11:16 For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches. GEN 3:15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. 17:7 And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.

[4] MAT 13:47 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind. ISA 9:7 Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

[5] EPH 2:19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God. 3:15 Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.

[6] ACT 2:47 Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.

[7] 1CO 12:28 And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. EPH 4:11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. MAT 28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. ISA 59:21 As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the Lord; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever.

[8] ROM 11:3 Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life. 4 But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal. REV 12:6 And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days. 14 And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.

[9] (REV 2-3 throughout) 1CO 5:6 Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? 7 Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us.

[10] 1CO 13:12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. MAT 13:24-30, 47 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind.

[11] REV 18:2 And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird. ROM 11:18 Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. 19 Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in. 20 Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: 21 For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. 22 Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.

[12] MAT 16:18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. PSA 72:17 His name shall endure for ever: his name shall be continued as long as the sun: and men shall be blessed in him: all nations shall call him blessed. 102:28 The children of thy servants shall continue, and their seed shall be established before thee. MAT 28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

[13] COL 1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. EPH 1:22 And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church.

[14]MAT 23:8 But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. 9 And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. 10 Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. 2TH 2:3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; 4 Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. 8 And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: 9 Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders. REV 13:6 And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven.

The Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas

A number of young catechumens were arrested, Revocatus and his fellow slave Felicitas, Saturninus and Secundulus, and with them Vibia Perpetua, a newly married woman of good family and upbringing. Her mother and father were still alive and one of her two brothers was a catechumen like herself. She was about twenty-two years old and had an infant son at the breast. (Now from this point on the entire account of her ordeal is her own, according to her own ideas and in the way that she herself wrote it down.)

While we were still under arrest (she said) my father out of love for me was trying to persuade me and shake my resolution. ‘Father,’ said I, ‘do you see this vase here, for example, or waterpot or whatever?’

‘Yes, I do’, said he.

And I told him: ‘Could it be called by any other name than what it is?’

And he said: ‘No.’

‘Well, so too I cannot be called anything other than what I am, a Christian.’

At this my father was so angered by the word ‘Christian’ that he moved towards me as though he would pluck my eyes out. But he left it at that and departed, vanquished along with his diabolical arguments.

For a few days afterwards I gave thanks to the Lord that I was separated from my father, and I was comforted by his absence. During these few days I was baptized, and I was inspired by the Spirit not to ask for any other favour after the water but simply the perseverance of the flesh. A few days later we were lodged in the prison; and I was terrified, as I had never before been in such a dark hole. What a difficult time it was! With the crowd the heat was stifling; then there was the extortion of the soldiers; and to crown all, I was tortured with worry for my baby there.

Then Tertius and Pomponius, those blessed deacons who tried to take care of us, bribed the soldiers to allow us to go to a better part of the prison to refresh ourselves for a few hours. Everyone then left that dungeon and shifted for himself. I nursed my baby, who was faint from hunger. In my anxiety I spoke to my mother about the child, I tried to comfort my brother, and I gave the child in their charge. I was in pain because I saw them suffering out of pity for me. These were the trials I had to endure for many days. Then I got permission for my baby to stay with me in prison. At once I recovered my health, relieved as I was of my worry and anxiety over the child. My prison had suddenly become a palace, so that I wanted to be there rather than anywhere else.

Then my brother said to me: ‘Dear sister, you are greatly privileged; surely you might ask for a vision to discover whether you are to be condemned or freed.’

Faithfully I promised that I would, for I knew that I could speak with the Lord, whose great blessings I had come to experience. And so I said: ‘I shall tell you tomorrow.’ Then I made my request and this was the vision I had.

I saw a ladder of tremendous height made of bronze, reaching all the way to the heavens, but it was so narrow that only one person could climb up at a time. To the sides of the ladder were attached all sorts of metal weapons: there were swords, spears, hooks, daggers, and spikes; so that if anyone tried to climb up carelessly or without paying attention, he would be mangled and his flesh would adhere to the weapons.

At the foot of the ladder lay a dragon of enormous size, and it would attack those who tried to climb up and try to terrify them from doing so. And Saturus was the first to go up, he who was later to give himself up of his own accord. He had been the builder of our strength, although he was not present when we were arrested. And he arrived at the top of the staircase and he looked back and said to me: ‘Perpetua, I am waiting for you. But take care; do not let the dragon bite you.’

‘He will not harm me,’ I said, ‘in the name of Christ Jesus.’

Slowly, as though he were afraid of me, the dragon stuck his head out from underneath the ladder. Then, using it as my first step, I trod on his head and went up.

Then I saw an immense garden, and in it a gray-haired man sat in shepherd’s garb; tall he was, and milking sheep. And standing around him were many thousands of people clad in white garments. He raised his head, looked at me, and said: ‘I am glad you have come, my child.’

He called me over to him and gave me, as it were, a mouthful Of the milk he was drawing; and I took it into my cupped hands and consumed it. And all those who stood around said: ‘Amen!’ At the sound of this word I came to, with the taste of something sweet still in my mouth. I at once told this to my brother, and we realized that we would have to suffer, and that from now on we would no longer have any hope in this life.

A few days later there was a rumour that we were going to be given a hearing. My father also arrived from the city, worn with worry, and he came to see me with the idea of persuading me.

‘Daughter,’ he said, ‘have pity on my grey head–have pity on me your father, if I deserve to be called your father, if I have favoured you above all your brothers, if I have raised you to reach this prime of your life. Do not abandon me to be the reproach of men. Think of your brothers, think of your mother and your aunt, think of your child, who will not be able to live once you are gone. Give up your pride! You will destroy all of us! None of us will ever be able to speak freely again if anything happens to you.’

This was the way my father spoke out of love for me, kissing my hands and throwing himself down before me. With tears in his eyes he no longer addressed me as his daughter but as a woman. I was sorry for my father’s sake, because he alone of all my kin would be unhappy to see me suffer.

I tried to comfort him saying: ‘It will all happen in the prisoner’s dock as God wills; for you may be sure that we are not left to ourselves but are all in his power.’

And he left me in great sorrow.

One day while we were eating breakfast we were suddenly hurried off for a hearing. We arrived at the forum, and straight away the story went about the neighbourhood near the forum and a huge crowd gathered. We walked up to the prisoner’s dock. All the others when questioned admitted their guilt. Then, when it came my turn, my father appeared with my son, dragged me from the step, and said: ‘Perform the sacrifice–have pity on your baby!’

Hilarianus the governor, who had received his judicial powers as the successor of the late proconsul Minucius Timinianus, said to me: ‘Have pity on your father’s grey head; have pity on your infant son. Offer the sacrifice for the welfare of the emperors.’

‘I will not’, I retorted.

‘Are you a Christian?’ said Hilarianus.

And I said: ‘Yes, I am.’

When my father persisted in trying to dissuade me, Hilarianus ordered him to be thrown to the ground and beaten with a rod. I felt sorry for father, just as if I myself had been beaten. I felt sorry for his pathetic old age.

Then Hilarianus passed sentence on all of us: we were condemned to the beasts, and we returned to prison in high spirits. But my baby had got used to being nursed at the breast and to staying with me in prison. So I sent the deacon Pomponius straight away to my father to ask for the baby. But father refused to give him over. But as God willed, the baby had no further desire for the breast, nor did I suffer any inflammation; and so I was relieved of any anxiety for my child and of any discomfort in my breasts….

Some days later, an adjutant named Pudens, who was in charge of the prison, began to show us great honour, realizing that we possessed some great power within us. And he began to allow many visitors to see us for our mutual comfort.

Now the day of the contest was approaching, and my father came to see me overwhelmed with sorrow. He started tearing the hairs from his beard and threw them on the ground; he then threw himself on the ground and began to curse his old age and to say such words as would move all creation. I felt sorry for his unhappy old age.

The day before we were to fight with the beasts I saw the following vision. Pomponius the deacon came to the prison gates and began to knock violently. I went out and opened the gate for him. He was dressed in an unbelted white tunic, wearing elaborate sandals. And he said to me: ‘Perpetua, come; we are waiting for you.’

Then he took my hand and we began to walk through rough and broken country. At last we came to the amphitheatre out of breath, and he led me into the centre of the arena.

Then he told me: ‘Do not be afraid. I am here, struggling with you.’ Then he left.

I looked at the enormous crowd who watched in astonishment. I was surprised that no beasts were let loose on me; for I knew that I was condemned to die by the beasts. Then out came an Egyptian against me, of vicious appearance, together with his seconds, to fight with me. There also came up to me some handsome young men to be my seconds and assistants.

My clothes were stripped off, and suddenly I was a man. My seconds began to rub me down with oil (as they are wont to do before a contest). Then I saw the Egyptian on the other side rolling in the dust. Next there came forth a man of marvelous stature, such that he rose above the top of the amphitheatre. He was clad in a beltless purple tunic with two stripes (one on either side) running down the middle of his chest. He wore sandals that were wondrously made of gold and silver, and he carried a wand like an athletic trainer and a green branch on which there were golden apples.

And he asked for silence and said: ‘If this Egyptian defeats her he will slay her with the sword. But if she defeats him, she will receive this branch.’ Then he withdrew.

We drew close to one another and began to let our fists fly. My opponent tried to get hold of my feet, but I kept striking him in the face with the heels of my feet. Then I was raised up into the air and I began to pummel him without as it were touching the ground. Then when I noticed there was a lull, I put my two hands together linking the fingers of one hand with those of the other and thus I got hold of his head. He fell flat on his face and I stepped on his head.

The crowd began to shout and my assistants started to sing psalms. Then I walked up to the trainer and took the branch. He kissed me and said to me: ‘Peace be with you, my daughter!’ I began to walk in triumph towards the Gate of Life. Then I awoke. I realized that it was not with wild animals that I would fight but with the Devil, but I knew that I would win the victory. So much for what I did up until the eve of the contest. About what happened at the contest itself, let him write of it who will.

[Here Saturus tells the story of a vision he had of Perpetua and himself, after they were killed, being carried by four angels into heaven where they were reunited with other martyrs killed in the same persecution.]

[Here the editor/narrator begins to relate the story]:

Such were the remarkable visions of these martyrs, Saturus and Perpetua, written by themselves. As for Secundulus, God called him from this world earlier than the others while he was still in prison, by a special grace that he might not have to face the animals. Yet his flesh, if not his spirit, knew the sword.

As for Felicitas, she too enjoyed the Lord’s favour in this wise. She had been pregnant when she was arrested, and was now in her eighth month. As the day of the spectacle drew near she was very distressed that her martyrdom would be postponed because of her pregnancy; for it is against the law for women with child to be executed. Thus she might have to shed her holy, innocent blood afterwards along with others who were common criminals. Her comrades in martyrdom were also saddened; for they were afraid that they would have to leave behind so fine a companion to travel alone on the same road to hope. And so, two days before the contest, they poured forth a prayer to the Lord in one torrent of common grief. And immediately after their prayer the birth pains came upon her. She suffered a good deal in her labour because of the natural difficulty of an eight months’ delivery.

Hence one of the assistants of the prison guards said to her: ‘You suffer so much now–what will you do when you are tossed to the beasts? Little did you think of them when you refused to sacrifice.’

‘What I am suffering now’, she replied, ‘I suffer by myself. But then another will be inside me who will suffer for me, just as I shall be suffering for him.’

And she gave birth to a girl; and one of the sisters brought her up as her own daughter.

Therefore, since the Holy Spirit has permitted the story of this contest to be written down and by so permitting has willed it, we shall carry out the command or, indeed, the commission of the most saintly Perpetua, however unworthy I might be to add anything to this glorious story. At the same time I shall add one example of her perseverance and nobility of soul.

The military tribune had treated them with extraordinary severity because on the information of certain very foolish people he became afraid that they would be spirited out of the prison by magical spells.

Perpetua spoke to him directly. ‘Why can you not even allow us to refresh ourselves properly? For we are the most distinguished of the condemned prisoners, seeing that we belong to the emperor; we are to fight on his very birthday. Would it not be to your credit if we were brought forth on the day in a healthier condition?’

The officer became disturbed and grew red. So it was that he gave the order that they were to be more humanely treated; and he allowed her brothers and other persons to visit, so that the prisoners could dine in their company. By this time the adjutant who was head of the gaol was himself a Christian.

On the day before, when they had their last meal, which is called the free banquet, they celebrated not a banquet but rather a love feast. They spoke to the mob with the same steadfastness, warned them of God’s judgement, stressing the joy they would have in their suffering, and ridiculing the curiosity of those that came to see them. Saturus said: ‘Will not tomorrow be enough for you? Why are you so eager to see something that you dislike? Our friends today will be our enemies on the morrow. But take careful note of what we look like so that you will recognize us on the day.’ Thus everyone would depart from the prison in amazement, and many of them began to believe.

The day of their victory dawned, and they marched from the prison to the amphitheatre joyfully as though they were going to heaven, with calm faces, trembling, if at all, with joy rather than fear. Perpetua went along with shining countenance and calm step, as the beloved of God, as a wife of Christ, putting down everyone’s stare by her own intense gaze. With them also was Felicitas, glad that she had safely given birth so that now she could fight the beasts, going from one blood bath to another, from the midwife to the gladiator, ready to wash after childbirth in a second baptism.

They were then led up to the gates and the men were forced to put on the robes of priests of Saturn, the women the dress of the priestesses of Ceres. But the noble Perpetua strenuously resisted this to the end.

‘We came to this of our own free will, that our freedom should not be violated. We agreed to pledge our lives provided that we would do no such thing. You agreed with us to do this.’

