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Archive for December, 2010

O Lord, God of truth, whose Word is a lantern to our feet and a light upon our path: We give you thanks for your servant John Wyclif, and those who, following in his steps, have labored to render the Holy Scriptures in the language of the people; and we pray that your Holy Spirit may overshadow us as we read the written Word, and that Christ, the living Word, may transform us according to your righteous will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Collect of the Day: The Holy Innocents (Anglican)

“We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

 

Today in the Orthodox Church (the 28th in the Catholic/Anglican, and the 27th in the Syrian Church) is the celebration (or should I say commemoration) of the Feast of the Holy Innocents. The feast is centered around King Herod’s wicked act of the murdering of the children in Bethlehem:

 

Matthew 2:16-18 (King James Version)

Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. [17] Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying,

“In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.”

 

This Feast is a commemoration of what many call the “first martyrs” for Christ, the innocent children who were slew by Herod’s men in attempt to kill the Jewish Messiah, that the Magi had concerned the King with. In the west, the Liturgical vestments are red to indicate that this was martyrdom. Another interesting thing is that this Feast is also a time in many churches to reflect and mourn the death of the millions of children disposed of in the abortion clinics. God help us!

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Dear Brothers and Sisters! “You are my son, this day I have begotten you” with this passage from Psalm 2 the Church begins the liturgy of this holy night. She knows that this passage originally formed part of the coronation rite of the kings of Israel.

The king, who in himself is a man like others, becomes the “Son of God” through being called and installed in his office. It is a kind of adoption by God, a decisive act by which he grants a new existence to this man, drawing him into his own being.

The reading from the prophet Isaiah that we have just heard presents the same process even more clearly in a situation of hardship and danger for Israel: “To us a child is born, to us a son is given. The government will be upon his shoulder” (Is 9:6).

Installation in the office of king is like a second birth. As one newly born through God’s personal choice, as a child born of God, the king embodies hope. On his shoulders the future rests. He is the bearer of the promise of peace.

On that night in Bethlehem this prophetic saying came true in a way that would still have been unimaginable at the time of Isaiah. Yes indeed, now it really is a child on whose shoulders government is laid. In him the new kingship appears that God establishes in the world. This child is truly born of God.

It is God’s eternal Word that unites humanity with divinity. To this child belong those titles of honor which Isaiah’s coronation song attributes to him: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Is 9:6). Yes, this king does not need counselors drawn from the wise of this world. He bears in himself God’s wisdom and God’s counsel.

In the weakness of infancy, he is the mighty God and he shows us God’s own might in contrast to the self-asserting powers of this world. Truly, the words of Israel’s coronation rite were only ever rites of hope which looked ahead to a distant future that God would bestow. None of the kings who were greeted in this way lived up to the sublime content of these words.

In all of them, those words about divine sonship, about installation into the heritage of the peoples, about making the ends of the earth their possession (Ps 2:8) were only pointers towards what was to come as it were signposts of hope indicating a future that at that moment was still beyond comprehension.

Thus the fulfillment of the prophecy, which began that night in Bethlehem, is both infinitely greater and in worldly terms smaller than the prophecy itself might lead one to imagine. It is greater in the sense that this child is truly the Son of God, truly “God from God, light from light, begotten not made, of one being with the Father.”

The infinite distance between God and man is overcome. God has not only bent down, as we read in the Psalms; he has truly “come down,” he has come into the world, he has become one of us, in order to draw all of us to himself. This child is truly Emmanuel God-with-us. His kingdom truly stretches to the ends of the earth.

He has truly built islands of peace in the world-encompassing breadth of the holy Eucharist. Wherever it is celebrated, an island of peace arises, of God’s own peace. This child has ignited the light of goodness in men and has given them strength to overcome the tyranny of might.

This child builds his kingdom in every generation from within, from the heart. But at the same time it is true that the “rod of his oppressor” is not yet broken, the boots of warriors continue to tramp and the “garment rolled in blood” (Is 9:4f) still remains. So part of this night is simply joy at God’s closeness.

We are grateful that God gives himself into our hands as a child, begging as it were for our love, implanting his peace in our hearts. But this joy is also a prayer: Lord, make your promise come fully true. Break the rods of the oppressors. Burn the tramping boots.

Let the time of the garments rolled in blood come to an end. Fulfill the prophecy that “of peace there will be no end” (Is 9:7). We thank you for your goodness, but we also ask you to show forth your power. Establish the dominion of your truth and your love in the world the “kingdom of righteousness, love and peace.”

