Who Am I?

Holy. What’s in a word?

Posted: June 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Faith | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

This will be just a short post. It’s primary purpose is to urge anyone reading to go listen to Fr. Thomas Hopko’s podcast, Jesus – The Holy One of God. It’s the most recent one of his Names of Jesus podcast series, all of which are well worth the time it takes to listen to them. Fr. Thomas does a really good job of explaining the way that holy doesn’t describe an ethical or moral system, but rather the way God is wholly (pun intended) separate or apart. He is the uncreated and all else is creature or created.

I’m still really digesting this podcast and will probably listen to it several times, but even on an initial read, I picked up something I had never really heard before. Unlike most languages, including Hebrew and Greek, English has two words that translate the same word. Holy and saint both translate exactly the same word. Obviously there has to be some rhyme and reason surrounding the way interpreters have chosen to use those two English words. I have no particular insight right now into that thought process, but I know it exists and my interest is piqued.

There are a host of other reflections on ‘holy’ in the podcast. That’s just one little tidbit that leaped out at me. I definitely recommend listening to the entire thing at least once.


Fallen

Posted: May 10th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Personal | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

When I heard that Jennifer Knapp was releasing a new CD, I placed an order for it. As part of my order, I got a copy of her EP Evolving. I’ve been enjoying it for several days now. I’ve particularly enjoyed the song Fallen and, as music often does for me, it spurred the reflections that led to this post. I don’t tend to dwell too much on what a particular song or poem might have meant to the artist who wrote it. As a rule, unless they choose to explain it, I tend to assume that most of the guesses I might make are wrong. So when art evokes a reaction from me, I don’t project my response onto the artist. The song itself is hauntingly beautiful. Take a few moments to listen to it. I’ll continue with my thoughts following the song.

I was captivated immediately by the haunting opening (and repeated) chorus of the song.

Even though they say we have fallen
Doesn’t mean that I won’t do it twice
Given every second chance
I’d choose again to be with you tonight

The last line was the first to echo in my mind. I thought of my wife. Perhaps it’s because our 20th anniversary is fast approaching, but I thought of our early passionate intertwining — almost a physical force pushing and pulling us together, even if we seemed at the time to outside eyes the most unlikely of couples. And it has been a tumultuous twenty years with perhaps more challenges than some married couples face. But without hesitation, I would choose every bit of it again. I feel the enduring intensity of the line: I’d choose again to be with you tonight. There is no night where I would ever choose otherwise.

Moreover, that’s not a relative or a hierarchical choice. It’s an all-encompassing, absolute choice. If God demanded that I choose between my wife and him, my choice is clear; I would choose my wife.

However, it seems to me that people frame questions like that poorly. The problem is not fundamentally in how you answer the question even if it does seem to me that any other answer  would be morally questionable.  The deeper problem is that a God who would demand such a choice is simply not worth worshiping. I ask different questions than it seems a lot of modern Christians ask. For instance, here the obvious question to me is more direct; why would anyone choose to worship a God like that?

Sometimes people point to Abraham and Isaac, but if they are trying to prove the above, they miss the whole point of that story. Abraham knew God and knew that he wouldn’t take Isaac. He was so convinced that God was good and faithful that he even believed that God would raise Isaac from the dead if that’s where everything led. Abraham knew and trusted God more and better than I do. And in that trust, we see one of the great foreshadowings of the Resurrection.

We worship a God who loved all human beings to the uttermost, even to death on a cross. It’s other human beings who demand that we choose one love over another, never God. Love is non-hierarchical. I say that because I have heard Christians attempt to teach a hierarchy of love. Love God first. Love your wife second. Love your kids third. And then other loves in various lower hierarchies. Such systems may be many things, but they are not love. People even interpret Jesus’ modified Shema Yisrael as though it was his version of the First and Second Law of Robotics. (If you’re not an Asimov fan and miss the reference, I’m sorry. I’ll pray for you.) No, when Jesus amends the Shema, he is saying this is how you love God. You love your neighbor as yourself. That is what the Incarnation means.