Even injustice recognized justice. The military tribune agreed. They were to be brought into the arena just as they were. Perpetua then began to sing a psalm: she was already treading on the head of the Egyptian. Revocatus, Saturninus, and Saturus began to warn the on looking mob. Then when they came within sight of Hilarianus, they suggested by their motions and gestures: ‘You have condemned us, but God will condemn you’ was what they were saying.

At this the crowds became enraged and demanded that they be scourged before a line of gladiators. And they rejoiced at this that they had obtained a share in the Lord’s sufferings.

But he who said, Ask and you shall receive, answered their prayer by giving each one the death he had asked for. For whenever they would discuss among themselves their desire for martyrdom, Saturninus indeed insisted that he wanted to be exposed to all the different beasts, that his crown might be all the more glorious. And so at the outset of the contest he and Revocatus were matched with a leopard, and then while in the stocks they were attacked by a bear. As for Saturus, he dreaded nothing more than a bear, and he counted on being killed by one bite of a leopard. Then he was matched with a wild boar; but the gladiator who had tied him to the animal was gored by the boar and died a few days after the contest, whereas Saturus was only dragged along. Then when he was bound in the stocks awaiting the bear, the animal refused to come out of the cages, so that Saturus was called back once more unhurt.

For the young women, however, the Devil had prepared a mad heifer. This was an unusual animal, but it was chosen that their sex might be matched with that of the beast. So they were stripped naked, placed in nets and thus brought out into the arena. Even the crowd was horrified when they saw that one was a delicate young girl and the other was a woman fresh from childbirth with the milk still dripping from her breasts. And so they were brought back again and dressed in unbelted tunics.

First the heifer tossed Perpetua and she fell on her back. Then sitting up she pulled down the tunic that was ripped along the side so that it covered her thighs, thinking more of her modesty than of her pain. Next she asked for a pin to fasten her untidy hair: for it was not right that a martyr should die with her hair in disorder, lest she might seem to be mourning in her hour of triumph.

Then she got up. And seeing that Felicitas had been crushed to the ground, she went over to her, gave her hand, and lifted her up. Then the two stood side by side. But the cruelty of the mob was by now appeased, and so they were called back through the Gate of Life.

There Perpetua was held up by a man named Rusticus who was at the time a catechumen and kept close to her. She awoke from a kind of sleep (so absorbed had she been in ecstasy in the Spirit) and she began to look about her. Then to the amazement of all she said: ‘When are we going to be thrown to that heifer or whatever it is?’

When told that this had already happened, she refused to believe it until she noticed the marks of her rough experience on her person and her dress. Then she called for her brother and spoke to him together with the catechumens and said: ‘You must all stand fast in the faith and love one another, and do not be weakened by what we have gone through.’

At another gate Saturus was earnestly addressing the soldier Pudens. ‘It is exactly’, he said, ‘as I foretold and predicted. So far not one animal has touched me. So now you may believe me with all your heart: I am going in there and I shall be finished off with one bite of the leopard.’ And immediately as the contest was coming to a close a leopard was let loose, and after one bite Saturus was so drenched with blood that as he came away the mob roared in witness to his second baptism: ‘Well washed! Well washed!’ For well washed indeed was one who had been bathed in this manner.

Then he said to the soldier Pudens: ‘Good-bye. Remember me, and remember the faith. These things should not disturb you but rather strengthen you.’

And with this he asked Pudens for a ring from his finger, and dipping it into his wound he gave it back to him again as a pledge and as a record of his bloodshed.

Shortly after he was thrown unconscious with the rest in the usual spot to have his throat cut. But the mob asked that their bodies be brought out into the open that their eyes might be the guilty witnesses of the sword that pierced their flesh. And so the martyrs got up and went to the spot of their own accord as the people wanted them to, and kissing one another they sealed their martyrdom with the ritual kiss of peace. The others took the sword in silence and without moving, especially Saturus, who being the first to climb the stairway was the first to die. For once again he was waiting for Perpetual Perpetua, however, had yet to taste more pain. She screamed as she was struck on the bone; then she took the trembling hand of the young gladiator and guided it to her throat. It was as though so great a woman, feared as she was by the unclean spirit, could not be dispatched unless she herself were willing.

Ah, most valiant and blessed martyrs! Truly are you called and chosen for the glory of Christ Jesus our Lord! And any man who exalts, honours, and worships his glory should read for the consolation of the Church these new deeds of heroism which are no less significant than the tales of old. For these new manifestations of virtue will bear witness to one and the same Spirit who still operates, and to God the Father almighty, to his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom is splendour and immeasurable power for all the ages. Amen.

From The Acts of the Christian Marytrs

texts and translation by Herbert Musurillo

(c) Oxford University Press, 1972

This timeline only covers some Greek, Latin, and English translations. And there’s really only a handful of the available English translations. Still it’s fascinating.

[UPDATE: My friend Kim says this timeline is incorrect. Some of the connections are wrong and some critical pieces are missing. Even though there should be nothing wrong with the diagram since I found it on the Internet (and the Internet never lies) I trust Kim’s judgement.]

Click (or click twice) to enlarge:

I would love to read Latin well enough to read St. Jerome’s translation.

I found this timeline here.

The flow of church history and its major branches (click to enlarge):

The flow of Protestant and Reformed church history (click to enlarge):

Note: This second flow chart only barely represents the multiplicity of splits and various denominations within Protestants and Reformed church history. It’s only the tip of the iceberg.

A priest administers the Eucharist to U.S. soldiers during the Battle of Iwo Jima, 1945

I’ve been thinking lately about the role and function of priests. I did not grow up with priests being a part of my world. My Baptist world did not have a place for priests. And I did not know other “kinds” of Christians outside of the narrow world of my youth (really most of my life). I also did not grow up with either a Catholic or Protestant “high church” kind of liturgical Sunday services, and thus the sacredness at the heart of Sunday worship was nothing more than one’s emotions as they were conjured and manipulated by the “worship” team and prodded by the sermon−this does not mean Truth was not preached or my emotions were entirely false. God can use anything and I was blessed to hear many great sermons, be encouraged in my faith, and find fellowship with other Christians. But now questions arise: Are some called to be priests, and do priests have a real role in the life of the Church? Do priests fulfill a function?

While I’ve been pondering these questions I found the story below at Courageous Priest:

The greatest priestly action I have ever seen was at Mass on a hot summer Sunday at St. Mary’s Parish in New Haven, Conn.

This was back before the parish had air conditioning. It was tough for the congregation, but worse for the visiting priest who said Mass in the summer. He had diabetes and some kind of degenerative nerve disorder that made his hands shake.

“It’s hot for you,” he would joke. “But I’m up here wearing a horse blanket!”

This priest’s homilies were excellent, but the moment that is burned in my memory happened during the Eucharistic prayer.

Father was slowing down through the first part of the prayer, like an old record player that needed to be cranked. When he started the consecration, it sounded like he was going to stop altogether.

But after he started the consecration, it quickly became clear that nothing could make him stop.

“Take this,” pause, “all of you,” pause, “and” … long pause … “eat it.”

He took a long gasping breath and looked like he wouldn’t recover. A parishioner ran to his side. The priest made it clear he wasn’t about to leave the altar, so the parishioner brought a chair for him to rest on.

“This … is … my … body … which will be … given up … for you.”

He lifted the host with shaky hands. We watched in rapt silence.

He slowly worked through “When the supper was ended, he took the cup …”

And then a replacement priest had been brought over from the rectory.

But Father wasn’t about to stop halfway through the consecration.

Word after agonizing word, he got to the end of the consecration.

By then, an ambulance had come. After he elevated the chalice, he was carried away on a stretcher.

Then the replacement priest stepped up to the altar. “Let us proclaim the mystery of faith,” he said.

Talk about alter christus. Watching that priest was like watching Our Lord consecrating the Eucharist — from the cross.

“Mom, why wouldn’t he stop?” the kids asked their mother in the car.

“Because he’s a priest,” said April. “That’s what priests do.”

She was right. It is vitally important that priests preach and that they do it well. But preaching isn’t the most important thing priests do. A priest doesn’t need to be talented, interesting or well-read to do the most important things priests do.

“That’s what priests do.” This sentence raises a lot of questions for me, for which I do not yet have the answer.

Also, one of my favorite films is Rome, Open City (1945). I wrote about a priest who plays a crucial role in the story of that film. I suppose there are, and always have been, “muscular” or heroic priests. The early church is full of them.

Priests are not so revered these days as they once were, at least not in the popular media. And there has been a lot of deservedly bad press because of a few notorious priests who abused their positions. But I wonder if in the vast, quiet place that is far removed from popular media that there isn’t a world of honorable priests who labor for the Kingdom and the Christ they love. I think this must be true and I would like to learn more about that world.

From the Heidelberg Catechism:

Question 22. What is then necessary for a christian to believe?

Answer: All things promised us in the gospel, (a) which the articles of our catholic undoubted christian faith briefly teach us.

(a) John 20:31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name. Matt.28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Mark 1:15 And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.

Question 23. What are these articles?

Answer: 1. I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth: 2. And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord: 3. Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary: 4. Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead, and buried: He descended into hell: 5. The third day he rose again from the dead: 6. He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty: 7. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead: 8. I believe in the Holy Ghost: 9. I believe a holy catholic church: the communion of saints: 10. The forgiveness of sins: 11. The resurrection of the body: 12. And the life everlasting.

What the Servants of Christ Should Say in Reply to the Unbelievers Who Cast in Their Teeth that Christ Did Not Rescue Them from the Fury of Their Enemies.

The whole family of God, most high and most true, has therefore a consolation of its own,—a consolation which cannot deceive, and which has in it a surer hope than the tottering and falling affairs of earth can afford. They will not refuse the discipline of this temporal life, in which they are schooled for life eternal; nor will they lament their experience of it, for the good things of earth they use as pilgrims who are not detained by them, and its ills either prove or improve them. As for those who insult over them in their trials, and when ills befall them say, “Where is thy God?” we may ask them where their gods are when they suffer the very calamities for the sake of avoiding which they worship their gods, or maintain they ought to be worshipped; for the family of Christ is furnished with its reply: our God is everywhere present, wholly everywhere; not confined to any place. He can be present unperceived, and be absent without moving; when He exposes us to adversities, it is either to prove our perfections or correct our imperfections; and in return for our patient endurance of the sufferings of time, He reserves for us an everlasting reward. But who are you, that we should deign to speak with you even about your own gods, much less about our God, who is “to be feared above all gods? For all the gods of the nations are idols; but the Lord made the heavens.”

City of God, Book 1, Chapter 29, trans. Marcus Dods, D.D.

One of my greatest fears is that I would give up some of my freedom for something that appears worthy of that sacrifice, only to then discover I made a huge mistake. If that freedom is directly related to my ability to decide for myself what is true, then I will have sacrificed my personal integrity and my conscience. I confess that I fear the historical Christian idea that Scripture, and what it means (interpretation), should be studied and understood within an already established Tradition. Is this merely my Protestant indoctrination kicking in? Could it be that I do not understand what it means for Scripture to be part of Tradition? Or is it my pride and even some arrogance that fuels my fear? In this post I want to approach hesitatingly the Orthodox perspective on Scripture, interpreting Scripture, and how all that fits into the Orthodox idea of Tradition. Necessarily, this will be a brief exploration–the topic is just too monumental for my mind and too huge for a blog post. Plus, in order to get at the Orthodox perspective I must examine the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura–an examination that will also be too brief. As I said in my previous post, I am profoundly ignorant of Orthodoxy. I am an outsider looking in, trying to be even-handed in my assessment, but still essentially in water far deeper than my abilities or my comfort.

The Christian Church is a Scriptural Church: Orthodoxy believes this just as firmly, if not more firmly, than Protestantism. The Bible is the supreme expression of God’s revelation to the human race, and Christians must always be ‘People of the Book’. But if Christians are People of the Book, the Bible is the Book of the People; it must not be regarded as something set up over the Church, but as something that lives and is understood within the Church (that is why one should not separate Scripture and Tradition). It is from the Church that the Bible ultimately derives its authority, for it was the Church which originally decided which books form a part of Holy Scripture; and it is the Church alone which can interpret Holy Scripture with authority. (Bishop Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Church, p.199)

[A]s an Orthodox clergyman, I hold the position that the Orthodox Christian faith is uniquely true. I would not be Orthodox if I did not believe it to be the true faith revealed by God in His Son Jesus Christ. If I encounter a teaching of the Orthodox faith that makes no sense to me or strikes me as incorrect, then my conclusion should be that it is I who need to be reformed, not the Orthodox Church. This is in fact the classical view of all traditional religions, as opposed to the modern consumer-style understanding of faith popular in our culture; that each person is the arbiter of what is true and false, and that he is free to pick whatever bits of “spirituality” and belief he likes from a sort of religious buffet. (Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy, p. 7)

Are we to check our minds at the door of the Church? This is the classic fear of the sola scriptura Christian when confronting the claims of Tradition. The issue is not so much about doctrine as about principle. Though a particular doctrine may be held by both Orthodoxy and by the sola scriptura purist, it is the so-called purist who claims the so-called high ground in the Scripture vs. Tradition debate. The purist will claim that her own, personal arrival at that doctrine was not unduly influenced by outside sources, was grasped with her God-given rationality, and that she came to true belief rather than merely parroting the doctrine as is typically the case (it is argued) with the traditionalist who is only finding comfort within a socially circumscribed religious experience rather than exhibiting true understanding.