“Mary gave birth to her first-born son” (Lk 2:7). In this sentence Saint Luke recounts quite soberly the great event to which the prophecies from Israel’s history had pointed. Luke calls the child the “first-born.” In the language which developed within the sacred Scripture of the Old Covenant, “first-born” does not mean the first of a series of children.

The word “first-born” is a title of honor, quite independently of whether other brothers and sisters follow or not. So Israel is designated by God in the Book of Exodus (4:22) as “my first-born Son,” and this expresses Israel’s election, its singular dignity, the particular love of God the Father.

The early Church knew that in Jesus this saying had acquired a new depth, that the promises made to Israel were summed up in him. Thus the Letter to the Hebrews calls Jesus “the first-born,” simply in order to designate him as the Son sent into the world by God (cf. 1:5-7) after the ground had been prepared by Old Testament prophecy.

The first-born belongs to God in a special way and therefore he had to be handed over to God in a special way as in many religions and he had to be ransomed through a vicarious sacrifice, as Saint Luke recounts in the episode of the Presentation in the Temple. The first-born belongs to God in a special way, and is as it were destined for sacrifice.

In Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross this destiny of the first-born is fulfilled in a unique way. In his person he brings humanity before God and unites man with God in such a way that God becomes all in all. Saint Paul amplified and deepened the idea of Jesus as firstborn in the Letters to the Colossians and to the Ephesians: Jesus, we read in these letters, is the first-born of all creation the true prototype of man, according to which God formed the human creature.

Man can be the image of God because Jesus is both God and man, the true image of God and of man. Furthermore, as these letters tell us, he is the first-born from the dead. In the resurrection he has broken down the wall of death for all of us. He has opened up to man the dimension of eternal life in fellowship with God.

Finally, it is said to us that he is the first-born of many brothers. Yes indeed, now he really is the first of a series of brothers and sisters: the first, that is, who opens up for us the possibility of communing with God. He creates true brotherhood not the kind defiled by sin as in the case of Cain and Abel, or Romulus and Remus, but the new brotherhood in which we are God’s own family.

This new family of God begins at the moment when Mary wraps her first-born in swaddling clothes and lays him in a manger. Let us pray to him: Lord Jesus, who wanted to be born as the first of many brothers and sisters, grant us the grace of true brotherhood.

Help us to become like you. Help us to recognize your face in others who need our assistance, in those who are suffering or forsaken, in all people, and help us to live together with you as brothers and sisters, so as to become one family, your family. At the end of the Christmas Gospel, we are told that a great heavenly host of angels praised God and said: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!” (Lk 2:14).

The Church has extended this song of praise, which the angels sang in response to the event of the holy night, into a hymn of joy at God’s glory “we praise you for your glory.” We praise you for the beauty, for the greatness, for the goodness of God, which becomes visible to us this night. The appearing of beauty, of the beautiful, makes us happy without our having to ask what use it can serve.

God’s glory, from which all beauty derives, causes us to break out in astonishment and joy. Anyone who catches a glimpse of God experiences joy, and on this night we see something of his light. But the angels’ message on that holy night also spoke of men: “Peace among men with whom he is pleased.” The Latin translation of the angels’ song that we use in the liturgy, taken from Saint Jerome, is slightly different: “peace to men of good will.”

The expression “men of good will” has become an important part of the Church’s vocabulary in recent decades. But which is the correct translation? We must read both texts together; only in this way do we truly understand the angels’ song. It would be a false interpretation to see this exclusively as the action of God, as if he had not called man to a free response of love.

But it would be equally mistaken to adopt a moralizing interpretation as if man were so to speak able to redeem himself by his good will. Both elements belong together: grace and freedom, God’s prior love for us, without which we could not love him, and the response that he awaits from us, the response that he asks for so palpably through the birth of his son.

We cannot divide up into independent entities the interplay of grace and freedom, or the interplay of call and response. The two are inseparably woven together. So this part of the angels’ message is both promise and call at the same time. God has anticipated us with the gift of his Son.

God anticipates us again and again in unexpected ways. He does not cease to search for us, to raise us up as often as we might need. He does not abandon the lost sheep in the wilderness into which it had strayed. God does not allow himself to be confounded by our sin.

Again and again he begins afresh with us. But he is still waiting for us to join him in love. He loves us, so that we too may become people who love, so that there may be peace on earth. Saint Luke does not say that the angels sang. He states quite soberly: the heavenly host praised God and said: “Glory to God in the highest” (Lk 2:13f.).