I love my wife with all that I am. I totally love every one of my children — without limit. And I at least desire to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. (I’m less convinced that I actually do love God, because I know how poorly I love other human beings. But I long to love him.) Those statements are not contradictory. Love is at least transfinite if not absolutely infinite. Love doesn’t run out. It’s not a finite resource. In fact, according to 1 John 4:3, love is the essence of the uncreated who fills and sustains all creation. We will find the end of love when we find the end of God.

My take on the questions that seem to plague others thus becomes relatively simple. I am not willing to try to foist on others a God I would never worship myself. For me that’s really the end of the discussion. I will read and study perspectives and interpretations and context simply because I enjoy such intellectual pursuits.  But that’s all they are to me. I’m never confused about that.

But then the middle two lines began bubbling in that sea I call a mind as I started to reflect on the relational experiences and choices of my whole life.

Doesn’t mean that I won’t do it twice
Given every second chance

I have experienced much in my life and I have made many choices. I have experienced pain and trauma both at the hands of others and as a result of my own actions and decisions. I began to reflect on what “every second chance” might mean in the context and setting of my life.

I have many flaws and broken places and I have been prone to making poor choices and decisions over the course of my life. Even so, it’s not hard to pinpoint the single “worst” (whatever that might mean) decision of my life. The particular dark synergy of everything between us in my relationship with my second wife nearly destroyed me. At least, it came closer than anything else I’ve ever experienced — and that’s saying quite a bit. I owe my father, a close friend, and my partner and love for the past twenty-two years all that I am today. I wasn’t easy on any of them, but they still loved me enough to put the shattered pieces back together again.

So, at first glance, that choice and that relationship seems to be one that, given every second chance, I wouldn’t in fact do twice.  But things are never that simple. Without my choice to enter that relationship, I would not have my older son, my other son (in all but blood) who is the same age, my daughter-in-law, or my granddaughter. But the thread runs deeper than that. It’s unlikely, absent that relationship, that I would have moved to Austin or ever started working for my current employer. And not only does that mean I would not have my present career, but more importantly I would not have met the woman who has been my wife, partner, and friend for more than two decades now. And thus I also would not have my younger son, my younger daughter, or the particular friends I have made here over the years.

And that is far too steep a price to pay simply in order to avoid pain, however intense or shattering the suffering might have been.

Our choices and experiences, good and bad, cannot be disentangled. We are not islands. We live in a complex web of relationships and lives. There is no point in our lives where we can separate our experience then from the person we are now. Change the experience and you inevitably change the person. Moreover, you change the entire network of relationships surrounding the person.

I can go farther back in time. My choices and actions that initially led to me becoming a young teen father and husband were certainly less than ideal. (I have to specify ‘young teen’ since I was still a teenager for my second child and marriage.) I certainly made my own later life more painful and more difficult with those choices. Yet, I can’t say I truly regret those choices and actions. If I had been ‘wiser’, not only would my oldest daughter not have been conceived, but I would have likely taken a scholarship to a college somewhere and missed every subsequent relationship in my life.

But I can go farther back into things I experienced growing up, but largely did not choose. I suppose I had an interesting childhood in the same sense as the ancient Chinese curse. But remove those experiences and I would not have become the teen who made the choices that I made. It’s an intricate, yet delicate web of growth, experience, and relationship. And there’s nothing that, even given every second chance, I can honestly say I would remove or change. I regret the places where I hurt people, and there are too many of those. But I don’t really want to go back and change anything. I just want to do better going forward.

I’ve never been a very good fit in the American evangelical culture not just because I’m twice divorced, but because I’ve simply refused to adopt the stereotypical, expected ‘repentant‘ attitude. I may recognize that I’ve made poor choices more than once (not that I needed Christianity to reveal that fact to me), but I’m not ‘sorry‘ about my kids or life and I never will be. I know that a lot of people don’t know how to deal with me because I don’t fit any of their easy boxes. They have various categories for people and I don’t even superficially conform to those categories. Some can drop their neat little divisions and simply accept me for who I am. Others keep their distance instead because I make them uncomfortable. My wife sometimes thinks I don’t see the various reactions. And it is true that I’m less socially aware than many people are. But I’m more aware than I tend to show.