I do not hold as tightly to the sola scriptura position as I once did, but much of it still seems true, at least it still holds a powerful influence on me. I do not want to define sola scriptura in this post, you can read about it yourself here. The basic point I want to make is that this doctrine I grew up with taught me that all I really needed to know, and that what I was supposed to believe, and how I was to behave as a Christian, was found in the Bible, and that all I needed to do was open its pages and read it–as long as I let the Spirit of God guide me, and as long as I didn’t stray from what my church said the Bible said.

When it comes to Scripture and Tradition there is really just one two-part question: Do I read Scripture in light of Tradition, letting Tradition guide me and correct me in my understanding; or do I read Scripture fundamentally apart from Tradition, letting my own personal understanding of Scripture critique and even reject Tradition? I must say that at this point I am tending towards the Orthodox perspective that sees Scripture as being a part of Tradition, that Scripture should be interpreted within Tradition (I am not sure there really, honestly is any other way), and that to do otherwise is to open the flood gates (which have already been burst wide open for several centuries) to all sorts of trouble. On the other hand, I am not so terribly concerned with “all sorts of trouble” because I know that God is good and will not abandon His Church.

If we are not to interpret Scripture within Tradition how, then, are we to do it? From a sola scripturist we get this:

Theology, therefore, always faces the danger of elevating the theologian’s own conception of human need to a position of equal authority to, or even greater authority than, the Scriptures. But through prayer and meditation on God’s Word, that danger can be avoided. (John Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, p. 19)

There are two problems with this position. The first is that the fear–that the Bible student will elevate human need above Scripture–is already, by definition, inherent within sola scriptura. This is not necessarily a bad thing, the Scriptures are given to us for us. If we are interested in the Truth we are interested in it for ourselves, for our salvation. If we seek glory, if we search for the pearl of great price, we seek and search for ourselves.  If, to safeguard the Truth, we place Scripture above Tradition, right or wrong, it is because we have elevated our human need for Truth and believe the Scriptures are the key to fulfilling that need. The problem, and what I believe Frame is getting at, is that we would let our human need cloud our judgement and that we would twist Scripture to say whatever we want it to say; that we would let lesser human needs, rather than our need for God and salvation, be our standard. In this case it is just as easy, probably much easier actually, to argue in favor of Tradition as an antidote as it is to argue for sola scriptura. The second problem is the emphasis on prayer and meditation on God’s Word as the way to keep the Scriptures in their proper order. This view is akin to giving the fox the keys to the hen-house. There has never been a lack of prayer and meditation on God’s Word at the core of virtually every denominational split, every contrary doctrine, every heresy, and just about every Christian cult. You will find the Baptist preacher, the Episcopalian priest, and the Catholic bishop all fervently praying and deeply meditating on God’s Word, and they do not agree with each other as to what the Bible means in many places. In short, though prayer and meditation are good and necessary things, this is not the way to avoid the danger as Frame argues.

Also notice the emphasis placed on the personal rather than the corporate. It cannot be emphasized enough that the tendency in modern American Christianity to favor the “knowing self” over, and sometimes against, the “believing community” is emblematic of Protestant Gnosticism, which is to say modern North American Protestantism. I recognize this is a grand claim, and I am not prepared to defend it here in this post, but my larger point is to highlight the fact that we all inhabit and embody the traditions we have grown up with, have been trained in and, at some level at least, find comfort in. These traditions include those of Christianity, but also of philosophy, of the socio-political, of the economic (including class), of family, and much more. And it can be argued that we are all children of the Enlightenment Project and that its tenets, conceits, goals, and assumptions are as much embodied in our modern forms of Christian worship, church structures, understanding of knowledge, and even how we approach the Tradition/Scripture debate, as any other influence we might claim. A Baptist apologist is as deeply within a tradition–guiding and correcting his Bible study–as any Eastern Orthodox. Remember, there are few things more indicative and more telling of one’s ignorance of oneself as to claim, “I only believe what the Bible says.”

The Bible requires interpretation. Sola scriptura is based on the claim that human rationality is sufficient to understanding the Bible, and that the Bible is understandable. Both of these claims are profoundly true. You and I can read and understand the Bible using our (common to all humanity) God-given rationality and skills of comprehension. Still, the history of Christianity is full of highly talented biblical exegetes utilizing their God-given rationality and skills of comprehension, along with prayer, meditation, and apparent submission to the Holy Spirit, who have come to fundamentally, and sometimes radically divergent understandings of Holy Scripture. While we may appreciate some of the characteristics of sola scriptura we must realize that it is not a sufficient doctrine to either ensure right understanding or to combat heresy. The evidence may, in fact, show otherwise.

But this post is not so much against sola scriptura as it is an exploration of the Orthodox perspective on Holy Scripture and Tradition. In fact, all that above is really just my way of softening my heart a bit to be more open to the idea of Tradition and of seeing that Scripture might be best understood within Tradition. So then, what does the Orthodox Church understand regarding the study of the Bible?

Since our reasoning brain is a gift from God, there is undoubtedly a legitimate place for scholarly research into Biblical origins. But, while we are not to reject this research wholesale, we cannot as Orthodox accept it in its entirety. Always we need to keep in view that the Bible is not just a collection historical documents, but it is the book of the Church, containing God’s word. And so we do not read the Bible as isolated individuals, interpreting it solely by the light of our private understanding, or in terms of current theories about source, form or redaction criticism. We read it as members of the Church, in communion with all the other members throughout the ages. The final criterion for our interpretation of Scripture is the mind of the Church. And this means keeping constantly in view how the meaning of Scripture is explained and applied in Holy Tradition: that is to say, how the Bible is understood by the Fathers and the saints, and how it is used in liturgical worship. (Bishop Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way, p. 110)

From this quote we see that the Orthodox Church’s understanding is normative rather than analytical. The Holy Scripture should be analyzed, scrutinized, and pondered, but within Tradition. First we notice is that the Orthodox view refuses to accept the all-too-common assumption that Tradition is absent from the Christian’s Bible study. Second, it unabashedly claims the Orthodox Tradition. The issue is not Tradition or no Tradition, rather it is which tradition, a question that bypasses sola scriptura and 16th century humanism to bigger questions of God and His Church. It is not the Bible and our rationality alone that guides our study, rather it is the history of the Church, which is a flawed history certainly, but also a history of the Holy Spirit working in the hearts of men. Thus, Bible study is as much an activity of trust–trust in God, trust that Christ has never abandoned His Church, trusting the Holy Spirit has always been active in the Church–as it is an activity of reading and comprehension. Thus the question is not really a Scripture versus Tradition question, rather it is one of Scripture plus which tradition. While the sola scripturist may wish to downplay the role of tradition in his understanding of scripture, the Orthodox refuses such denials while elevating together  Scripture, human rationality, and the Orthodox Tradition.

There is so much more that can be said and I am not qualified to do so. My apologies for such a brief description of the Orthodox view, and for leaving open so many unanswered questions. For a few more details, the list below is from The Longer Catechism of The Orthodox, Catholic, Eastern Church:

On Holy Tradition and Holy Scripture.

16. How is divine revelation spread among men and preserved in the true Church?

By two channels–holy tradition and holy Scripture.

17. What is meant by the name holy tradition?

By the name holy tradition is meant the doctrine of the faith, the law of God, the sacraments, and the ritual as handed down by the true believers and worshipers of God by word and example from one to another, and from generation to generation.

18. Is there any sure repository of holy tradition?

All true believers united by the holy tradition of the faith, collectively and successively, by the will of God, compose the Church; and she is the sure repository of holy tradition, or, as St. Paul expresses it, The Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. 1 Tim. iii. 15.

St. Irenæus writes thus:

We ought not to seek among others the truth, which we may have for asking from the Church; for in her, as in a rich treasure-house, the Apostles have laid up in its fullness all that pertains to the truth, so that whosoever seeketh may receive from her the food of life. She is the door of life. (Adv. Hæres. lib. iii. c. 4.)

19. What is that which you call holy Scripture?

Certain books written by the Spirit of God through men sanctified by God, called Prophets and Apostles. These books are commonly termed the Bible.

20. What does the word Bible mean?

It is Greek, and means the books. The name signifies that the sacred books deserve attention before all others.

21. Which is the more ancient, holy tradition or holy Scripture?

The most ancient and original instrument for spreading divine revelation is holy tradition. From Adam to Moses there were no sacred books. Our Lord Jesus Christ himself delivered his divine doctrine and ordinances to his Disciples by word and example, but not by writing. The same method was followed by the Apostles also at first, when they spread abroad the faith and established the Church of Christ. The necessity of tradition is further evident from this, that books can be available only to a small part of mankind, but tradition to all.

22. Why, then, was holy Scripture given?

To this end, that divine revelation might be preserved more exactly and unchangeably. In holy Scripture we read the words of the Prophets and Apostles precisely as if we were living with them and listening to them, although the latest of the sacred books were written a thousand and some hundred years before our time.

23. Must we follow holy tradition, even when we possess holy Scripture?

We must follow that tradition which agrees with the divine revelation and with holy Scripture, as is taught us by holy Scripture itself. The Apostle Paul writes: Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word or our epistle. 2 Thess. ii. 15.

24. Why is tradition necessary even now?

As a guide to the right understanding of holy Scripture, for the right ministration of the sacraments, and the preservation of sacred rites and ceremonies in the purity of their original institution.

St. Basil the Great says of this as follows:

Of the doctrines and injunctions kept by the Church, some we have from written instruction. but some we have received from, apostolical tradition, by succession in private. Both the former and the latter have one and the same force for piety, and this will be contradicted by no one who has ever so little knowledge in the ordinances of the Church; for were we to dare to reject unwritten customs, as if they had no great importance, we should insensibly mutilate the Gospel, even in the most essential points, or, rather, for the teaching of the Apostles leave but an empty name. For instance, let us mention before all else the very first and commonest act of Christians, that they who trust in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ should sign themselves with the sign of the cross–who hath taught this by writing? To turn to the east in prayer–what Scripture have we for this? The words of invocation in the change of the Eucharistic bread and of the Cup of blessing–by which of the Saints have they been left us in writing? for we are not content with those words which the Apostle or the Gospel records, but both before them and after them, we pronounce others also, which we hold to be of great force for the sacrament, though we have received them from unwritten teaching. By what Scripture is it, in like manner, that we bless the water of baptism, the oil of unction, and the person himself who is baptized? Is it not by a silent and secret tradition? What more? The very practice itself of anointing with oil–what written word have we for it? Whence is the rule of trine immersion? and the rest of the ceremonies at baptism, the renunciation of Satan and his angels?–from what Scripture are they taken? Are they not all from this unpublished and private teaching, which our Fathers kept under a reserve inaccessible to curiosity and profane disquisition, having been taught as a first principle to guard by silence the sanctity of the mysteries? for how were it fit to publish in writing the doctrine of those things, on which the unbaptized may not so much as look? (Can. xcvii. De Spir. Sanct. c. xxvii.)

A tentative conclusion

I have mentioned in previous posts that the tradition in which I grew up (Protestant, Reformed, Baptist, etc.) knew nothing, and taught me nothing, of the early Church, of Orthodoxy, or of the Church Fathers. I think there are a number of reasons for this, not least of which is a prevalent insecurity masquerading as emphatic confidence. Regardless, it is a big hole that is largely unrecognized and even more rarely addressed. Only recently, and after decades of ignorance, and to my surprise, I have only just begun to learn of the Orthodox Church.

I have concerns (as you can tell) about the doctrine of sola scriptura (a doctrine which, though I know from my training, I may still have misrepresented). Also, the position of the Orthodox Church seems more biblical to me, but I still am conflicted. Orthodoxy is still foreign to me. Should I trust it? What would it mean for me if I was to become Orthodox? What would I gain, what would I be giving up? Would I be leaving my mind at the door? Would I be giving up some of my freedom for something that appears worthy of that sacrifice, only to then discover I made a huge mistake? Although I express a number of opinions in this post I really am unsettled on the issue. I pray for eyes to see.

I begin this post with a confession of sorts. I have been exploring and writing about my encounter with the Orthodox Church, but I am largely ignorant of much of that which I write. I should not pretend to know what I do not understand. I am not a member of the Orthodox Church. Only once have I visited an Orthodox Church. I have done some reading, but very little. I am an outsider. Take everything I say, every claim I make about Orthodoxy with a grain of salt. But one additional confession I make is that I am loving this topic of study. The texts I am reading are rich and provocative. The insights stir my soul. I still have many questions and some apprehensions. That is why I am writing these posts; I may be foolish to do so, but it is my way of thinking through it all. I pray that God will continue to guide me and bless this project.

Vladimir the Great getting baptized

The life of the Church in its essence is mystical; the course of its life cannot be entirely included in any “history.” (Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, p. 231)

Tradition is the witness of the Spirit. [. . .] It is this divine promise that forms the basis of the Orthodox devotion to Tradition. (Bishop Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Church, p. 199)

However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you. (The Gospel of John 16:13-15, NKJV)

The Orthodox Church claims to be the keeper of the Holy Tradition of the Church. The practices of the Orthodox Church look and feel very different from the Protestant traditions I grew up with, which look rather anemic in comparison (though I have very little first-hand experience or knowledge of Orthodoxy). I believe it is natural for anyone outside the Orthodox Church to look in and wonder at not only the apparent strangeness of it all, but how does the Orthodox Church claim to know what is Christian Tradition?