But men have always known that the speech of angels is different from human speech, and that above all on this night of joyful proclamation it was in song that they extolled God’s heavenly glory. So this angelic song has been recognized from the earliest days as music proceeding from God, indeed, as an invitation to join in the singing with hearts filled with joy at the fact that we are loved by God. Cantare amantis est, says Saint Augustine: singing belongs to one who loves.

Thus, down the centuries, the angels’ song has again and again become a song of love and joy, a song of those who love. At this hour, full of thankfulness, we join in the singing of all the centuries, singing that unites heaven and earth, angels and men. Yes, indeed, we praise you for your glory. We praise you for your love. Grant that we may join with you in love more and more and thus become people of peace. Amen.

___

Copyright Vatican Publishing House

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A  brother in Christ, Maximus Scott, has allowed me to use some of his notes on the Ancient Church vs. the Reformation Church, in regards to the idea of the Cross. I would like to ask my protestant friends the question, “where is Penal Substitution?”. I don’t mean this in a condescending way, but would like you to step up and show it in both Scripture and in the Patristics.

The Cross: A Short Comparison

St. Athanasius of Alexandria: Whence neither can the Lord be forsaken by the Father, who is ever in the Father, both before He spoke, and when He uttered this cry. Nor is it lawful to say that the Lord was in terror, at whom the keepers of hell’s gates shuddered and set open hell, and the graves did gape, and many bodies of the saints arose and appeared to their own people. Therefore be every heretic dumb, nor dare to ascribe terror to the Lord whom death, as a serpent, flees, at whom demons tremble, and the sea is in alarm; for whom the heavens are rent and all the powers are shaken. For behold when He says, ‘Why have You forsaken Me?’ the Father showed that He was ever and even then in Him; for the earth knowing its Lord who spoke, straightway trembled, and the veil was rent, and the sun was hidden, and the rocks were torn asunder, and the graves, as I have said, did gape, and the dead in them arose; and, what is wonderful, they who were then present and had before denied Him, then seeing these signs, confessed that ‘truly He was the Son of God. (Four Discourses Against the Arians, Discourse III)

St. Hilary of Poitiers: To grasp this divine mystery we must see the God in Him without ignoring the Man; and the Man without ignoring the God. We must not divide Jesus Christ, for the Word was made flesh: yet we must not call Him buried, though we know He raised Himself again: must not doubt His resurrection, though we dare not deny He was buried. Jesus Christ was buried, for He died: He died, and even cried out at the moment of death, My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Yet He, Who uttered these words, said also: Verily I say unto you, This day shall you be with Me in Paradise (Luke 23:43), and He Who promised Paradise to the thief cried aloud, Father, into Your hands I commend My Spirit; and having said this He gave up the Ghost.

It is one and the same Lord Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, Who expresses Himself in all these utterances, Who is man when He says He is abandoned to death: yet while man still rules in Paradise as God, and though reigning in Paradise, as Son of God commends His Spirit to His Father, as Son of Man gives up to death the Spirit He commended to the Father. Why do we then view as a disgrace that which is a mystery? We see Him complaining that He is left to die, because He is Man: we see Him, as He dies, declaring that He reigned in Paradise, because He is God. Why should we harp, to support our irreverence, on what He said to make us understand His death, and keep back what He proclaimed to demonstrate His immortality? The words and the voice are equally His, when He complains of desertion, and when He declares His rule: by what method of heretical logic do we split up our belief and deny that He Who died was at the same time He Who rules? Did He not testify both equally of Himself, when He commended His Spirit, and when He gave it up? But if He is the same, Who commended His Spirit, and gave it up, if He dies when ruling and rules when dead: then the mystery of the Son of God and Son of Man means that He is One, Who dying reigns, and reigning dies. (On the Trinity, Bk. X)

St. Gregory Nazianzus: And thus, He Who subjects presents to God that which He has subjected, making our condition His own. Of the same kind, it appears to me, is the expression, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? It was not He who was forsaken either by the Father, or by His own Godhead, as some have thought, as if It were afraid of the Passion, and therefore withdrew Itself from Him in His sufferings (for who compelled Him either to be born on earth at all, or to be lifted up on the Cross?). But as I said, He was in His own Person representing us. For we were the forsaken and despised before, but now by the Sufferings of Him Who could not suffer, we were taken up and saved. Similarly, He makes His own our folly and our transgressions; and says what follows in the Psalm, for it is very evident that the Twenty-first Psalm refers to Christ. (Fourth Theological Oration,” 30.5, Patrologia Græca, Vol. XXXVI, col. 109A).

