Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 13

Posted: February 1st, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 13

39.  After the fall the generation of every man was by nature impassioned and preceded by pleasure. From this rule no one was exempt. On the contrary, as if discharging a natural debt, all underwent sufferings and the death that comes from them. None could find the way to freedom, for all were under the tyranny of ill-gotten pleasure, and so subject to justly deserved sufferings and the still more justly deserved death which they engender. Because of this, another kind of suffering and death had to be conceived, first to destroy the ill-gotten pleasure and the justly deserved sufferings consequent on it – sufferings which have pitiably brought about man’s disintegration, since his life originates in the corruption that comes from his generation through pleasure and ends in the corruption that comes through death; and, second, to restore suffering human nature. This other kind of suffering and death was both unjust and undeserved: undeserved because it was in no way generated by preceding pleasure, and unjust because it was not the consequence of any passion-dominated life. This other kind of suffering and death, however, had to be devised so that, intervening between ill-gotten pleasure and justly deserved suffering and death, it could completely abolish the pleasure-provoked origin of human life and its consequent termination in death, and thus free it from the pleasure-pain syndrome. It would then recover its original blessedness, unpolluted by any of the characteristics inherent in beings subject to generation and decay.

That is why the Logos of God, being by nature fully God, became fully man, with a nature constituted like ours of a soul endowed with intellect and a body capable of suffering; only in His case this nature was without sin, because His birth in time from a woman was not preceded by the slightest trace of that pleasure arising from the primal disobedience. In His love He deliberately accepted the painful death which, because of pleasure, terminates human life, so that by suffering unjustly He might abolish the pleasure-provoked and unjust origin by which this life is dominated. For, unlike that of everyone else, the Lord’s death was not the payment of a debt incurred because of pleasure, but was on the contrary a challenge thrown down to pleasure; and so through this death He utterly destroys that justly deserved death which ends human life. For the cause of His being was not the illicit pleasure, justly punished by death, through which death entered into human life.

This is a long and complex text. I’m still wrestling with it myself and though I commend it, I don’t think I have much in the way of reflections to add. I do want to point out that the idea of Jesus’ death as a form of payment is flatly rejected in this text. Instead, his suffering and death are characterized as a challenge thrown down to the pleasure that ruled mankind and through that challenged destroying the death which ends human life. Unlike many ideas and portrayals of Jesus seen and heard today, that’s a God in whom I can believe!


Leo the Great of Rome, Homily 21, On the Nativity

Posted: December 24th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Leo the Great of Rome, Homily 21, On the Nativity

It seemed appropriate to me to share one of the great Nativity homilies on this Christmas Eve. May all who read enter into the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I. All share in the joy of Christmas

Our Savior, dearly-beloved, was born today: let us be glad. For there is no proper place for sadness, when we keep the birthday of the Life, which destroys the fear of mortality and brings to us the joy of promised eternity. No one is kept from sharing in this happiness. There is for all one common measure of joy, because as our Lord the destroyer of sin and death finds none free from charge, so is He come to free us all. Let the saint exult in that he draws near to victory. Let the sinner be glad in that he is invited to pardon. Let the gentile take courage in that he is called to life. For the Son of God in the fullness of time which the inscrutable depth of the Divine counsel has determined, has taken on him the nature of man, thereby to reconcile it to its Author: in order that the inventor of death, the devil, might be conquered through that (nature) which he had conquered. And in this conflict undertaken for us, the fight was fought on great and wondrous principles of fairness; for the Almighty Lord enters the lists with His savage foe not in His own majesty but in our humility, opposing him with the same form and the same nature, which shares indeed our mortality, though it is free from all sin. Truly foreign to this nativity is that which we read of all others, “no one is clean from stain, not even the infant who has lived but one day upon earth” (Job 19.4). Nothing therefore of the lust of the flesh has passed into that peerless nativity, nothing of the law of sin has entered. A royal Virgin of the stem of David is chosen, to be impregnated with the sacred seed and to conceive the Divinely-human offspring in mind first and then in body. And lest in ignorance of the heavenly counsel she should tremble at so strange a result , she learns from converse with the angel that what is to be wrought in her is of the Holy Ghost. Nor does she believe it loss of honor that she is soon to be the Mother of God. For why should she be in despair over the novelty of such conception, to whom the power of the most High has promised to effect it. Her implicit faith is confirmed also by the attestation of a precursory miracle, and Elizabeth receives unexpected fertility: in order that there might be no doubt that He who had given conception to the barren, would give it even to a virgin.