Hidden Tradition

Although the Old Testament is full of liturgy (leitourgia), the New Testament is nearly devoid of specific directions on how to “do church” or even how to do Bible study. Yet, as far as I know, the historical evidence shows an early church that was vibrant, was concerned with preserving the teachings handed down by the Apostles, and was deeply liturgical. It is interesting that the early church, which seemed so wild and radical on Pentecost ended up so quickly with a way of doing Christianity. In other words, from the beginning it appears the Church was liturgical. Why wasn’t it all written down? According to Saint Basil the Great (330–379) much of the early Church’s Tradition (Orthodox Tradition) was transmitted orally and preserved in secret or “in a mystery.” In his work On the Holy Spirit he writes:

Of the beliefs and practices whether generally accepted or publicly enjoined which are preserved in the Church some we possess derived from written teaching; others we have received delivered to us “in a mystery” by the tradition of the apostles; and both of these in relation to true religion have the same force. And these no one will gainsay; no one, at all events, who is even moderately versed in the institutions of the Church. For were we to attempt to reject such customs as having no written authority, on the grounds that the importance they possess is small, we should unintentionally injure the Gospel in its very vitals; or, rather, should make our public definition a mere phrase and nothing more. For instance, to take the first and most general example, who is thence who has taught us in writing to sign with the sign of the cross those who have trusted in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ? What writing has taught us to turn to the East at the prayer? Which of the saints has left us in writing the words of the invocation at the displaying of the bread of the Eucharist and the cup of blessing? For we are not, as is well-known, content with what the apostles or the Gospel has recorded, but both in preface and conclusion we add other words as being of great importance to the validity of the ministry, and these we derive from unwritten teaching. Moreover we bless the water of baptism and the oil of the chrism, and besides this the catechumen who is being baptized. On what written authority do we do this? Is not our authority silent and mystical tradition? Nay, by what written word is the anointing of oil itself taught? And whence comes the custom of baptizing thrice? And as to the other customs of baptism from what Scripture do we derive the renunciation of Satan and his angels? Does not this come from that unpublished and secret teaching which our fathers guarded in a silence out of the reach of curious meddling and inquisitive investigation? Well had they learnt the lesson that the awful dignity of the mysteries is best preserved by silence. What the uninitiated are not even allowed to look at was hardly likely to be publicly paraded about in written documents.

We can see in St. Basil’s understanding a kind of intersection between the vertical line of Tradition, that is the relationship between God and man, and the horizontal line of traditions, that is the specific actions of believers in light of, and within that vertical Tradition. Vladimir Lossky states:

The unwritten traditions or mysteries of the Church, mentioned by St. Basil, constitute then the boundary with Tradition properly so-called, and they give glimpses of some of its features. In effect, there is participation in the revealed mystery through the fact of sacramental initiation. It is a new knowledge, a “gnosis of God” (γνῶσις θεοῦ) that one receives as grace; and this gift of gnosis is conferred in a “tradition” which is, for St. basil, the confession of the Trinity at the time of baptism: a sacred formula which leads us into light. Here the horizontal line of the “traditions” received from the mouth of the Lord and transmitted by the apostles and their successors crosses with the vertical, with Tradition–the communication of the Holy Spirit, which opens to members of the Church an infinite perspective of mystery in each word of the revealed Truth. Thus, starting from traditions such as St. Basil presents to us, it is necessary to go further and admit Tradition, which is distinguished from them. (In the Image and Likeness of God, pp. 147-148)

Thus to separate Tradition and traditions is to create a false dichotomy. They are inextricably linked in the life of the Church, which is the witness of the Holy Spirit.

But if it is true that there were teachings handed down from the Apostles and early church fathers verbally and not in written form, and that some traditions were handed down that way because of the need to preserve a kind of secrecy around aspects of the Gospel or Christian worship and liturgy, then where do we find those teachings and traditions? Naturally this is going to be a challenge, and I confess I am not up to the task. Neither am I a historian or a diviner of hidden histories. At some level I have to take some claims on faith. I have to look at that list of elements of Orthodox Tradition presented by Bishop Kallistos (see my previous post) and decide whether it makes sense or not. I have to decide if St. Basil’s understanding of hidden Tradition handed down in secret makes sense–and whether Basil himself is trustworthy. I have to seek wisdom and trust in my God-given rationality. I have to turn to God and rest in His love–His love for His Son, His children, His Church.

I can also look at writings, like those of Saint Justin (103–165), and read what he says in his First Apology on “doing” Church:

CHAPTER LXV — ADMINISTRATION OF THE SACRAMENTS.
But we, after we have thus washed him who has been convinced and has assented to our teaching, bring him to the place where those who are called brethren are assembled, in order that we may offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the baptized [illuminated] person, and for all others in every place, that we may be counted worthy, now that we have learned the truth, by our works also to be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation. Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. This word Amen answers in the Hebrew language to genoito [so be it]. And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.

My notes: Notice the convert must be baptized and must believe in the teaching before he can go to the place where the other brethren are assembled. This would imply that the assembly is, in a sense, off-limits to others until they have gone through significant steps of initiation. If this is true then the idea of a hidden tradition as described by St. Basil is supported by St. Justin. Also notice the “steps” they go through with this gathering. Although the details are simple, there is a specific liturgy in place.

CHAPTER LXVI — OF THE EUCHARIST.
And this food is called among us Eukaristia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus [my italics] who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, “This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body;” and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, “This is My blood;” and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn.

My notes: Here St. Justin argues the Eucharist is “the flesh and blood of that Jesus.” This early Christian perspective would seem to contradict a merely symbolic understanding of the Eucharist (which is the view I was taught). To support his understanding he cites the “memoirs” of the Apostles–remember this is a couple of centuries before the New Testament was pulled together. It also seems clear that there is a Tradition that is being handed down and preserved. Thus, we have a liturgical and a sacramental Church already fully in place in the second century.

CHAPTER LXVII — WEEKLY WORSHIP OF THE CHRISTIANS.
And we afterwards continually remind each other of these things. And the wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.

My notes: Here we have the weekly liturgy described in some detail. There is a Sunday gathering, readings from scripture, teaching, prayers, and an offering taken. The Eucharist is part of this gathering every week. There is an emphasis on the commonality of believers and the importance of Sunday beings the day of weekly gathering. Again we see a picture of a very early liturgical Church.

From these three paragraphs we see the early Church had a Tradition, based in scripture (the Old Testament), the writings of the Apostles (their “memoirs”), what must be oral teachings handed down from the Apostles, and specific actions (baptism, communion, etc.) also handed down. This text likely dates from around 156 A.D. St. Justin was young enough to have known some who had been directly taught by the Apostles. His own experience was of almost the earliest Church, and certainly as an inheritor of the early Church traditions. What we have here are descriptions of a process and a way of “doing church.” Though not elaborate, nonetheless we have a liturgy and a sacramental “mind-set.” And we can see that one does not enter into the practices of the Church until one has been baptized, etc. The Church “hid” its liturgy from those who are not baptized. Thus St. Basil is right to say that much of Church Tradition was delivered out of sight of curious meddling and inquisitive investigation.

The fact is, though, that whether hidden or revealed, whether written or spoken, whether canonical scripture or verbal traditions, there still remains the common denominator of the word. Lossky states:

The two [Tradition and Scripture] have this in common, that, secret or not, they are nonetheless expressed by word. They always imply a verbal expression, whether it is a question of words properly so-called, pronounced or written, or whether of the dumb language which is addressed to the understanding by visual manifestation (iconography, ritual gestures, etc.). Taken in this general sense, the word is not uniquely an external sign used to designate a concept, but above all a content which is defined intelligibly and declared in assuming a body, in being incorporated in articulate discourse or in any other form of external expression.

If such is the nature of the word, nothing of what is revealed and makes itself known can remain foreign to it. Whether it be the Scriptures, preaching, or the “apostles’ traditions guarded in silence,” the same word λόγος or λόγια can equally be applied to all that constitutes expression of the revealed Truth.

Thus we see that separating Tradition and Scripture is to tear apart the very Church itself. It also (like separating Tradition and traditions) creates a false dichotomy at the very heart of the λόγος. The issue is not whether something is visible or hidden, but whether it is true; it is about content. However, our experience shows us the further one gets away from certain traditions the stranger they become. In other words, as the Western Church altered or disregarded what is held by Orthodoxy to be the Tradition of the Church, and as the Western Church contributed to the building up of societies and cultures based on those alterations or negations, then those who embody such societies and cultures will find the claims of Orthodoxy very foreign indeed.

For a long time I have held a rather unformulated view that the early Church turned away from Apostolic teaching very early, maybe even while the Apostles were still alive. We read in the New Testament epistles of various problems within various churches; think of the church in Corinth and also in Galatia. But is this view accurate? I am more or less convinced that my views were formed by a Protestant way of thinking, a way that is committed to seeing the historical church (read Roman Catholic) as apostate in order to legitimize its “necessary” rebellion. If one is going to refer to the office of the Pope as the Antichrist then one cannot really accept anything that is Catholic. So how far back does one have to go to be rid of the Catholic stain? All the way to the Apostles and no later? Not only is this a “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” way of thinking, but it is entirely blind to the existence of Orthodoxy. I am more and more convinced that not only was the Reformation a somewhat dubious affair, but there is a tendency in modern Protestant-influenced cultures to dismiss most of church history. More than this, much of Protestantism is based on a nearly overpowering negative relationship to Catholicism such that its theology might be warped too far towards sola scripture, sola fide, et al. and not nearly as evenly balanced as it might suppose, or should be. In this context Orthodoxy can be a fresh wind, but also an alternative reality. Certainly Orthodoxy is a challenge to Protestantism, not merely at a doctrinal level, but as a whole reorientation of basic principles and perspectives. Orthodoxy is a different set of lenses.

The Anchor, an early Christian symbol of hope

The Holy Spirit

Christians believe that the establishment of the Church really began on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Apostles and those with them. The Church also grew and the Gospel was carried throughout the world because of the continued outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Do we trust this is true? Do we believed the Holy Spirit was present in the early Church, or do we let our skepticism guide us away from the post-Apostle-era Church? Was there Pentecost, a few years of missionary work, then darkness? Or did the Holy Spirit continue to guide the Church, open the eyes of Christians to the truth, and establish traditions of doctrine and worship? We know the Apostles and their immediate followers had a high view of the transforming and continuing work Holy Spirit:

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. (1 Thessalonians 1:4-5a, ESV)

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5, ESV)

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:16-21, ESV)

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:3-7, ESV)

But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. (2 Timothy 1:11b-14, ESV)

The rest of the Churches, in honour of Jesus Christ, also salute you. Fare ye well in the harmony of God, ye who have obtained the inseparable Spirit, who is Jesus Christ. (from the Epistle of St. Ignatius to the Magnesians, circa 105-115 A.D, Chapter 15)

The apostles have preached the Gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ [has done sol from God. Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ. Both these appointments, then, were made in an orderly way, according to the will of God. Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Spirit, they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand. And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first-fruits [of their labours], having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe. Nor was this any new thing, since indeed many ages before it was written concerning bishops and deacons. For thus says the Scripture a certain place, “I will appoint their bishops s in righteousness, and their deacons in faith.” (First Clement, Chapter 42, circa 80-140 A.D.)

Do we believe that Christ promised to establish His Church on this earth and that He will maintain it until He returns? To say yes to this question is to say yes to the continuing work of the Holy Spirit since the day of Pentecost. In the Gospel According to Saint Matthew (28:20) Jesus says to His disciples, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Earlier in St. Matthew (16:18) Jesus says, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Do we believe that Jesus has been with His Church always from the beginning? Do we believe that the gates of hell have never prevailed? One can easily get the impression from Protestant theology (at least of the Radical Reformation) that the answer to both these questions is no, that is, until the Reformation. And even then Protestants have a tendency to say that Jesus has not remained, and the gates of hell have prevailed, when it comes to Protestant denominations other than one’s own. Does it not make more sense, however, to understand that it is Christ and His Church that has prevailed all along, that the Holy Spirit has always preserved the Church from the Apostles to the early Church to the later Church, and that in times and places where it would seem this is not true it is, in fact, merely the particular waxing of human sinfulness and foibles (or our own understanding) that is to blame–but that in general the Church has always remained? And if this is so, should we disregard the first 1,500 years of Church history?

From the very beginning creation has been contingent and dependent on God. The Church from its beginning, likewise, has always been contingent and dependent on God. The Church could not have grown as it did, spreading throughout the world as it did, without the work of the Holy Spirit. We know that “no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:3) This truth was proven in the early centuries of the Church through persecution and by the blood of the martyrs, who died by the thousands. The fact of martyrdom acts as a kind of certification of authenticity the way the miracles of Christ authenticated His ministry and His messianic claims. If we want to compare the early Church (a church that was liturgical and sacramental) with the Church of our own age, and then ask the question which Church exhibits the greater working of the Holy Spirit, my money would go on the early Church. Regardless, we know that it is God, and always has been God, who opens our eyes to the light of truth regardless in what age we live. “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:6)

Concluding thoughts

My first “encounter” with Orthodoxy came in the air over Alaska. My father was a private pilot. It was the summer of 1982. We were flying a small plane from Soldanta to Homer. At one point we flew over a small town, a village really, with simple, brightly colored buildings. My father said the town was a Russian Orthodox community. I didn’t know what that meant, but the idea of an isolated village of people who were Russian and Orthodox and here in America (remember 1982 was still the Cold-War era) fascinated and perplexed me. They were the “other” in almost every way, yet I have always wanted to go back, at ground level this time, and visit. I feel that same way now in my present studies; I am in the clouds, immersed in my world of books and web sites, looking down at the “other,” but this time I feel like I’m the other. I want to come down to earth, but I worry of what I will find, of what I might become. The fear I have is that, for superficial reasons, I would embrace and become enamored with something that is not true. The greater fear is that, because of my Protestant “indoctrination” or my pride or even just the inertia of staying with what I am comfortable, I would confront the Truth and turn away. I do not know for sure if the Orthodox Church has preserved the Tradition (and the traditions) handed down from Christ and the Apostles, but I think is probably has. I do not know if the Orthodox Church represents most fully the activity of the Holy Spirit in forming and sustaining the Church, but I think it probably does. If all this is true, what does it mean for me? What does it mean for you?