St. John Chrysostomos: He saith, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that unto His last breath they might see that He honors His Father, and is no adversary of God. Wherefore also He uttered a certain cry from the Prophet, even to His last hour bearing witness to the Old Testament, and not simply a cry from the Prophet, but also in Hebrew, so as to be plain and intelligible to them, and by all things, He shows how He is of one mind with Him that begat Him. (Homilies on St. Matthew, 88.1, Patrologia Græca, Vol. LVIII, col. 776).

St. Cyril of Alexandria: The cry My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? is the utterance of Adam, who trampled on the commandment given to him and disregarded God’s Law; thus did God abandon human nature, which had become accursed. When the Only-begotten Word of God came to restore fallen man, the abandonment entailed by that curse and corruption had to come to an end. My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? is the voice of Him Who destroyed our forsakenness, as if He were imploring the Father to be gracious to mankind. When, as man, He asks for something, it is for us; as God, He was in need of nothing. (Second Oration to the Empresses on the True Faith, 18, Patrologia Græca, Vol. LXXVI, col. 1357A.) Elsewhere, St. Cyril interprets this verse as proof that Christ was truly man (Thesaurus Concerning the Holy and Consubstantial Trinity, 24, Patrologia Græca, Vol. LXXV, col. 397D) and portrays Christ as the Second Adam, Who cleansed human nature of the corruption to which it became subject through Adams fall into disobedience and Who restored it to its pristine purity and dignity (That Christ Is One, Patrologia Græca, Vol. LXXV, cols. 1325C-1328A).

Pope St. Leo: Christs cry of Forsaken on the Cross was to teach us the insufficiency of the human nature without the Divine. Hence it is that the Lord Jesus Christ, our Head, representing all the members of His body in Himself and speaking for those whom He was redeeming in the punishment of the Cross, uttered that cry which He had once uttered in the Psalm, O God, My God, look upon Me; why hast Thou forsaken Me? That cry, dearly-beloved, is a lesson, not a complaint. For since in Christ there is one Person of God and man, and He could not have been forsaken by Him from Whom He could not be separated, it is on behalf of us, trembling and weak ones, that He asks why the flesh that is afraid to suffer has not been heard. (Homily, 67.7, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. XII [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978], p. 179).

St. John of Damascus: Further, these words, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? He said as making our personality His own. For neither would God be regarded with us as His Father, unless one were to discriminate with subtle imaginings of the mind between that which is seen and that which is thought, nor was He ever forsaken by His Divinity: nay, it was we who were forsaken and disregarded. So that it was as appropriating our personality that He offered these prayers. (Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, III.24, Patrologia Græca, Vol. XCIV, col. 1093A).

Amen. Amen. Amen. I believe, I believe, I believe and confess to the last breath, that this is the life-giving body that your only-begotten Son, our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ took from our lady, the lady of us all, the holy Theotokos Saint May. He made it one with his divinity without mingling, without confusion and without alteration. He witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate. He gave it up for us upon the holy wood of the cross, of his own will, for us all. Truly I believe that his divinity parted not from his humanity for a single moment nor a twinkling of an eye. Given for us for salvation, remission of sins and eternal life to those who partake of him. I believe, I believe, I believe that this is so in truth. Amen. (Coptic Liturgy of St. Basil, The Confession)


*A Jewish Contextual Note*

The person who is dying, whose soul is ebbing from its home in the body, is draped in a tallit. The bystanders help them to wash their hands ritually, three times over the right, three times over the left. The dying person then does a little Yom Kippur either verbally or in their thoughts, reflecting on their life, asking for forgiveness for having wronged people, etc., and if they are able to, they recite Psalms 4, 6, 121, 145. As they feel themselves at the door of death, they recite Psalm 22 and 29 (13th-century Rabbi Moshe ibn Nachmon, quoted in Choch’mat Ahdam, No. 151). Quoted from Death By Rabbi Gershon Winkler


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Martin Luther: So then, gaze at the heavenly picture of Christ, who descended into hell for your sake and was forsaken by God as one eternally damned when he spoke the words on the cross, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani!” – “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” In that picture your hell is defeated and your uncertain election is made sure. (Luther, Martin. “Treatise on Preparing to Die.”)