II. The mystery of the Incarnation is a fitting theme for joy both to angels and to men

Therefore the Word of God, Himself God, the Son of God who “in the beginning was with God,” through whom “all things were made” and “without” whom “was nothing made” (John 1.1-3), with the purpose of delivering man from eternal death, became man: so bending Himself to take on Him our humility without decrease in His own majesty, that remaining what He was and assuming what He was not, He might unite the true form of a slave to that form in which He is equal to God the Father, and join both natures together by such a compact that the lower should not be swallowed up in its exaltation nor the higher impaired by its new associate. Without detriment therefore to the properties of either substance which then came together in one person, majesty took on humility, strength weakness, eternity mortality: and for the paying off of the debt, belonging to our condition, inviolable nature was united with possible nature, and true God and true man were combined to form one Lord, so that, as suited the needs of our case, one and the same Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, could both die with the one and rise again with the other.

Rightly therefore did the birth of our Salvation impart no corruption to the Virgin’s purity, because the bearing of the Truth was the keeping of honor. Such then beloved was the nativity which became the Power of God and the Wisdom of God even Christ, whereby He might be one with us in manhood and surpass us in Godhead. For unless He were true God, He would not bring us a remedy, unless He were true Man, He would not give us an example. Therefore the exulting angel’s song when the Lord was born is this, “Glory to God in the Highest,” and their message, “peace on earth to men of good will” (Luke 2.14). For they see that the heavenly Jerusalem is being built up out of all the nations of the world: and over that indescribable work of the Divine love how ought the humbleness of men to rejoice, when the joy of the lofty angels is so great?

III. Christians then must live worthily of Christ their Head

Let us then, dearly beloved, give thanks to God the Father, through His Son, in the Holy Spirit , Who “for His great mercy, wherewith He has loved us,” has had pity on us: and “when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together in Christ” (Ephesians 2.4-5), that we might be in Him a new creation and a new production. Let us put off then the old man with his deeds: and having obtained a share in the birth of Christ let us renounce the works of the flesh. Christian, acknowledge your dignity, and becoming a partner in the Divine nature, refuse to return to the old baseness by degenerate conduct. Remember the Head and the Body of which you are a member. Recollect that you were rescued from the power of darkness and brought out into God’s light and kingdom. By the mystery of Baptism you were made the temple of the Holy Ghost: do not put such a denizen to flight from you by base acts, and subject yourself once more to the devil’s thralldom: because your purchase money is the blood of Christ, because He shall judge you in truth Who ransomed you in mercy, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit reigns for ever and ever. Amen.


Jesus Creed 27 – On the Mountain with Jesus

Posted: October 20th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Jesus Creed 27 – On the Mountain with Jesus

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The reading for this chapter is: Luke 9:28-36.

Why is Jesus transfigured? He needs no experience for assurance in the face of his coming death. So why the transfiguration, complete with Moses (Torah) and Elijah (Prophets) speaking about his coming death?

Jesus is transfigured to reveal to Peter, John, and James life’s deepest mystery.

He is demonstrating what lies beyond that valley of suffering and death.

The Transfiguration is one of those moments when a full disclosure of life’s mystery bursts open, brushes up against us, and reminds us that ‘all is elsewhere.’

What we see in Jesus’ transfiguration is not so much his deity, but the glorification of his humanity — what all humans really and potentially are. C.S. Lewis calls this the ‘weight of glory.’ He reminds us in a long sentence:

‘It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.’

There (Lewis continues), consequently, ‘no ordinary people’ even if our fallen framework for life prohibits us from seeing humans for what they really are.

The Transfiguration is our hope.  As St. Athanasius wrote, “For He was made man that we might be made God.” But it’s also a warning. It is God’s will that we be conformed (and transformed) to the image of his Son. All too often, though, it is our will that we be conformed to the image of death — that we make ourselves into monsters.