In all sincerity I want to begin this series of posts with a prayer.

O Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of the eternal Father, Thou hast said, “Without me you can do nothing.” In faith I embrace Thy words, O Lord, and bow before Thy goodness. Help me to complete the work I am about to begin for Thine own glory: in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Old wooden Russian Orthodox Church

Judaism can be carried in the arms of a single man: the Torah scrolls transported the faith during the two thousand years of the Diaspora to every continent. Similarly, Protestantism is Bible-based; a Bible in the vernacular can function as a miniature church, enabling a missionary to take the Gospel anywhere, or a believer to stay connected to his faith. But to a great extent, Russian Orthodoxy exists for its believers in its liturgy[.] ~Garrard & Garrard, Russian Orthodoxy Resurgent

The Church gives us not a system, but a key; not a plan of God’s City, but the means of entering it. Perhaps someone will lose his way because he has no plan. But all that he will see, he will see without a mediator, he will see it directly, it will be real for him; while he who has studied only the plan risks remaining outside and not really finding anything. ~Fr. Georges Florovksy

I have said before that I grew up a Baptist and later became a kind of reformed non-denominational quasi-Calvinist. My sense of Church Tradition has been to be wary of such things as Tradition. † Tradition, as I am told, is a screen that obscures Truth, a trap that lures the needy, a comfortable cloak that warms the damned. Am I right to be wary? Is there a Christian tradition, including a liturgical tradition, handed down by the apostles and the early church, which I have been shunning? Has that Tradition been preserved since the time of the first Christians? Should my understanding of Truth include both Tradition and scripture, with scripture actually being a part of Tradition? These are live questions for me. Keep in mind that for most Protestants, and especially those who are modern, evangelical, reformed or non-denominational–and especially American–early church tradition is all about when the church turned away from God and Christ and entered into a dark age, slouching towards what Luther eventually called the Babylonian captivity (or some such thing). Historical Church Tradition, according to many Christians, and according to the tradition (ironic?) that I grew up with, should be thrown out and the Bible picked up. The Apostles: Yes. The Reformers: Yes. The latest charismatic preacher (and his best-selling book): Yes. The Church Fathers: No, or more likely, “Who?” Again, am I not right?

I am gradually thinking that there might be a tradition, the Tradition, that was somewhat lost by the Church in the West, then abandoned altogether by the Reformation (especial the Radical Reformation) and its inheritors–either through ignorance or arrogance–but that it might have been preserved all along in the East. I am still very much in process on this topic. My experience with these ideas is fairly new, and I know very little about Orthodoxy; most of what I know comes from books and not participation. And I am looking for guidance; consider this post an appeal for thoughtful feedback and Socratic discourse in the pursuit of wisdom.

Agape fest, catacomb fresco

Deep in History

If your Bible has some maps at the back, at least one of them probably shows the missionary journeys of the Holy Apostle Paul. † What those meandering colored lines around the Mediterranean represent are the travels of a man, traveling often with other Christians, to various cities and towns, where he preached the Gospel, planted churches, made friends, established deep and meaningful relationships, lived within communities of believers, lived his life in full view of others, served and worked, ate and slept, had innumerable discussions, answered questions, dealt with doctrinal issues, taught, wrote, chastised and encouraged, and struggled. What we have in his letters represent only a tiny fraction of all that he did and said (alas). Although we can be fairly certain that most all of what he wanted to say in terms of the Gospel (the essence of what it is, what it means, etc.) is contained within his epistles (either directly or, quite often, by implication), I wish we knew more of what is not in his epistles. How did he lead and guide the Church? Was he “religious” in worship? Did he have a liturgy of some kind that he taught these early converts? Did he lead his local congregations in worship and teach them how to do “church?” Did he give them traditions? Did he give them a Tradition? The same questions go for all the Apostles and, of course, for our Lord Jesus Christ. I look to the Bible and sometimes I wonder if there is more, if the Bible does not (and was never meant to) give us the “entire picture.” I have my doubts about sola scriptura. In 2 Thessalonians 2:15 the Holy Apostle Paul wrote:

Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle. (NKJV)

So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us. (NASB)

So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. (ESV)

What do we know of these traditions? What do we know of the “spoken word” or the “word of mouth?” Could it be that standing firm and holding to the traditions has to do with more than continuing to believe critical doctrinal positions? If so, could it also be more than an ethic? Could these traditions have to do with liturgy and doctrine not specifically addressed in any of the epistles we have preserved for us today? Could it be that the Holy Spirit continued to grow and preserve the Church throughout those early centuries, both with scripture and with Tradition, and that the Orthodox way which seems strange to us early 21st century Americans, actually says that we are the strange ones?

We know the early church grew quickly though it was frequently persecuted. Christians carried the Gospel (in their minds and hearts) through most of the known world and churches began to spring up everywhere. And with the spread of Christianity went the Church’s liturgy. What was the liturgy passed down from the Apostles? Did they even pass one down? There must have been something. Right?

Now with that word “liturgy” comes a raft of questions and cautions for me, a child of the Radical Reformation. † When I see the elaborate liturgy of a Catholic or Orthodox church I wonder where in the Bible do they get that? The Orthodox church claims they are holding to the traditions handed down by the Apostles and their direct students/disciples, though those traditions may have taken on certain geographical and/or ethnic characteristics over the centuries. Protestants, and especially those of the Radical Reformation, take a rather skeptical view of all that. Four bare walls and a pulpit are all that are needed. In his book For the Life of the World Alexander Schmemann highlights this issue and points first to a broader concept of liturgy:

[H]e who says liturgy today is likely to get involved in a controversy. For to some–the “liturgically minded”–of all the activities of the Church, liturgy is the most important, if not the only one. To others, liturgy is esthetic and spiritual deviation from the real task of the Church. There exist today “liturgical” and “non-liturgical” churches and Christians. But this controversy is unnecessary for it has its roots in one basic misunderstanding–the “liturgical” understanding of the liturgy. This is the reduction of the liturgy to “cultic” categories, its definition as a sacred act of worship, different as such not only from the “profane” area of life, but even from all other activities of the Church itself. But this is not the original meaning of the Greek word leitourgia. It meant an action by which a group of people become something corporately which they had not been as a mere collection of individuals–a whole greater than the sum of its parts. It meant also a function or “ministry” of a man or of a group on behalf of and in the interest of the whole community. Thus the leitourgia of ancient Israel was the corporate work of a chosen few to prepare the world for the coming of the Messiah. And in this very act of preparation they became what they were called to be, the Israel of God, the chosen instrument of His purpose. (p. 25)

Schmemann then goes on to say:

Thus the Church itself is a leitourgia, a ministry, a calling to act in this world after the fashion of Christ, to bear testimony to Him and His kingdom. The eucharistic liturgy, therefore, must not be approached and understood in “liturgical” or “cultic” terms alone. (p. 25)

Thus we can understand that liturgy is the process (the acts) of the Church becoming and being the Church. It is more than only what happens on Sunday morning, for example. On the other hand, there is what happens on Sunday morning. In some churches Sunday morning is a couple of songs and a long sermon. In others it is an elaborate, almost ritualistic, multi-faceted event. I previously described my experience at an Eastern Orthodox church. The Divine Liturgy I experienced at St. John the Wonderworker Serbian Orthodox Church was of that elaborate kind, totally different in virtually every way from the “liturgy” I am used to in my non-liturgical, reformed, non-denominational, quasi-Calvinist un-church. Which is right? Does it even matter? All of my background and training in Christianity says it either does not matter, or that liturgical churches–at least in the vein of the Orthodox Church–are wrong. However, I am beginning to think the Orthodox might have it right and I have been wrong.

At this point one might say that I am confusing two different ideas of Tradition. There is the tradition of how we do church and there is the influence of tradition on doing theology and Bible study. They would say that one can pick whatever “style” one wants in terms of doing church (though some would make sharp distinctions) but that the scriptures stands above all traditions and one should set or push aside any tradition and only study scripture from a blank slate. That way one can get to a more pure theology and an unencumbered understanding. I see the dichotomy, but I don’t buy it anymore. I was trained to think this way and it makes a lot of sense to me. However, I now believe the dichotomy is false, and the situation a lot more complicated than the simplistic Tradition vs. Bible scenario which is, as I see it, a bifurcation driven to some degree by historical agendas and a lack of historical understanding. Now this is a big shift for me. I would have sacked any Christian tradition in favor of the Bible, and depending on how I squint I still will, but only if a tradition clearly contradicts the Bible, which is actually rare. Consider Baptism. There are a lot of Christian traditions and corresponding debates about baptism. The Bible gives us very little by way of a clearly outlined tradition, and what it does provide can be interpreted in various ways. In that case one can either say there really isn’t a tradition, or one can accept one of the historical traditions. So what should one do? Should one decide that baptism is not that important, or that one should not bother with traditional practices associated with baptism? I am inclined at this point to consider the Orthodox perspective on baptism correct until proven wrong. I am leaning in this direction because I have become ever more convinced of the value of the historical Church. The Catholic cardinal John Henry Newman famously said:

“One thing at least is certain; whatever history teaches . . . at least the Christianity of history is not Protestantism. If ever there were a safe truth, it is this. And Protestantism . . . as a whole, feels it, and has felt it. This is shown in the determination . . . of dispensing with historical Christianity altogether, and of forming a Christianity from the Bible alone. . . . To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.” †

I love that phrase: To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant. I want to be deep in history.

I believe the same perspective can be applied to liturgy. I am leaning towards the Orthodox liturgy and away from the non-liturgical un-church perspective. I think this might be critical and not merely a matter of personal choice. In this sense liturgy is more than a style, rather it speaks to the life of the Christian on the whole, including Bible study and even “being” the Church. I wonder if the tendency to disregard or easily manipulate liturgy in many of today’s churches is a response to the radical fracturing of the Christian experience and ideologies that came about because of the Reformation. I wonder if it comes from a psychological need to un-entangle ourselves from potential divisiveness over perceived non-consequential elements. But have we thrown the baby out with the bath water because we have also disregarded the first 1,500 years of church history? Are we being arrogant because we are ignorant?

Repentance, Spiritual Intellect, and the
Inclusivity of Tradition

If, as Schmemann says, liturgy is “an action by which a group of people become something corporately which they had not been as a mere collection of individuals” then is a non-liturgical church, one that is based almost entirely around Bible teaching and little else, actually doing the work of a church? Teaching, especially good Bible exegesis, is critical to our Christian life, but corporate worship may be more important. Although I believe that the scriptures should have a central place in the life of the Church, I also believe that if every church in America this coming Sunday were to set their expository preaching aside and just fall on their faces in repentance and worship, that would be a good thing. Extending this I would say that it makes sense for this to happen every Sunday.

If this is true, that is, if repentance and worship are to precede, accompany, and critique our Bible study, and if Bible study is to be done as part of our corporate action of “being” the Church, then we have a here a typically non-Protestant idea of what it means for someone to “become” a Christian. It is not an intellectual assent, or even an inarticulate feeling that is still purely rational at a tacit level, rather it is a spiritual process.  Rationality will play a part but only in a supporting role. Frank Schaeffer, son of Francis Schaeffer (one of my heroes) and an Orthodox convert, writes:

We Orthodox believe that we become Christians by imitation of Christ, the Theotokos, the Apostles, and the Saints, not through intellectual assent to dogmatic propositions. We believe that we learn Truth through Divine revelation to our spiritual intellect, not through bare reason. In other words, we do not believe in a theologically filtered faith. We believe in direct, unfiltered access to the Truth through grace, as it is revealed to us within the discipline of ascetic and sacramental struggle. (Letters to Father Aristotle, p. 17)

At this point the Protestant skeptic will wonder if this way of thinking will merely lead to a squishy kind of mystery-faith where anything goes. For the Orthodox Christian, as I understand it, there is a lot of room for wonder, personal journeys, and mystery, but there is also clear teaching on what is right doctrine and what is false doctrine. The history of the Orthodox Church is a history or fighting against heresy. According to Bishop Kallistos Ware, to an Orthodox Christian Tradition means:

. . . the books of the Bible; it means the Creed; it means the decrees of the Ecumenical Councils and the writings of the Fathers; it means the Canons, the Service Books, the Holy Icons–in fact, the whole system of doctrine, Church government, worship, spirituality and art which Orthodoxy has articulated over the ages. Orthodox Christians of today see themselves as heirs and guardians to a rich inheritance received from the past, and they believe that it is their duty to transmit this inheritance unimpaired to the future. (The Orthodox Church, 1963/1997, p. 196)

What we can see from this rather inclusive list is that for the Orthodox the Tradition/Scripture split is a false dichotomy. Scripture is a part of Tradition, along with oral teachings handed down, liturgy handed down, doctrinal understandings handed down, etc. The question for the Western Christian, like myself, is whether the Orthodox Church has truly preserved what was handed down as Sacred Apostolic Tradition. Protestantism is the Christianity of Skepticism–all that came before is considered suspect, any denomination other than one’s own is suspect, Tradition is suspect. Therefore, as a trained Protestant I find within myself that same skepticism. But should I be skeptical? Does it all really just come down to me, my Bible, and my wits? Is the stripped down, sola scriptura, sola fide, personal relationship Christianity I inherited, really God’s plan all along? Or have I been missing something important and critical?