When I read the places in the gospels where Jesus most directly addresses marriage, I always want to note that he is mostly speaking against the way the various Pharisaical camps had used divorce as a weapon to punish and hurt the weak or benefit the powerful. Even so, within that context I don’t disagree that Jesus strongly implies the existence of an ideal against which he is contrasting and judging their abuse. I don’t really argue with that point on which so many seem to focus an inordinate amount of attention. (I will point out that it’s actually a multiplicity of ideals. Jesus and Paul both say, after all, that it’s a higher calling of some to remain unmarried and childless in devotion and service to God. That statement was at least as shocking in their ancient context as it would be to conservative evangelicals today.)

But Jesus embodied a God who has never shied away from the reality of human relationships in favor of some ideal. Even in the foreshadowing of the Old Testament, we see a good God who loves mankind. We see a God who again and again shows up saying, “Well, that’s not what I had in mind for you, but since that’s where you’ve gotten yourself, here’s where we’ll go from here.” The human relationships we form are an inextricable part of our reality. And I don’t think God judges them as incidental, secondary, or occupying some lower rung on a hierarchical ladder of love. I think he honors them for what they are in the midst of all their messiness.

In truth, if we believe Jesus, then love and worship of God cannot be separated from love of other human beings. That is, after all, what Jesus taught when he had the audacity to amend the Shema Yisrael. When I think of God, I always see Jesus sitting at the well with the Samaritan woman telling her, without judgment or condemnation, “You’ve told the truth. You have no husband. You’ve had five husbands and the man you are with now is not your husband.” It’s as if he’s telling her, I see where you are, I’m willing to join you where you are, and we’ll go from there.

Perhaps that story is so poignant to me because it illustrates the point at which I began to truly see the reality of Jesus instead of a caricature. That time came when my wife and I were planning our wedding. For a wide variety of reasons — none having to do with faith — we decided to see if we could get married in a beautiful, nearby Lutheran church. Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect and I’m not sure my wife did either. Neither of us had any connection to any Lutheran church nor were we practicing Christians of any sort. My wife was more or less a lapsed Roman Catholic and I was more anti-Christian than not. (There are a lot of reasons for both and neither are particularly relevant here.)

While I’m not sure what either of us expected, what we encountered was love. I don’t think for a moment that the Lutheran pastor had any illusions about our degree of Christian faith, though he never pressed us on it. And especially given that I had my older five year old son, we were in the middle of a custody case, and my son had already bonded to my then fiance as the mother he had deserved to have, I don’t believe the pastor had any illusions about the platonic nature of our relationship either.

We began to get to know him in pre-marital counseling and though I did not yet know that particular gospel story, I found myself in the place of the Samaritan woman. The pastor didn’t use those words, but it’s as if he said to me, “Yes, you’ve had two wives and the woman you’re with now is not your wife. That’s where you are. Let’s move on from there.” And he didn’t stop with proforma marriage counseling and a wedding. He remained genuinely interested in our lives and struggles. He gave my wife a part-time job at one point that was also flexible enough to meet the demands the custody case placed on us. He needed a secretary and she was available and skilled, but that practical act always meant a lot to me. There had to have been at least some people more devoted to his church to whom he could have given the job.

We were never exactly regular attendees at that church, but we did go more often than we had originally intended. (That’s not saying much since I’m not sure we really intended to attend at all once the wedding was over.) And when our son was born, we had him baptized by that pastor. That Lutheran pastor never really did anything dramatic or showy. But he did live the sort of love we see in the gospels. He chose acceptance over rejection. He chose love over any particular set of rules. And by doing that, he led me to question whether or not I might have been wrong in my judgment of Christians and Christianity. I doubt he had or has any idea of the impact his actions had on me. But the truth is that I’m not sure I see how I would have moved from where I was to anything like Christian faith without his small, but consistent acts of love.

The theological point I take from all of this is that it’s not my job to somehow ‘fix‘ the web of human relationships surrounding and supporting another person. My wife and I have and may again in the future find ourselves in a place where we need to do what we can to help someone who is being abused. So I’m not at all saying that we should stay aloof or apart from others. That’s not love. However, it’s up to God, not us, to ultimately sort things out. Our role is to acknowledge where people are and not turn away from it. Lies flow from darkness, not from the light. We should never pretend that things are other than what they are. But having done so, we are to love. It’s as simple and as difficult as that.

