Fully Human

A friend reminded me today of this important aspect of theology. Fourth century theologian Gregory of Nazianzus said, “What has not been assumed is not healed.”

Christ has a human mind, a human body, and a human will. He is like us in every respect, except without sin. If this is not true, if he does not have a human body, then our bodies are not saved; if he does not have a human mind, then our minds are still fallen, if he does not have a human will, then our wills are left without hope of deliverance. In other words, if Christ is not fully human, in every way like us, then we are still in our sins.

Something to remember.

(HT Tomás O’Sullivan)

Teaching at Covenant Seminary in Fall 2013

To our Congregation (and other interested parties):

I’m writing to let you all know that I have received an amazing opportunity to teach the Ancient and Medieval Church History course at Covenant Seminary this fall. Just to alleviate any concern right off the bat, this is a part-time adjunct appointment which does not signal the change (or any intention to change) of my role at Christ Our King.

This course is a part of the core curriculum for all those training for the pastorate at Covenant Seminary. The subject is right in the area of my PhD work (I majored in Medieval and minored in Ancient). This is a wonderful opportunity for my career, as I seek to develop my involvement in academics, and also, I believe, for our church.

The course meets twice a week (Tues/Thurs) at 8:30AM, so I will have to travel to St. Louis two mornings a week. This amounts to a full day’s work per week. This will not affect any of the commitments I currently have in weekly church events, which for now happen on Wednesday or Sunday. The seminary is providing a teaching assistant to help lessen the work of grading (this is a huge blessing!).

While we are on this topic, let me take a moment to describe how I see myself pursuing the academic side of my ministry so as to hopefully alleviate any potential concerns. I feel strongly called to be a pastor-scholar. This means that I really enjoy and feel called to the pastorate. I enjoy being your pastor. I’m not looking at the pastorate as a stepping stone to an academic career. Yet, at the same time, I have gifts and a calling to the academic side of ministry as well. I am seeking to find the balance of old struck by pillars such as Augustine and Ambrose who were both pastors and scholars to the great benefit of their own congregations and the church at large. This is not to say that I think of myself on their level (how ludicrous would that be?), but that I look to them as a model for ministry.

So, to be clear, this does not in any way signal that my real desire is to be a professor and that this is just the first step back into that world. No, I want to be a pastor-scholar, and what this signals is that I am seeking to be faithful to the gifts God has given me and with the education I have been given, both in the pastorate and in the academic world.

Please give thanks with me for this wonderful opportunity, and pray for me as I seek to balance my life between these two pursuits this fall.

Knox on Baptism

We utterly condemn the vanity of those who affirm the sacraments to be nothing else than naked and bare signs. No, we assuredly believe that by Baptism we are engrafted into Christ Jesus, to be made partakers of his righteousness, by which our sins are covered and remitted, and also that in the Supper rightly used, Christ Jesus is so joined with us that he becomes the very nourishment and food for our souls.

-John Knox, The Scots Confession, 1560

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scots_Confession

“Easter” is not a bad word

It is once again the time of year that folks begin to ramp up for Easter. Easter bunnies, Easter egg hunts, and other various trappings are beginning to be ubiquitous. Now, I will be the first to recognize that the secular (and especially corporate) focus on fluffy bunnies, eggs, and the like is an attempt to sterilize the explicit Christian content of Easter, specifically that of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Yet, I would also argue that Christians who wish to push back against that sterilized (if not secularized) view should not abandon these traditional symbols of Easter, but should fully embrace them and refill them with their Christian meaning.

The same can be said of Christmas. The traditional symbols of Christmas- St. Nick, trees, gifts, feasts- may have been sterilized, secularized, commercialized, and paganized, but that does not change the fact that St. Nick is a real Christian saint, that the Wise Men really offered gifts to the baby Jesus, and that trees and feasts also have their origin in biblical theology. No more should we as Christians abandon these symbols of Christmas than we should abandon the traditional symbols of Easter.

Yet, while I have asserted that the traditional symbols for Easter, including the word “Easter” itself, are Christian in origin, I have not yet substantiated that claim. What is my claim exactly? Well you may have heard that the word “Easter” is of German pagan origin. As a result we Christians sometimes get a little uneasy about using that word. In this post I set out to argue that the word “Easter” is not of pagan origins, and that the word “Easter” itself is actually a Christian metonym for the word “resurrection.”

What is a metonym exactly?  A metonym is a word-symbol that represents another more abstract word that can be used in place of that word. For example, a scepter is something that a king or queen might hold as a symbol of their authority. Yet the word “scepter” itself can be used as a metonym for the word “authority.” In other words “holding the scepter,” can mean “possessing authority.” This is like when Jacob prophesies that the scepter will not pass from the hand of Judah in Genesis 49. There, the word “scepter” is a metonym for kingship or rule. Another way to think of it is that a metonym is a metaphorical or symbolical kind of synonym.