Concluding thoughts

Where does this leave me, child of the Radical Reformation, inheritor of the Protestant ethos? I confess deep reservations about so much of my Christian upbringing and training. I find the modern American version of Christianity to combine many non-Christian elements with a too-sparse version of faith. I think it’s possible that Protestants have taken away from the Gospel and that Catholics have added to it–though these days I find Catholicism more interesting than Protestantism. I am most intrigued by Orthodoxy though. However, I cannot yet say in the affirmative one way or the other. I am too much a ponderer. I tend not to be impulsive. It takes me a long time to make decisions. I can also be a Romantic. So I will continue to think about this. But I am more and more coming to realize that it’s not about me. It’s about God and the story He is telling. If God is trustworthy, if His Spirit is still working in the hearts of men, if Christ still remains the head of His Church, then I want to enter fully into that story, have that kind of heart, and walk unhesitatingly through the doors of that Church. I must be the kind of person who accepts God at His word and on His terms, or I am undone.

But God is God, and we are human; and so, while he posses us, we cannot in the same way posses him. (Bishop Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way, p. 22)

† I am not sure when I should and should not capitalize the word “tradition.” I’m sure there is an easy answer, but it eludes me for now. So, don’t try to understand my choices in this post, they will be confusing.
† I am used to referring to this great apostle as merely Paul, as though he were a good friend, and I want to consider him a friend. I can hardly wait to meet him some day. On the other hand, as I study Orthodoxy, I find that my casualness–and the casualness of our American society–may not properly show deference, or even understand how and when to do so. In other words, we no longer know how to venerate, or if we do know we do not show proper respect as we should. The Orthodox, however, know how to venerate. I want to know Paul as a friend, but I want to show proper respect. When I see him at some future date I want to fall on my face before him and let him be the one who tells me to rise. Even this simple idea is almost laughed at in a culture that so desperately needs to equalize all that it finally reduces all. That is why the title “Holy Apostle” may sound strange to our ears, but also why I think it is a good thing to use it more.
† By Radical Reformation I mean those of a reformed bent, but taking the first Reformation, or Magisterial Reformation (that is of Luther, Calvin, Zwingly), to its logical conclusions. In other words, faith is seen as almost an entirely private affair, Bible study as personal interpretation, and the Gospel being primarily about avoiding Hell and going to Heaven. There are countless variations on these themes and, even within denominations (Baptist for example), there are innumerable subtleties of doctrine and philosophies of ministry. The Radical Reformation took the Magisterial Reformation and merely pushed it further away from Catholicism. For the Orthodox Christian the Magisterial Reformation was a kind of second or double apostasy; the Great Schism of 1054 being the first and the Magisterial Reformation being the second. In these terms the Radical Reformation can be then seen as Apostasy 2.5. This is the Christianity in which I grew up.
† More on this here.

My ongoing study of baptism has led me to look at the early church fathers and then, consequently, to Eastern Orthodox perspectives. I am always curious to find out what kinds of assumptions I hold when it comes to my understanding of the faith. This understanding can be either theological arguments or, more likely, unexamined views. The assumptions can be consciously or unconsciously held. In other words, what do I take as truth? (I wrote something about this before.) The question is not only in terms of final conclusions, but also in terms of what is the right way to frame one’s perspective. The “givens” we assume and often hold uncritically play a big role in the conclusions we accept.

My history is Protestant in terms of my foundational training. Recently I have been curious about Catholicism, and have done some studying in that regard. Consequently my thinking has expanded and I have been humbled by how little I know. Now I find the Orthodox Church fascinating—and I wonder which way is right, or more right; which perspective is the best to have, and which place is the best from which to start?

With this in mind, I was shook up somewhat by the following passage from James Payton’s book, Light from the Christian East. He says:

As heir to the emphasis of Roman civilization, Christianity in the Latin West was much concerned with law. In that Roman legal tradition for which the Roman Empire was justly famous, concerns with status before the law, with guilt and justice, with debt and credit, and with other similar matters were foundational, ultimate considerations. Consequently, it is hardly surprising that Western Christian theology, ecclesiastical practice and piety all came to reflect concerns with matters that properly belong in a court of law—specifically, in God’s court. This was true already in the period of antiquity; it remained so throughout the Middle Ages in the West; it is unmistakable in the concerns of the Protestant Reformation as well. Questions of merit and debt, of satisfaction and payment, of justification and condemnation, are all appropriate and natural questions within this approach. To this day, Western Christianity has been shaped by this ancient Roman heritage which has been transmitted down through the centuries.

In contrast, the eastern half of the Roman Empire was not preoccupied with questions of law and legal standing. The prior concerns of Hellenistic intellectual culture shaped both the questions asked and the answers given by the church in that culture. In the East, those questions, rooted in careful philosophical thought, converged especially on the contrast between light and darkness, life and death, spirit and matter, and on the limitations of human reason. Christians in the East sought to address the underlying questions of their society by emphasizing those elements of the apostolic message that spoke to such issues. Questions of guilt and legality, for example, or of satisfaction and payment were not the main issues for Eastern Christianity; instead, Eastern Christians focused on the struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness, on the process of salvation, on the gift of eternal life and communion with God. Even so, Christianity in the East was reserved about the capacities of human reason to express adequately the mysteries of the faith.

I realize that most of my formal understanding of Christianity is fully and fundamentally western. I say formal because along with my theology there is also my experience and intuition. Consequently, and as I study more and more beyond the “safe” boundaries proscribed by my Protestant training, I am finding the Eastern Christian perspective tugging at me. This is due, in part at least, to the fact that my experience points to “the struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness, on the process of salvation, on the gift of eternal life and on communion with God.” I have so much more to learn about Eastern Christianity but, thus far, it fascinates me deeply.

My ignorance of the Westminster Confession of Faith may be without bounds. I know it is Calvinist in its premises and adopted by the Church of Scotland and used by Presbyterian churches worldwide. My notes in between each point and between the footnotes below probably display my ignorance better than anything I can say in this preface. Nonetheless, I am using the Westminster Confession’s teaching on baptism to spark my thinking and to help me raise questions in my pursuit of understanding baptism in the life of faith. What I find, and what I hope everyone will find who examines such famous and weighty documents as the Westminster Confession of Faith, is that it does not stand alone as an unassailable statement. It is, in fact, a document created by men and believed by men, and not without a raft of assumptions holding it up. Are those assumptions true? Maybe, but I do not want to assume they are.

Chapter XXVIII
Of Baptism

I. Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ,[1] not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church;[2] but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace,[3] of his ingrafting into Christ,[4] of regeneration,[5] of remission of sins,[6] and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life.[7] Which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world.[8]

My notes: Each point here makes sense to me, is what I was taught growing up, and yet most now are in question in my mind. Is baptism truly a sacrament? (I have many questions on the very idea of sacraments—another thing I need to study.) Is baptism required for “admission . . . into the visible church?” Does baptism ingraft us into Christ, provide regeneration, remission of sins, etc.? If baptism is strictly or primarily the spiritual activity of the Holy Spirit then I would say “yes.” If baptism is the traditional act of water immersion, then I am not so sure, except maybe the admission into the visible church (which is certainly not the same as being saved). If we take baptism as being a sign of the ingrafting,  regeneration, remission, etc., then I would say that’s true enough. If it is only a sign, then such a weighty statement on baptism is prone to cause misunderstanding and may lead Christians to think baptism is more than it is and something that it is not.

Also, it seems to me that many of the footnotes are not proof of the statements they refer to, or are, at least, linked to. This, I think, is a big deal. From point #1 above and the footnotes below it is clear that this confession of faith is less of an argument and more a statement, and a statement expressing a particular church tradition. It is not the only possible understanding of scripture (or even of tradition), though, like any creed, it tends to assume that status. I have strong reservations about creeds, and I tend to be non-creedal in my approach to faith. The fear of heresy tends to produce individuals with atrophied brains and shriveled souls. Thanks be to God for His love that overcomes our fears.

II. The outward element to be used in this sacrament is water, wherewith the party is to be baptized, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, by a minister of the Gospel, lawfully called thereunto.[9]

My notes: I find it interesting that in footnote [2] it says: “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body….” By implication, then, Christian baptism is spiritual, or done by the Spirit rather than a water baptism, unless by spirit Paul means idea, which I doubt. I am sure there are plenty of arguments to show water baptism and Spirit baptism are linked or even the same, but that water is used may have more to do with Church traditions born out of popular cultural traditions than from biblical commands. Also, what does it mean that a minister of the gospel is “lawfully called thereunto?” Does that mean a priest? And how is one lawfully called? What is that process, what does that mean? In Catholic doctrine it is expected that a priest would perform the baptism, but there is provision for baptism being administered by anyone, even a non-believer, as long as the process is properly followed. I don’t see such a provision called out here.

III. Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but Baptism is rightly administered by pouring, or sprinkling water upon the person.[10]

My notes: Again, I do not see such a rule—that immersion, pouring, and sprinkling are all considered fine—called out in scripture, even in the footnotes (which seem more a mashup of verses than an argument). Thus, this is a determination by the Church as far as I can tell. For a Fundamentalist (of which I was nearly one) such a position is untenable, but I no longer have any issue with it. Sprinkle away! Still, I find it interesting that “rightly administered” cannot mean “as clearly described by the apostles” or some such thing, for we do not have any clear rules set forth on the actions or process of baptism in the Bible. Thus, this must refer to the church traditions which have been handed down. Fine enough, but which ones? Are we not back then to the Catholic (or Orthodox) church? “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant,” said Cardinal Newman. Is that where we have come?

IV. Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ,[11] but also the infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptized.[12]

My notes: I agree that infant baptism is a great way for parents and their church community to make a public dedication to the infant and to say they will raise him/her in light of the truth of scripture, etc. Does baptism, however, confer anything on the child spiritually? Does it bring anything down from Heaven upon the child? Is grace imparted? Other than a public dedication, why do it? Some churches do not do infant baptism but still do dedications. Is that not enough? Most of the footnotes do not specifically call out baptism, and not one clearly calls out baptism of children. I know it is not uncommon for many to believe that infant baptism confers some amount of divine grace on the child and therefore parents often feel obligated to have their children baptized, and worry if they don’t. This is an important issue that I am still sorting out.

V. Although it is a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance,[13] yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it:[14] or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.[15]

My notes: I find this statement crazy-making. As I understand it: One can be save without baptism, one can be regenerated without baptism, and one can be baptized and be neither saved or regenerated, BUT it is a great sin to contemn or neglect baptism. What about the pearl of great price? Was that not enough? What makes it a great sin unless, for a given individual, the rejection of baptism is because God has been rejected as well? Is baptism a touchstone of faith? Is it that one does not need to be baptized to be saved, but rejecting baptism calls into question the validity of one’s claims to believe? Religion has a tendency to place heavy weights on people, weights that we carry around as burdens and yet, in light of eternity, are nothing. Is this one of those?

VI. The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered;[16] yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongs unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in His appointed time.[17]

My notes: This point raises a lot of questions: How does baptism have efficacy, what is the agency of or in it? Is it the act of baptism that produces its efficacy? Is there only one way, one “right use” of baptism? What grace is promised? Salvation, sanctification, what? How is it really exhibited? Tongues of fire, righteousness, what? Is the council of God’s own will different than just God’s will? This point, and my questions, get at the very nature and doctrines of sacramental theology—something I am still sorting out.

VII. The sacrament of Baptism is but once to be administered unto any person.[18]

My notes: This makes sense to me, however, if this is water baptism, I don’t see any “one time only” rules set out in scripture.

Footnotes:
[1] MAT 28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

My notes: What does baptism mean here? Does it mean with water or with the Spirit? Does this command make it a sacrament? See my previous post on baptism and the “great commission.”

[2] 1CO 12:13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

My notes: Here we have baptism “by one Spirit.” Does the Spirit use water to accomplish this baptism? Or does water baptism need to accompany this spiritual baptism? I would tend to say this has to do with the work of God on our hearts, calling us to repentance, and not to water baptism. So then how is this a seal? I am also confused by the wording: “drink into one Spirit.” What does that mean?

[3] ROM 4:11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also. COL 2:11 In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: 12 Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.

My notes: Here we have “the seal.” It is not baptism, rather it is righteousness, it is the circumcision of the the heart, made without hands. Therefore the seal is not something imparted or administered through the agency of a priest or fellow believer. It must be a seal that comes from God directly, for we know that no amount of water, blessed or otherwise, can ever reach a person’s heart/will. In fact, the Romans passage calls into question the validity of any outward, physical mark or action. Here we have the distinction made between circumcision and non-circumcision. When Paul says, “though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also,” could one also assume, in another context, “though they be not baptized; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also?” Certainly we have a situation where righteousness is imputed and no mention of baptism. Regarding Colossians, is there also a baptism made without hands? In terms of circumcision and baptism, what is more important, physical circumcision or spiritual circumcision? Physical baptism or spiritual baptism? If spiritual then what emphasis should we place on the physical? Should we disregarded the physical, outward sign as superfluous? Are we to be that strict, that iconoclastic? Or does God give us, and ordain, religion as an outward set of practices that, though not the core essence of faith, are still part of our humanity? If God was so concerned that his people would mistake the outward for the inward then why did He take so much care to give them minute details of religious practice? Is a man rightly related to his faith, understanding fully the nature of salvation and God’s grace, also called, then, in some way, to be religious? If we disdain religion and its outward practices, including baptism, are we rejecting God or, at least, our God-like imageness?

[4] GAL 3:27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. ROM 6:5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.