I’m not sure that you can err by loving too much or too freely. But if you can, I would rather err on that side than by not loving enough. I don’t think I’m very good at love, at least not the sort of love that Jesus commands. But if there’s one thing I want to do better, that’s probably it.


Four Hundred Texts on Love 12

Posted: April 27th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

43.  If a man desires something, he makes every effort to attain it. But of all things which are good and desirable the divine is incomparably the best and the most desirable. How assiduous, then, we should be in order to attain what is of its very nature good and desirable.

As something of a competitive overachiever, I like this text. It reveals a simple, yet often overlooked truth.We can reliably gauge how much we want something by how much effort we are willing to expend to gain it. This, of course, is one of the threads behind Jesus’ statement that a man cannot serve two masters.

By this measure, I can ask myself if I want God. And far too often, it seems that my answer is no, or at least not very much. I want to want God. The Christian story has captured my heart and imagination. But I expend tremendous effort in many other areas of life and often have comparatively little left for God.

However, I do have faith that as I keep doing the little things that I can do somewhat consistently, God will take those and build upon them. God gives me grace, which is to say that God gives me himself, so that I might want him more. If I did not believe that, then I suppose I would see this whole Christian thing as fundamentally hopeless.


Four Hundred Texts on Love 10

Posted: April 22nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love 10

38.  If love is long-suffering and kind (cf. 1 Cor. 13:4), a man who is contentious and malicious clearly alienates himself from love. And he who is alienated from love is alienated from God, for God is love.

There are so many things we do by which we alienate ourselves from love. I doubt that most of us, when we do them, deliberately intend to alienate ourselves from God. And yet that is the inevitable result. If we thought before we acted that we would alienate ourselves from God, would we still do it?

This, I think, lies somewhere near the Christian practice of prayer. We believe that prayer is a direct mystical experience of God, whether we feel anything or not. In prayer, we train ourselves to be aware of God. And that is key, for only when we are aware can we choose to turn toward rather than away from God. And thus St. Paul urges us to pray without ceasing, that we not allow a moment to pass unaware of the presence of God.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.


Four Hundred Texts on Love 8

Posted: April 20th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

30. You should know that you have been greatly benefited when you have suffered deeply because of some insult or indignity; for by means of the indignity self-esteem has been driven out of you.

Here we find another distinction in patristic thought that tends to run at a tangent to modern thought. It is true that there is a strong theme that, as icons of God, we should respect our nature. That is, we should have self-respect. The most important theme, though, is that we should try to see ourselves as we really are. And that is hard to do. On the one hand we want to think better of ourselves and thus construct that sort of false image. But the fathers also speak about the dangers of proclaiming how wicked we are, for that also is perversely a path of self-pride, especially when we exaggerate our wickedness.

Within that context, the fathers do not tend to value “self-esteem”. We tend to speak of a high self-esteem as good and a low self-esteem as bad. They would tend to say that there is a problem with esteeming ourselves at all, whether that esteem is high or low. We should esteem God and others highly. And we should strive to see ourselves truthfully.

Truth is hard. We hide ourselves from it because too much at once will crush us. We deceive ourselves as a defense. It is not true, as we often say, that truth — as in true knowledge — will set us free. More often than not, it destroys us. Truth is a harsh taskmistress. We attribute that saying about truth to Jesus, but that’s not actually what he said. Here is John 8:31-32.

If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.  And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

If we live according to the way of life, then we are truly following Jesus. And as we do so, we will come to know the truth and that truth is who will make us free. As Jesus says a few verses later:

Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.

Remember, one of the ways Jesus describes himself in John’s Gospel is as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. As you can see from the full context, when he talks about knowing the truth, he is talking about knowing and relating to him. Yes, as we do so we will come to see the reality about ourselves more clearly, but through our communion with Jesus we will be able to bear it. The knowledge will heal rather than crush us.

He is a good God who loves mankind, and his purpose is to heal and commune with us, not condemn us. I think we too often forget that particular truth and it’s the most important one of all.


Four Hundred Texts on Love 2

Posted: April 8th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

2.  Dispassion engenders love, hope in God engenders dispassion, and patience and forbearance engender hope in God; these in turn are the product of complete self-control, which itself springs from fear of God. Fear of God is the result of faith in God.