On the Incarnation of the Word 56 – When Christ Appears Again

Posted: December 8th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 56 – When Christ Appears Again

This penultimate section looks forward to the “appearing” of Christ in glory.

And you will also learn about His second glorious and truly divine appearing to us, when no longer in lowliness, but in His own glory,—no longer in humble guise, but in His own magnificence,—He is to come, no more to suffer, but thenceforth to render to all the fruit of His own Cross, that is, the resurrection and incorruption; and no longer to be judged, but to judge all, by what each has done in the body, whether good or evil; where there is laid up for the good the kingdom of heaven, but for them that have done evil everlasting fire and outer darkness.

Much of the language commonly used in English discussions of Jesus today implies that he has gone off somewhere away from the world and will one day “come” back to it. That’s a distortion of the language of Scripture. “Ascension” describes royalty coming into their power. And that’s obviously the case with Jesus as he “ascended” to the throne of God to be seated at his right hand. “Clouds” or smoke are the imagery of the presence of God throughout the OT. I think we miss that as well.

But Jesus isn’t somewhere far away. He is with us always. He is our head and is the wellspring of the life of the Church. He is now veiled, and when he “appears” in glory that veil will be dropped and all creation will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord that already fills it. But Jesus is not coming back from some distant place. He is here now. He has already ascended to the power of his kingdom. It’s just a kingdom that operates very differently from any other kingdom we’ve ever encountered.

I also want to point out what Athanasius describes as the fruit of the Cross. (Certainly not the only one as the work of the Cross surpasses our imagination, but the main fruit.) It’s not forgiveness, which it would be if the primary problem was that we had done wrong by violating a law. Nor is it payment for a debt that could not be forgiven (as some put it instead). No, the fruit of the Cross is life. The instrument of death becomes the source of our resurrection and incorruption defeating the power of corruption and death that had before ruled man.

And, as Scripture always says, we will be judged for the works we have done in our body. We are our bodies and the things we do with them matter. Oh, they don’t change God’s attitude toward us. God has made that as clear as it can be made in Jesus of Nazareth. But the things we do in and through our bodies shape who we are as human beings. Are we becoming the sort of people able to experience the fire of God’s love as comfort and warmth? Or are we making ourselves into the sort of people who will experience that love as pain and torment when we can no longer feed the destructive passions we have written into our flesh? Through the grace and power and love of Christ, may it be the former!


On the Incarnation of the Word 44 – Redemption (or Re-Creation) Required More Than Creation

Posted: October 25th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 44 – Redemption (or Re-Creation) Required More Than Creation

This next section of Athanasius’ writing is complicated, but provides a vital component of his defense and explication of the Incarnation. I’ll do what I can to unravel it, but you made need to spend some time meditating on his words more than mine.

Athanasius considers the objection that since the Christian God is held to have created the world from nothing with a word (or Word as the case may be), he should have simply restored it with a command rather than through the messiness of the Incarnation. Athanasius responds that it requires more to cure that which already has existence than to bring it originally from non-existence.

To this objection of theirs a reasonable answer would be: that formerly, nothing being in existence at all, what was needed to make everything was a fiat and the bare will to do so. But when man had once been made, and necessity demanded a cure, not for things that were not, but for things that had come to be, it was naturally consequent that the Physician and Saviour should appear in what had come to be, in order also to cure the things that were. For this cause, then, He has become man, and used His body as a human instrument.

You see immediately that Athanasius primarily links Jesus’ saving work to the healing work of a physician, not in terms of law or judgment. Moreover, it required more to cure than it did to bring man into existence from nothing. I love this summary.

For it was not things without being that needed salvation, so that a bare command should suffice, but man, already in existence, was going to corruption and ruin.

Next comes another turn that bears close consideration.

Now if death were external to the body, it would be proper for life also to have been engendered externally to it. But if death was wound closely to the body and was ruling over it as though united to it, it was required that life also should be wound closely to the body, that so the body, by putting on life in its stead, should cast off corruption.

We’ve seen a lot about death and life in this treatise. Here he is drawing all of that together. Death and corruption had become part of the nature of man. We needed life. God had always been our only source of life and once we had abandoned life, the only way God could bring life to us was to become one of us — to assume our corrupted nature and destroy the death coursing through it.