My notes: Again, what does it mean to be baptized “into” Christ? Is this metaphysical, mystical, spiritual, metaphorical, what? Is this baptism water baptism? Does scripture teach that water baptism is necessary? Paul argues that we will be planted (or united) together in the likeness Christ’s death (in a death like his); is that uniting a product strictly or even actually of the physical one-time act of baptism? The previous verses Paul says: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Roman 6:3-4, ESV) It would seem that Paul does have in mind baptism here as the one-time act, but is that a baptism by water or by the Spirit? Let’s assume it is water baptism; I would hazard a guess that Paul does not see water baptism as magical in this regard (and officially, neither do most of the Christian traditions), rather Paul is saying something like, “Remember that day you were baptized, remember that public statement you made before everyone that you are now a follower of Christ? Well then, if you take that seriously then be committed to not letting sin reign in your life… etc.” In this sense can we not say, then, that the continued commitments of our hearts and the kind of lives we live as a consequence of those commitments is the greater “sign and seal” of the covenant of God’s grace, more so than any act of water baptism could ever be?

[5] TIT 3:5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.

My notes: See my previous post on the question of “washing of regeneration.” My conclusion is that this washing is not so clearly water baptism, or any kind of baptism administered by human hands. Though I still have questions. Let’s look closer at the Titus passage: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7) When Paul says it’s not by works done by us in righteousness, this could mean (or include) not by water baptism. When he says it’s by God’s mercy that we are washed by the Holy Spirit, that indicates it is a God initiated spiritual baptism. Paul goes on to use the picture of pouring, that is it is God pouring His Spirit out on us, which implies, again, a spiritual baptism not a water baptism.

[6] MAR 1:4 John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.

My notes: I think we must keep in mind that the baptism of John and the baptism of the Spirit are potentially two entirely different baptisms, rooted though they are in the gospel (one announces and the other seals). The question I am still trying to answer is whether Jesus saw John’s baptism as a picture or example of future Christian baptism, or whether John’s baptism was the old, Jewish custom that will be supplanted by the new spiritual baptism of the the Holy Spirit. Even John points to Jesus’ baptism by saying that he (John) baptizes with water but one is coming who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Matthew 3:11)

[7] ROM 6:3 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

My notes: One argument for water baptism that makes a lot of sense to me is that to go under the water is visually and symbolically like going into death. Coming up out of the water, again, is like resurrection. However, see my notes on Footnote #4.

[8] MAT 28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

My notes: here again we have a “great commission” statement. See my previous post on this. In short, this verse (and all the great commission passages) does not necessarily imply water baptism. Also, this verse does not say, and only thinly implies, if at all, that baptism is to be continued in perpetuity.

[9] MAT 3:11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire. JOH 1:33 And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. MAT 28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

My notes: This footnote is to be proof for two things: the requirement to baptize with water and to baptize in the name of  Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. First, both Matthew 3:11 and John 1:33 could (and more properly?) be understood as an argument against water baptism for Christians. See my post on this. Second, are we to understand Christ’s command to baptize in the name of . . . as a formula? That is, are they to specifically baptize with water and, while doing so, say “I now baptize you in the name of . . .?” Personally I love the formula. When I witness a baptism I literally get chills. So I don’t have any issue with the formula per se, but are we to understand the formula as having been commanded by Christ is the sense that we have tended traditionally to understand it?

[10] HEB 9:10 Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation. 19 For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people, 20 Saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you. 21 Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry. 22 And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission. ACT 2:41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. 16:33 And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. MAR 7:4 And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables.

My notes: I am over my head entirely with the book of Hebrews, but with all these passages, I find no proof for the point above. How do these passages undergird an argument that baptism can be full immersion or pouring or sprinkling? I don’t see it.

[11] MAR 16:15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. ACT 8:37 And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. 38 And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.

My notes: Verse 37 of Acts chapter 8 is likely not in the original text, but was added somewhere after in order to make the story fit with established church doctrine. I do not have an issue per se with the ideas in the verse, but I would not quote it to support dogma. Interestingly, this passage shows a rather solitary baptism, a baptism not as part of a local church community and, presumably, without other witnesses. Therefore, the baptism of the eunuch does not seem to be for the purpose of admission into the visible church, and yet it appears to be considered adequate, certainly from Philip’s perspective. I am still sorting this one out.

[12] GEN 17:7 And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. 9 And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. GAL 3:9 So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. 14 That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. COL 2:11 In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: 12 Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. ACT 2:38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. ROM 4:11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: 12 And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised. 1CO 7:14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. MAT 28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. MAR 10:13 And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. 15 Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. 16 And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them. LUK 18:15 And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them: but when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them.

My notes: There are just too many verses and ideas here to tackle in these notes. See my previous posts [post 1, post 2, post 3] that will cover some of these verses and ideas.

[13] LUK 7:30 But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him. EXO 4:24 And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the Lord met him, and sought to kill him. 25 Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me. 26 So he let him go: then she said, A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision.

My notes: The Luke reference makes sense in light of the point above, but it does not specify water or spiritual baptism, which may makes some sense here. Certainly the Pharisees rejected God and his Messiah. Was their rejection of baptism a sign of that ultimate rejection? Is it the same issue for us today, either because we are in a different time, culture, and place, or because we are in a post-Christ’s death/resurrection world? The Exodus reference perplexes me.

[14] ROM 4:11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also. ACT 10:2 A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway. 4 And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God. 22 And they said, Cornelius the centurion, a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews, was warned from God by an holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee. 31 And said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God. 45 And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. 47 Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?

My notes: Here we have one of the clearest references to water baptism being performed by an apostle. Was water baptism necessary, or merely a common cultural practice of the time? Could it be that Peter saw the necessity of water baptism in order that a visual sign is provided to “they of the circumcision” that God has given the good news to the Gentiles? Does this hold true for us today?

[15] ACT 8:13 Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done. 23 For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.

My notes: From what I can tell, here we have an example of a man getting baptized and yet it not fundamentally changing him; he still must be confronted with a fuller understanding of the truth. Also, Acts 8:16 clearly says that baptism does not or, at least sometimes does not, lead to one being filled with the Holy Spirit. Interestingly, it is through the laying on of hands that they received the Holy Spirit. Is this spiritual baptism? Is this the baptism that the apostles are commanded to take to the world? Is this the kind of baptism that John the Baptist said the Christ would bring, whereas John only brought water baptism?

[16] JOH 3:5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

My notes: See my previous post for my thoughts on being born of water and spirit.I am still working through this one.

[17] GAL 3:27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. TIT 3:5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; EPH 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word. ACT 2:38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.

My notes: I am not convince the Ephesian passage means baptism in water, or baptism at all. It could be a metaphor or image of how the truth (word) replaces or cleanses (washing) the mind and/or heart of the repentant individual. Then again, it could be water baptism.

[18] TIT 3:5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.

My notes: As far as I call tell, this verse offers no argument or evidence of support to point VII. In fact, could not the washing and the renewing be ongoing actions and not a one time only act?

Tentative conclusion: Me desire is not to challenge the Westminster Confession of Faith. Too many minds far greater than mine have tackled and supported this important document. However, I find in it so many questions that I cannot without many qualifications accept it as a clear and accurate picture of apostolic teaching. It may be, but my notes should make it clear that, as I said in the preface, the Westminster Confession rests on a raft of assumptions.

This is continuation of sorts from my previous post on the early church fathers on baptism.

The City of God, Book XIII, Chapter 7

Of the Death Which the Unbaptized Suffer for the Confession of Christ.

For whatever unbaptized persons die confessing Christ, this confession is of the same efficacy for the remission of sins as if they were washed in the sacred font of baptism. For He who said, “Unless a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,” [1] made also an exception in their favor, in that other sentence where He no less absolutely said, “Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven;” [2] and in another place, “Whosoever will lose his life for my sake, shall find it.” [3] And this explains the verse, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” [4] For what is more precious than a death by which a man’s sins are all forgiven, and his merits increased an hundredfold? For those who have been baptized when they could no longer escape death, and have departed this life with all their sins blotted out have not equal merit with those who did not defer death, though it was in their power to do so, but preferred to end their life by confessing Christ, rather than by denying Him to secure an opportunity of baptism. And even had they denied Him under pressure of the fear of death, this too would have been forgiven them in that baptism, in which was remitted even the enormous wickedness of those who had slain Christ. But how abundant in these men must have been the grace of the Spirit, who breathes where He lists, seeing that they so dearly loved Christ as to be unable to deny Him even in so sore an emergency, and with so sure a hope of pardon! Precious, therefore, is the death of the saints, to whom the grace of Christ has been applied with such gracious effects, that they do not hesitate to meet death themselves, if so be they might meet Him. And precious is it, also, because it has proved that what was originally ordained for the punishment of the sinner, has been used for the production of a richer harvest of righteousness. But not on this account should we look upon death as a good thing, for it is diverted to such useful purposes, not by any virtue of its own, but by the divine interference. Death was originally proposed as an object of dread, that sin might not be committed; now it must be undergone that sin may not be committed, or, if committed, be remitted, and the award of righteousness bestowed on him whose victory has earned it.

My notes: Clearly Augustine has in view the idea that if one dies because of one’s faith, that is, put to death because one is a Christian, that death acts as a baptism even if one was never baptized according to the traditions of the Church. In other words, one does not need to be baptized, that is immersed (or doused) in water, in order to be saved if one dies for Christ before one can be properly baptized. Martyrdom is a baptism. By implication, then, other than martyrdom one must undergo traditional water baptism in order to be saved. Water baptism seems to be required by the early church on the whole.

Other questions: Does baptism blot out sins? Is martyrdom a guarantee of salvation? How does death increase one’s merits a hundred fold? I need to study Augustine more. I fear I am in far too deep of waters for now.

Finally: What do we do with verses such as Matthew 7:21-23. Christ says: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'” Along with casting out demons and doing mighty works in the name of Christ, could this verse have included “even being put to death in your name?” Presumably, then, one can still be a martyr and not be “known” by Christ. Thus, it would follow, martyrdom does (or might) not overide the true spititual condition of the individual, even if that death is seen as a kind of baptism that comes as a result of “confessing Christ.” Again, I do not know enough of Augustine’s thought to know what was his position on this.

Footnotes:
[1] John 3:5
[2] Matthew 10:32
[3] Matthew 16:25
[4] Psalms 116:15

20th century icon of the fathers of the 
first ecumenical council in Nicaea (325 CE).
(courtesy: Orthodox Church in America)


The following quotes (snippets really) on baptism from the early church fathers are taken from the web site The Church Fathers. I quote them here as part of my research of baptism. My knowledge of the early church fathers falls somewhere between little and none. My fundamentalist training considered them not apostolic enough, and therefore too Catholic, so I never studied them. I am beginning to realize that is a mistake which I am trying to correct. These quotes are also out of context. Therefore they could use more exegesis than I can give here. However, I will use them to spark my thoughts and get a sense of what the early church thought about baptism. I also assume the church fathers have in mind traditional water baptism. After each quote I have included my thoughts, which are mostly questions. I welcome your notes/questions and insights as well. I am sure there is a lot more the early church fathers have to say on baptism.

The Letter of Barnabas
“Regarding [baptism], we have the evidence of Scripture that Israel would refuse to accept the washing which confers the remission of sins and would set up a substitution of their own instead [Ps. 1:3–6]. Observe there how he describes both the water and the cross in the same figure. His meaning is, ‘Blessed are those who go down into the water with their hopes set on the cross.’ Here he is saying that after we have stepped down into the water, burdened with sin and defilement, we come up out of it bearing fruit, with reverence in our hearts and the hope of Jesus in our souls” (Letter of Barnabas 11:1–10 [A.D. 74]).

My notes: The interpretation of Psalm 1:3-6 seems to me a stretch, if not outright goofy (though I am willing to be wrong, especially if the author is actually a witness of Christ). The cross, as a method of torture and death was used by the Romans, and maybe used earlier, but probably not as early as King David. To see every tree in the OT as a reference to the cross of Christ goes too far. Regardless, though the idea of a suffering messiah was not unknown in ancient Israel, it is not likely the psalmist had a suffering messiah in view here. And it is even less likely that these verses are evidence that Israel would “refuse to accept the washing which confers the remission of sins.” It seems more proper to see these lines contrasting the righteous, or good Jew against the wicked Jew. Apart from the Psalm citation, the statement, “after we have stepped down into the water, burdened with sin and defilement, we come up out of it bearing fruit, with reverence in our hearts and the hope of Jesus in our souls” makes some sense, but can also be interpreted different ways. Does baptism confer these things to the believer, or is it symbolic of an interior reality already present? Does baptism actually confer the remission of sins? What are the fruits? I would count the author of this letter, whoever he is, as a fellow believer, but I would probably disagree with his method of prooftexting, and question his understanding of baptism. I also wonder, am I seeing his words through my own reformed prism?

Hermas
“‘I have heard, sir,’ said I, ‘from some teacher, that there is no other repentance except that which took place when we went down into the water and obtained the remission of our former sins.’ He said to me, ‘You have heard rightly, for so it is’” (The Shepherd 4:3:1–2 [A.D. 80]).

My notes: We know the baptism of John was for repentance. Was the baptism of Jesus for the remission of sins? Or was it for entering the community of believers in a similar way circumcision was an act required to be a member of the nation of Israel? Do we obtain the remission of sins via baptism? Is baptism and repentance essentially the same thing? It appears, at least, that in A.D. 80 it was common to see baptism and repentance as being linked, and probably inseparable. Is this how Jesus understood baptism? If baptism does remove sins, is it only for former sins? Does one get baptized in order to get a “clean slate” and start over? Can one repent and not be baptized and still be saved? Can one ignore baptism and still be saved? Can one consciously refuse baptism and still be saved? 