This text by St. Maximos revolves another idea we are prone to misunderstand. When we think of someone who is dispassionate, we tend to think of someone who is emotionless — either because they suppress or repress their emotions or because they have none. We most often associate dispassion, then, with the absence of emotion.

But that’s not what it generally means in ancient Christian writings. Since it is used pretty frequently, it’s an important concept to understand. The best explanation I’ve encountered is this one. Dispassion describes a state where, when you experience an emotion, you do not act on that emotion without a conscious act of volition or will. In other words, it describes a state where, rather than being ruled by our passions as we so often are, we rule them instead.

Dispassion does not mean that we do not experience emotion. It does not mean that we do express emotion. It does not mean that we do not act from that emotion. But it does mean that we do not think or act in response to that emotion without a conscious and deliberate choice.

Few of us ever attain this sort of dispassion even fleetingly. But I think it has to describe how Jesus lived his whole life. How else could he have kept his human will faithfully aligned with God’s if his every response was not under his conscious, volitional control? After all, he experienced the full range of human emotion and he often did so under more intense conditions than many of us will ever know. Yet even in the middle of his torture and execution, as he was reviled by all around him, he did not revile them in turn. Clearly, Jesus was a man who never “lost control” of himself.

I think we often interpret Jesus as though his thoughts and actions springing from his emotional responses mirrored our own. For instance, we often describe his actions overturning tables and driving out moneychangers from the temple as though Jesus became enraged and responded from that anger. But that’s not how it is described in the Gospels. Rather, it is portrayed as a prophetic act. Prophets didn’t just speak. They often acted in outrageous ways. And it was a Messianic act of cleansing and “rebuilding” the temple. And the leaders and the people understood it in that way. Efforts to eliminate him intensified.

No, Jesus didn’t fly off the handle and lose control in the temple. He acted faithfully in perfect accordance with God’s will. Was he also angry? Perhaps. It would have been a normal emotional response in those circumstances. But it was not anger that was driving him, whether he experienced it or not.

Off the top of my head, I can only think of one place where our Scriptures explicitly tell us Jesus was angry, and that was standing in front of Lazarus’ tomb. In Jesus we see the sorrow and anger of God at the death of the eikon. We know that Jesus experienced all that we experience, so we know that he felt all our normal range of emotions. But we are infrequently informed in our Scriptures about Jesus’ internal emotional state or experience at any particular moment. And while I see no harm in our attempts to see things from his perspective, we need to always keep in mind that even in his extremity his emotions never ruled him.

I also find the order of St. Maximos’ last thought interesting. Fear of God flows from faith in God and not the other way around. It strikes me that a lot of people today tend to get that one backwards.


Original Sin 14 – The Two Natures of Christ

Posted: March 9th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Original Sin | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Original Sin 14 – The Two Natures of Christ

Whether through the hands of another human being, in the narrative text of the Holy Scriptures, or through some sense of direct connection, it has always been Jesus of Nazareth, called the Christ, who draws me toward Christianity and who keeps me circling in a whirlpool of love with Jesus at its center. But I wasn’t interested in knowing just any Jesus of my imagination (or the imagination of others). I wasn’t interested in buddy Jesus. I’ve always been repelled by white, suburban, American, Republican Jesus. No, I wanted to understand (to the extent possible), learn to worship, and grow in communion with the actual man.

On the one hand this Jesus was a specific historical human being, a seemingly failed revolutionary gruesomely executed by one of the empires most gifted at instilling fear. The Christian scriptures themselves tell us that Jesus was tempted in every way we are tempted, he endured everything that we endure, he is truly one of us. When we turn toward Jesus, we do not find some supernatural, divine avatar who is something other than human. We find a human being in the fullest sense of the word.

And yet … he did not sin.

Sin is a word that is full of modern, often awful, connotations, but the way I have come to understand it is that Jesus did not miss the mark. He remained faithful where we all have been faithless. He lived and died as the true man, the Son of Man, the sum total of all that humanity was meant to be.

And here is where Christianity takes an amazing turn. Death could not contain Jesus. Death thought it had swallowed a man and found it had swallowed God instead. For the one human being, Jesus of Nazareth, was both man and eternal Logos — the Word or Act of God. Everything that could be said of the Father or had ever been said of the Father, could also be said of the Son. Somehow the one who created all things and in whom everything subsists became a part of his creation.