For this cause the Saviour reasonably put on Him a body, in order that the body, becoming wound closely to the Life, should no longer, as mortal, abide in death, but, as having put on immortality, should thenceforth rise again and remain immortal. For, once it had put on corruption, it could not have risen again unless it had put on life. And death likewise could not, from its very nature, appear, save in the body. Therefore He put on a body, that He might find death in the body, and blot it out. For how could the Lord have been proved at all to be the Life, had He not quickened what was mortal?

Wow. Is that not a God worthy of not just all worship, but all love?

in this very way one may say, with regard to the body and death, that if death had been kept from the body by a mere command on His part, it would none the less have been mortal and corruptible, according to the nature of bodies; but, that this should not be, it put on the incorporeal Word of God, and thus no longer fears either death or corruption, for it has life as a garment, and corruption is done away in it.

All humanity has received life as a garment. It is no longer in the nature of man to die. We were meant to live.


On the Incarnation of the Word 13 – What Was God To Do As We Worshiped Other Gods?

Posted: September 5th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 13 – What Was God To Do As We Worshiped Other Gods?

In this next section, Athanasius explores the question: What was God to do in light pf our worship of gods we had created?

Or what profit to God Who has made them, or what glory to Him could it be, if men, made by Him, do not worship Him, but think that others are their makers? For God thus proves to have made these for others instead of for Himself.

Athanasius once again employs the metaphor of an earthly king.

Once again, a merely human king does not let the lands he has colonized pass to others to serve them, nor go over to other men; but he warns them by letters, and often sends to them by friends, or, if need be, he comes in person, to put them to rebuke in the last resort by his presence, only that they may not serve others and his own work be spent for naught. Shall not God much more spare His own creatures, that they be not led astray from Him and serve things of nought? especially since such going astray proves the cause of their ruin and undoing, and since it was unfitting that they should perish which had once been partakers of God’s image.

Notice how he phrases it not in terms of punishing his creatures (man), but of sparing them. We become like what we worship. And when we worship that which is not God, we begin to reshape ourselves into something less than human.

What then was God to do? or what was to be done save the renewing of that which was in God’s image, so that by it men might once more be able to know Him? But how could this have come to pass save by the presence of the very Image of God, our Lord Jesus Christ? For by men’s means it was impossible, since they are but made after an image; nor by angels either, for not even they are (God’s) images. Whence the Word of God came in His own person, that, as He was the Image of the Father, He might be able to create afresh the man after the image. But, again, it could not else have taken place had not death and corruption been done away. Whence He took, in natural fitness, a mortal body, that while death might in it be once for all done away, men made after His Image might once more be renewed. None other then was sufficient for this need, save the Image of the Father.

This is simply heartbreakingly beautiful. The Word took a mortal body to do away with death and renew his image in man. It was a task no other could accomplish.


On the Incarnation of the Word 10 – Like a King

Posted: September 2nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 10 – Like a King

Athanasius explores Scripture today in which you find what he has taught. But first, he uses a parable of a king to further illustrate the point.

For if a king, having founded a house or city, if it be beset by bandits from the carelessness of its inmates, does not by any means neglect it, but avenges and reclaims it as his own work, having regard not to the carelessness of the inhabitants, but to what beseems himself; much more did God the Word of the all-good Father not neglect the race of men, His work, going to corruption: but, while He blotted out the death which had ensued by the offering of His own body, He corrected their neglect by His own teaching, restoring all that was man’s by His own power.

The Word blotted out death, but he also taught us. His teaching can overcome our neglect and carelessness toward ourselves and creation. His teaching restores to us all that was ours. It is for our good that Jesus instructed us to obey his commands.

Read the full section. I daresay you may encounter some interpretation of Scripture you perhaps have not encountered before. But I’ll close with the following one.

For by the sacrifice of His own body, He both put an end to the law which was against us, and made a new beginning of life for us, by the hope of resurrection which He has given us. For since from man it was that death prevailed over men, for this cause conversely, by the Word of God being made man has come about the destruction of death and the resurrection of life; as the man which bore Christ saith: “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive:” and so forth. For no longer now do we die as subject to condemnation; but as men who rise from the dead we await the general resurrection of all, “which in its own times He shall show,” even God, Who has also wrought it, and bestowed it upon us.