So the word “Easter” is a metonym for “resurrection.” Now, where do I get that? Well, from none other than the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), widely considered to be the definitive record of the English language. Now, as far as lexicographical philosophies go, the OED is descriptive and not prescriptive. In other words, what  the OED sets out to do, in an academically rigorous fashion, is to describe the various usages of a word throughout the history of the English language. This is opposed to prescriptive lexicography, which is the notion that a dictionary should impose its view of language on others. As opposed to stating how a word should be used, rather, descriptive lexicography presents how words have been used already.

Now where I find the OED supremely helpful is in its record of word origins and etymologies. If we look to the entry for “Easter,” what we find in the etymological section is that the word is not of pagan German origin, but of Greek origin. What we find is that far back into our linguistic heritage (that would be the Indo-European family of languages) the word “east” has been a metonym for the rising of the Sun or the coming of the dawn. Thus the Old Dutch ōster, the Old Saxon ōstarthe Middle Low German ōsteren, or the Northumbrian Eostre, never found their origins in any pagan festival, but in the fact that the Sun rises in the East (der Osten is German for “the East”). Thus East(er) means dawn, or the rising of the Sun. This word “Easter” became associated metonymically with the vernal equinox in Germanic lands, and subsequently after their acceptance of Christ, the same word became metonymically associated with the Christian festival of the resurrection of our Lord.

Now the fact that Jesus rose from the dead at or near the vernal equinox is no coincidence. The vernal equinox has always been associated as the creation of the world (in the Hebrew conception), and Jesus is considered to have both been conceived and to have died at or near the vernal equinox, coinciding with the creation of the world and the Hebrew deliverance from Egypt (this is why the Introit for Easter Sunday is the Song of Moses from Exodus 15). Thus a new world comes into being through the resurrection of Christ at the same time of year that the world itself is growing in light (in the Northern Hemisphere) and at the exact point when that light begins to over take the darkness (which by the way is why Easter can never be before the vernal equinox, before the point of the year when light overtakes darkness).

Now, reader, you may also note that only German and English speakers call Easter “Easter,” while the rest of the world calls the festival “Pascha,” which is Greek for “the Passover.” Well let us ponder this for a moment. Germans and English live in much more Northern latitudes than do Greeks or Latins. Do you think that perhaps in the German mind, where the darkness of winter is so much more pronounced than in more southerly latitudes, the coming of the spring might so much more be associated with the resurrection of our Lord? In the most Northern parts of Europe, darkness nearly overtakes the day completely in the depths of winter. Easter then is the day when light finally has defeated the dark. For Greeks and Latins this astronomical reality is not so much of a big deal because they never experienced the disparity between light and dark during winter to the degree that the Germans did.

So, where did this misconception about Easter being pagan come from? The fact of the matter is that there is only one source in existence that claims that the word has such an origin. Now that this source is quite venerable (literally, in fact) explains the stubbornness of this myth. Sadly, it comes from one of my heroes of the faith, the Venerable Bede, the Northumbrian Saint, who while otherwise a very respectable scholar and theologian mentions in one place while talking about the origin of their word for the month April that the word Eostre comes from the celebration of a pagan godess. While Bede is quite the authority on most matters, there is no other source to collaborate this claim, and the OED states that this etymological claim is “less likely” (which is academic speak for not holding much water), and that some scholars think that Bede may have made the whole thing up (for what reason we cannot guess).

If we think about this logically we may suppose that there may have been a pagan feast for the coming of spring, and if so why wouldn’t there have been? Wouldn’t you celebrate the ending of the long dark winter if you lived in Northern Europe? Yet, the word Easter is not pagan in origin, but an ancient way of referring to the rising of the Sun and the coming of spring.

Besides, feasting is biblical in origin, so it is ever as much likely that the pagans started having a springtime feast in response to the Christian festival of the resurrection of our Lord.

So, don’t be afraid of the word Easter. Gladly and loudly go about wishing everyone a “Happy Easter!” this Sunday without reservation. Because Easter is not a bad word.

The History of Lenten Fasting

Facebook lent meme

This is part two of a series. Read part one here. Part three, here.

In my previous post I argued that a 40 day preparatory period leading up to Easter is a very ancient Christian practice, as old as the Nicene Creed or the first complete articulation of the New Testament canon (4th c.). I also argued that fasting has always been a part of the Christian Church’s preparation for Easter, going at least as far back as the early third century. To make this argument I referenced several primary sources, including one well respected Christian Father, St. Athanasius of Alexandria.

The primary question that arises out of that post is, “What kind of fasting was involved in those early days?” and a consequent question is, “How should I fast during Lent?” This post is an attempt to begin to answer both of those questions.