And all humanity is healed in that union. We are no longer in bondage to death. It is no longer the nature of man to die. Moreover, since our nature has been joined to God’s in Christ, we can move out of our bondage to death and sin and into communion with God. We are able to participate in the divine energies of God.

This discussion may not seem directly related to the topic of original sin as inherited guilt. But it seems to me that many people today often have a somewhat truncated vision of Christ. I’m not entirely sure why that’s the case, but if what I’ve described in this post does not lie somewhere near the center of what you consider to be salvation, then you may have only just begun to wrap your head around the immense implications of the Incarnation. I feel this post lays necessary groundwork for the next thing I want to discuss in this series.


The Jesus Prayer, A Journey of Faith 1

Posted: January 2nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Prayer | Tags: , , | 2 Comments »

For me, the Jesus Prayer stands like an icon at the center of my journey into the Christian faith. And yet, it’s an odd icon, for I prayed it for many years before I really understood that it was a distinct prayer tradition of the church. I suppose it’s fitting that what is considered the central work on the Jesus Prayer is itself a story of a journey, The Way of the Pilgrim. I haven’t yet read that spiritual work, but I have a feeling I will empathize with the Pilgrim in his search.

I suppose a bit of background is in order for those who are not familiar with the tradition of the Jesus Prayer. It is drawn, in large part, from the parable in Luke 18, so I believe that’s the best place to start.

9 Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ 13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The point, of course, is as clear as that of any parable. The moment we believe that we are more spiritually accomplished or blessed in any way over anyone else, we stand in the shoes of the Pharisee. We essentially thank God that we are at least not like those others, whoever those others may be. I know that is where I most often find myself. And yet this parable tells us that only when we pray for mercy, acknowledging our own state, can we return to our house that day justified. When we pray exalting ourselves, we might as well not have prayed at all.

The Jesus Prayer is drawn directly from that parable. It doesn’t really have one set form, but its longest form is probably, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, be merciful to me a sinner.” Another common form is, “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me.” Its shortest form is likely, “Lord have mercy.”

That’s probably enough for this first post. I’ll continue with this series when next I write.


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 42 – Union with Man Related to His Union with Creation

Posted: October 18th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 42 – Union with Man Related to His Union with Creation

Athanasius continues his argument against the Greek neo-platonists of his day in this section of his treatise. As I read this section, it struck me again how our situations are largely reversed today from that of Athanasius. Unlike the Jews, the pagan believers had relatively little difficulty with the idea of the Logos or Word as a divine being. Rather, they had a problem with the divine also being truly human. That’s what Athanasius is struggling against in his arguments. They sound a little strange to us, because the “secular” non-believers today have little issue with the reality of Jesus as a man. It’s his divinity that seems impossible to them.

In truth, that attitude and its opposite have both infiltrated the Church today to some extent as well. It’s not hard to find significant segments within Christianity today that on the one hand try to reduce Jesus to nothing but a man and on the other so elevate his divinity that it’s hard to see a real man at all. I appreciate the fictional work Anne Rice has done lately to perhaps heal and restore something of a proper Christian perspective about Jesus.

Let’s look at the heart of Athanasius’ argument in this section.

For just as, while the whole body is quickened and illumined by man, supposing one said it were absurd that man’s power should also be in the toe, he would be thought foolish; because, while granting that he pervades and works in the whole, he demurs to his being in the part also; thus he who grants and believes that the Word of God is in the whole Universe, and that the whole is illumined and moved by Him, should not think it absurd that a single human body also should receive movement and light from Him.

And as Mind, pervading man all through, is interpreted by a part of the body, I mean the tongue, without any one saying, I suppose, that the essence of the mind is on that account lowered, so if the Word, pervading all things, has used a human instrument, this cannot appear unseemly. For, as I have said previously, if it be unseemly to have used a body as an instrument, it is unseemly also for Him to be in the Whole.

In other words, if there’s anything wrong with the Word being fully incarnate within a particular human being, then there’s something wrong with saying the Word suffuses and sustains all of reality. Given the perspective of the platonists of his era, his argument is well-woven, even though it is not strictly the challenge we face today in most quarters.