Ignatius of Antioch
“Let none of you turn deserter. Let your baptism be your armor; your faith, your helmet; your love, your spear; your patient endurance, your panoply” (Letter to Polycarp 6 [A.D. 110]).

My notes: I imagine Ignatius is equating baptism with faith, which makes some sense. Still, I wonder how baptism can be all though things. If we see baptism as being a kind of key that allows one to enter into the community of faith, and that community is the support for one’s ow faith, then I can see the connection, somewhat. But can baptism be one’s faith, helmet, love… etc.? If one repents and is baptized can one turn deserter? What power, then, has baptism? Does it have any, at least in conferring something spiritual and lasting to the individual? Or is it a sign of repentance and fidelity to the truth of the gospel, but can still be either a false sign altogether, or merely a sign attributed to a sinner who, because he is a sinner, will betray that sign, even against his own will?

Second Clement
“For, if we do the will of Christ, we shall find rest; but if otherwise, then nothing shall deliver us from eternal punishment, if we should disobey his commandments. . . . [W]ith what confidence shall we, if we keep not our baptism pure and undefiled, enter into the kingdom of God? Or who shall be our advocate, unless we be found having holy and righteous works?’ (Second Clement 6:7–9 [A.D. 150]).

My notes: If we understand baptism as one of Jesus’ commandments then to not get baptized is to not do the will of Christ. It would seem that we have two choices, baptism or righteous works. Since we cannot have righteous works then we need an advocate, who is Christ. Therefore we must obey Christ’s commandments and receive baptism. That makes sense to me, as long as our understanding of baptism is correct, and if Jesus commanded us to be baptized, which he did, but which might be understood in differing ways. What does it mean to keep our baptism pure and undefiled? If baptism removes all former sins, does this mean that one must not sin anymore after baptism? Will Christ only be an advocate to those who have been baptized and kept that baptism pure and undefiled? I like: “For, if we do the will of Christ, we shall fine rest.” However, does this mean baptism confers rest?

Justin Martyr
“Whoever are convinced and believe that what they are taught and told by us is the truth, and professes to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to beseech God in fasting for the remission of their former sins, while we pray and fast with them. Then they are led by us to a place where there is water, and they are reborn in the same kind of rebirth in which we ourselves were reborn: ‘In the name of God, the Lord and Father of all, and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit,’ they receive the washing of water. For Christ said, ‘Unless you be reborn, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven’” (First Apology 61:14–17 [A.D. 151]).

My notes: This passage seems rather straight forward and biblical. I am not sure what I think about the beseeching “God in fasting for the remission of their former sins.” This process is a bit more than what a modern American evangelical would require, more than merely saying a little prayer and getting a hug from your camp counselor. On the other hand we are a culture that places no value on suffering. Note that it is not merely the individual convert who fasts, but the church fasts with him. I find that compelling, and telling in terms of the communal nature of faith. If the church fasts with you then it seems appropriate that baptism would also be required, for it is a kind of initiation rite. However, does fasting or baptism or any other action adequately take care of former sins? If so, how?

Theophilus of Antioch
“Moreover, those things which were created from the waters were blessed by God, so that this might also be a sign that men would at a future time receive repentance and remission of sins through water and the bath of regeneration—all who proceed to the truth and are born again and receive a blessing from God” (To Autolycus 2:16 [A.D. 181]).

My notes: Theophilus is in the middle of writing about the creation of the world. He is in day 5 of creation and describes creatures coming from the sea. Thus “those things” refer to living creatures proceeding from the waters. I do not see how this can be a sign of future repentance and remission of sins via baptism. Is there any other biblical evidence that makes this link? Also, what is the nature of this blessing from God?

Clement of Alexandria
“When we are baptized, we are enlightened. Being enlightened, we are adopted as sons. Adopted as sons, we are made perfect. Made perfect, we become immortal . . . ‘and sons of the Most High’ [Ps. 82:6]. This work is variously called grace, illumination, perfection, and washing. It is a washing by which we are cleansed of sins, a gift of grace by which the punishments due our sins are remitted, an illumination by which we behold that holy light of salvation” (The Instructor of Children 1:6:26:1 [A.D. 191]).

My notes: I find a lot of terms in this quote that need clarification. What does “enlightened” mean in this context? Is it that one’s eyes are now open to the truth? Does baptism effect such enlightenment, or is baptism done because of enlightenment? I cannot tell if Clement has a sequence in mind here or if he is just mashing together a bunch of elements that all come together at the time of conversion. I like that he says our sins are remitted by a “gift of grace.” We do the baptizing, but it is still ultimately a gift of grace by which we are saved.

Tertullian
“Happy is our sacrament of water, in that, by washing away the sins of our early blindness, we are set free and admitted into eternal life. . . . [But] a viper of the [Gnostic] Cainite heresy, lately conversant in this quarter, has carried away a great number with her most venomous doctrine, making it her first aim to destroy baptism—which is quite in accordance with nature, for vipers and.asps . . . themselves generally do live in arid and waterless places. But we, little fishes after the example of our [Great] Fish, Jesus Christ, are born in water, nor have we safety in any other way than by permanently abiding in water. So that most monstrous creature, who had no right to teach even sound doctrine, knew full well how to kill the little fishes—by taking them away from the water!” (Baptism 1 [A.D. 203]).

“Baptism itself is a corporal act by which we are plunged into the water, while its effect is spiritual, in that we are freed from our sins” (ibid., 7:2).

My notes: Apparently there were Gnostics who preached against baptism, or at least downplayed its importance. This is the first quote here that calls baptism a sacrament. I’m not sure if that is meaningful. The imagery of snakes and fishes is interesting, but I’m not sure if it’s a good argument. Tertullian says baptism is a physical (corporal) act, but its effect is spiritual. Is that a causal relationship? Does the act of baptism truly produce a spiritual effect? Does baptism truly free us from our sin? Or is this an expression (human language) of a bigger picture in which baptism is a visible sign that stands for the work of the Holy Spirit and the heart of belief?

Hippolytus
“And the bishop shall lay his hand upon them [the newly baptized], invoking and saying: ‘O Lord God, who did count these worthy of deserving the forgiveness of sins by the laver of regeneration, make them worthy to be filled with your Holy Spirit and send upon them thy grace [in confirmation], that they may serve you according to your will” (The Apostolic Tradition 22:1 [A.D. 215]).

My notes: This quote appears to be instructions for baptism. If I understand the sequence: a) individuals get baptized, b) their sins are therefore forgiven, c) they are now worthy to receive the Holy Spirit, d) which is conferred upon the individuals by the laying on of hands by the bishop. Is this not a mix of biblical teaching and non-biblical (or extra-biblical) traditions?

Cyprian of Carthage
“While I was lying in darkness . . . I thought it indeed difficult and hard to believe . . . that divine mercy was promised for my salvation, so that anyone might be born again and quickened unto a new life by the laver of the saving water, he might put off what he had been before, and, although the structure of the body remained, he might change himself in soul and mind. . . . But afterwards, when the stain of my past life had been washed away by means of the water of rebirth, a light from above poured itself upon my chastened and now pure heart; afterwards, through the Spirit which is breathed from heaven, a second birth made of me a new man” (To Donatus 3–4 [A.D. 246]).

My notes: Cyprian seems to overstep both the power of baptism (if any) and the nature of salvation. When he says, “…anyone might be born again and quickened unto a new life by the laver of the saving water…” he implies that baptism itself does the saving. He goes on to imply that the individual can change himself in soul and mind by getting baptized. Repentance may be implied in these words, but it is not explicit. Then he says, “… a light from above poured itself upon my chastened and now pure heart…” implying (or rather directly stating) that his heart is now pure. If he is speaking only in heavenly terms, in terms of some kind of economy of grace, then this might make sense logically (though it still might be wrong), but he seems to say, rather, that his heart is actually pure, free of sin. I believe this is an unbiblical position.

Aphraahat the Persian Sage
“From baptism we receive the Spirit of Christ. At that same moment in which the priests invoke the Spirit, heaven opens, and he descends and rests upon the waters, and those who are baptized are clothed in him. The Spirit is absent from all those who are born of the flesh, until they come to the water of rebirth, and then they receive the Holy Spirit. . . . [I]n the second birth, that through baptism, they receive the Holy Spirit” (Treatises 6:14:4 [A.D. 340]).

My notes: What interests me here is the idea of the priest invoking the Spirit. Is this possible? Is this biblical? It sounds more like magic. Also, it is clear in the passage that one does not (cannot?) receive the Spirit until after (or through) baptism.

Cyril of Jerusalem
“If any man does not receive baptism, he does not have salvation. The only exception is the martyrs, who, even without water, will receive baptism, for the Savior calls martyrdom a baptism [Mark 10:38]. . . . Bearing your sins, you go down into the water; but the calling down of grace seals your soul and does not permit that you afterwards be swallowed up by the fearsome dragon. You go down dead in your sins, and you come up made alive in righteousness” (Catechetical Lectures 3:10, 12 [A.D. 350]).

My notes: It is clear that Cyril sees baptism is an essential requirement for salvation. Does scripture make such a strict demand? Is one made alive in righteousness through baptism? If so, how does that align with our experience of continuing to sin after baptism?

Basil the Great
“For prisoners, baptism is ransom, forgiveness of debts, the death of sin, regeneration of the soul, a resplendent garment, an unbreakable seal, a chariot to heaven, a royal protector, a gift of adoption” (Sermons on Moral and Practical Subjects 13:5 [A.D. 379]).

My notes: Here we have another list, as with Ignatius of Antioch, that equates baptism with a number of things: a chariot to heaven, and royal protector… etc. Is baptism all these things? If so, are we to understand baptism here as being the symbol of the who package of salvation and all that it delivers? Or are these strictly qualities of baptism?

Council of Constantinople I
“We believe . . . in one baptism for the remission of sins” (Nicene Creed [A.D. 381]).

My notes: This seems rather straightforward and I don’t have any questions. However, I do need to study the creeds.

Ambrose of Milan
“The Lord was baptized, not to be cleansed himself but to cleanse the waters, so that those waters, cleansed by the flesh of Christ which knew no sin, might have the power of baptism. Whoever comes, therefore, to the washing of Christ lays aside his sins” (Commentary on Luke 2:83 [A.D. 389]).

My notes: The idea of Christ cleansing the waters reminds me of Luther’s idea that “Christ puts salvation into baptism.” If Luther is right then I would say Ambrose is right.

Augustine
“It is an excellent thing that the Punic [North African] Christians call baptism salvation and the sacrament of Christ’s body nothing else than life. Whence does this derive, except from an ancient and, as I suppose, apostolic tradition, by which the churches of Christ hold inherently that without baptism and participation at the table of the Lord it is impossible for any man to attain either to the kingdom of God or to salvation and life eternal? This is the witness of Scripture too” (Forgiveness and the Just Deserts of Sin, and the Baptism of Infants 1:24:34 [A.D. 412]).

“The sacrament of baptism is most assuredly the sacrament of regeneration” (ibid., 2:27:43).

“Baptism washes away all, absolutely all, our sins, whether of deed, word, or thought, whether sins original or added, whether knowingly or unknowingly contracted” (Against Two Letters of the Pelagians 3:3:5 [A.D. 420]).

“This is the meaning of the great sacrament of baptism, which is celebrated among us: all who attain to this grace die thereby to sin—as he himself [Jesus] is said to have died to sin because he died in the flesh (that is, ‘in the likeness of sin’)—and they are thereby alive by being reborn in the baptismal font, just as he rose again from the sepulcher. This is the case no matter what the age of the body. For whether it be a newborn infant or a decrepit old man—since no one should be barred from baptism—just so, there is no one who does not die to sin in baptism. Infants die to original sin only; adults, to all those sins which they have added, through their evil living, to the burden they brought with them at birth” (Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Love 13[41] [A.D. 421]).

My notes: I am not ready to tackle Augustine. He deserves much more attention from me. Nonetheless, I am not sure I understand the idea of an infant dying to original sin. Does that baptized infant then require adult baptism later for evil living? If adult baptism takes care of the sins of evil living up to that point, does repeated baptism take care of repeated evil living? I would doubt Augustine would say so. I still have much to sort out regarding infant baptism, for I was trained in the “believer’s baptism” perspective and that’s the one that makes sense to me.

>The following quote is From Charles Williams’ unique and fascinating book, The Descent of the Dove: A Short History of the Holy Spirit in the Church (1939). He is remarking on the conversion of Paul.

It was, in every way, a very remarkable event. For first, it was the beginning of that great train of conversions and illuminations which form part of the history of Christendom—Augustine, Francis, Luther, Ignatius, Wesley, and the rest. No doubt all creeds are so accompanied; this is not the place to discuss others. Such conversions cannot be supposed to prove the truth of a creed. Second, it turned, of course, a strong opponent of the Church into a strong supporter; but here it did more—it produced a kind of microcosm of the situation. It exploded an intense Judaizer into an anti-Judaizer. It united, as it were, Paul the Jew to Paul the man, and it gave the manhood the dominating place. But also it united Paul the man with Paul the new man, and it gave the new manhood the dominating place. It did all this in a personality which possessed, with much other genius, a desire to explain. In order to understand and to explain the convert produced practically a new vocabulary. To call him a poet would be perhaps improper (besides ignoring the minor but important fact that he wrote in prose). But he used words as poets do; he regenerated them. And by St. Paul’s regeneration of words he gave theology to the Christian Church. (pp. 8-9)

If you are not familiar with Williams (and I am only just getting to know his work), he was a brilliant author in more than one genre, a member of the Inklings, and a friend of Lewis, Tolkein, et al.