John Calvin: Nothing had been done if Christ had only endured corporeal death. In order to interpose between us and God’s anger, and satisfy his righteous judgment, it was necessary that he should feel the weight of divine vengeance. Whence also it was necessary that he should engage, as it were, at close quarters with the powers of hell and the horrors of eternal death…Hence there is nothing strange in its being said that he descended to hell, seeing he endured the death which is inflicted on the wicked by an angry God. It is frivolous and ridiculous to object that in this way the order is perverted, it being absurd that an event which preceded burial should be placed after it. But after explaining what Christ endured in the sight of man, the Creed appropriately adds the invisible and incomprehensible judgment which he endured before God, to teach us that not only was the body of Christ given up as the price of redemption, but that there was a greater and more excellent price—that he bore in his soul the tortures of condemned and ruined man. (Calvin, John. “Institutes of the Christian Religion.” Book 3:Chapter 16.

Charles Hodge: The penalty of the divine law is said to be eternal death. Therefore if Christ suffered the penalty of the law He must have suffered death eternal; or, as others say, He must have endured the same kind of sufferings as those who are cast off from God and die eternally are called upon to suffer. (Hodge, Charles. “Systematic Theology.” Vol. 2, Part 3, Ch 6, Sec 3)

John MacArthur: To [Jesus] was imputed the guilt of their sins, and He was suffering the punishment for those sins on their behalf. And the very essence of that punishment was the outpouring of God’s wrath against sinners. In some mysterious way during those awful hours on the cross, the Father poured out the full measure of His wrath against sin, and the recipient of that wrath was God’s own beloved Son. In this lies the true meaning of the cross. (MacArthur, John. “The Murder of Jesus.” Pg. 219)

R.C. Sproul: What prevents us from seeing God is our heart. Our impurity. But Jesus had no impurity. And Thomas said He was pure in heart. So obviously He had some, some experience of the beauty of the Father. Until that moment that my sin was placed upon Him. And the one who was pure was pure no more. And God cursed Him. It was if there was a cry from Heaven – excuse my language but I can be no more accurate than to say – it was as if Jesus heard the words ‘God damn you’, because that’s what it meant to be cursed, to be damned, to be under the anathema of the Father. As I said I don’t understand that, but I know that it’s true.” (R.C. Sproul. Together for the Gospel. April 17, 2008. Louisville, KY. Session V – The Curse Motif of the Atonement. Minute 55:01)

John Piper: Hell is all about echoing faintly the glory of Calvary. That’s the meaning of hell in this room right now. To help you feel in some emotional measure the magnificence of what Christ did for you when he bore not only your eternal suffering, but millions of people’s eternal suffering when His Father put our curse on Him. What a Saviour is echoed in the flames of hell. So that’s what I mean when I say hell is an echo of the glory of God, and an echo of the Savior’s sufferings, and therefore an echo of the infinite love of God for our souls. (John Piper. Resolved Conference 2008. Session 8 – The Echo and Insufficiency of Hell. Min 40:00)

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Much has been said about St. Matthew’s use of Isaiah, so there is not really any need for me to write up a whole blog post on it. I would like to let those without training in this subject be directed to one of my former profs, Dr. Alan Streett, who does a nice write up on the subject: http://already-not-yet.blogspot.com/2010/12/virgin-birth-and-isaiah-714.html

 

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New Books

Well this has been quite the eventful month: I graduated and now Christmas! Which for me means my Mom and Dad hooked me up on books.

Graduation Books:

Studies in Matthew by Dale Allison

Acts: Anchor Bible Commentary by Joseph A. Fitzmyer

Luke: NICNT by Joel B. Green

Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible by John Walton

Christmas Books:

The Birth of the Messiah by Raymond Brown

The Death of the Messiah vols 1 and 2 by Raymond Brown

Matthew: Sacra Pagina by Daniel J. Harrington

Mark: Sacra Pagina by Donahue and Harrington

Luke: Sacra Pagina by Luke Timothy Johnson

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I attended a beautiful service at the church that I attend, Church of the Incarnation, last night. It was the classic ‘Lessons and Carols’ service that the Church of England began in 1880’s England, yet became famous in 1918 with King’s College, Cambridge.

Honestly, the service was one of the most Christocentric services I have ever been to– Tracing the promise of the Messiah from Eden to His incarnation, through song and sacred scripture. Not only that, but the spirit of the Lord seemed to have been heavy in that place of worship. The choir was breath taking, and I do believe Christ Jesus received our prayers and praise like precious incense unto his nostrils.

The order of the liturgy and more info can be found on the link below. They will have the same service on the 18th at Incarnation, and I do hope you can make it!

http://www.incarnation.org/events/Lessons-Carols

 

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