The short answer is that these early sources do not tell us much about exactly how the fast was kept. In his second festal letter of 330 AD, St. Athanasius’ does not give any directions as to what is to be fasted from or how the fast is to be kept, only that it be kept. The reason for this seems to be that there was a great deal of local control over the nature of the fast, and that it was up to the local pastor (bishop) to set the parameters according to his own cultural situation and pastoral wisdom. Thomas J. Talley, in his book The Origins of the Liturgical Year, presents evidence that early Lenten fasting practices varied widely. By this he means that there was variation both in the number of actual fast days (for there was never a continuous 40 day fast. Sundays were always exempted and Saturdays were also in most places) and in the manner of fasting.

It seems clear that the most arduous form of fasting would be abstinence from all meat and dairy. Additionally, from the sixth century we find that monks were allowed to eat one meal a day during the fast. What this says about the laity and their practices is unclear, but it seems likely that their fast would have been less arduous. In addition there were periods of Lent were a less arduous fast was prescribed: some allowing for the eating of diary products and eggs for a portion of the fast.

Talley concludes at the end of the book that though the bulk of our detail concerning Lenten fasting comes from monastic sources, the laity still participated in the observance of Lent in some way. For the laity, Lent was primarily about penitence, a season to especially be mindful of and to repent of one’s sins. What fasting the laity observed is not clear, though it seems, as I mentioned above, that it was locally prescribed by local pastors and bishops, and that it must have been less arduous than that which was prescribed for monks.

Later in Church history Lenten practices become a bit clearer and more uniform. The practice that came into being was to take one meal a day during Lent, abstaining from meat, milk, and eggs (excluding Sundays). Yet how late this general practice came to be is not clear. As I mentioned above, most of the information we have is from monastic sources. Furthermore there were many local dispensations that kept the actual fasting from being so severe. Additionally, certain trades and people in certain conditions (ill, pregnant, young or old of age) were exempted. The fact of the matter is that with all the dispensations, Lenten fasting has always been something where a general ideal was applied to local and individual circumstances.

So we return to our original question, “What kind of fast was instituted in the early Church?” The answer is that it was locally variable and individually applicable. Pastors worked with the laity to ensure that some appropriate form of fasting or abstinence was taking place. Monks performed the most arduous fasts, but the laity surely did not follow with the same rigor.

This leads us, in closing, to the second question, which is, “How then should I fast?” The answer is that this is something best left up to individual pastors and churches to decide. Even in the Presbyterian tradition, the elders of the church have the authority to call a fast. The Westminster Confession of Faith 21-5 says that “solemn fastings,” are a part of the true religious worship of God. Furthermore, chapter 62 of the PCA’s Book of Church Order provides for individual churches, presbyteries, and the entire denomination to call for a fast. That chapter even allows for the church to keep a fast called for by civil authorities if the leaders of the church find it in keeping with the Christian faith. There is certainly nothing keeping any individual church or presbytery from calling a fast for Lent. It would be completely in accord with the constitution of our church.

In conclusion, we know that Lenten fasting is very ancient, and we know that the details of the fast have always (to greater and lesser degrees) been left to local churches. Therefore it seems that it would be good practice for our churches to consider ways in which we might begin incorporating Lenten fasting. This is one way in which we can keep step with the broader church and more fully express our unity with her. I wonder if we might heed the admonition of St. Athanasius, a Father of the Church that we hold in high regard:

Persuade them to fast; to the end that we who are in Egypt should not become a laughing-stock, as the only people who do not fast, but take our pleasure in these days.

We in Reformed circles are reticent to fast because we see it as a medieval catholic practice. Yet the historical sources show us that it is far more ancient. These same sources also show that local churches have always had the ability to set the parameters of the fast.

Therefore, let us keep the fast in order that we may keep the feast!

This is part two of a series. Read part one here. Part three, here.

Nourishment for the Lenten Journey

But those who are in his body appropriately eat the body, in order that while he is on the journey, through the body of Christ alone he might be refreshed by his flesh and learn not to hunger for anything but Christ, to thirst for nothing but Christ, to taste nothing but Christ, to live by none other, nor to be anything other than the body of Christ.

-St. Paschasius Radbertus, 831 AD

On the Origins of Lent

This is part one of a series. Part two can be read here. Part three, here.

As I sit down to write this post, it is Tuesday, February 19, 2013, otherwise known as the seventh day of Lent. Every year around this time several blog posts are trotted out for or against observing Lent and arguing for or against various Lenten practices. I believe these kinds of discussions are good and helpful, especially within the neighborhood of Christendom where I reside: the broader Reformed and post-Evangelical world. The reason is that we, if I may lump us together, have been recently rediscovering many of the older practices of the church. Along with that we are also trying to keep our Protestant and Reformed bona fides by discussing which ancient practices of the Church ought to be retained and the way in which we ought to retain them.

This post is a part of that ongoing discussion. In it I want to put forth a certain argument for the practice of Lent by way of exploring its history. As I am a credentialed historical theologian, this is both my specialty and my passion. Therefore in this post I would like to explore the content of one meta-question: What are the historical origins of Lent – how far back does the observance of Lent go, and what, if anything, can we say about ancient Lenten practices?

This question is important, because the common perception is that Lent is some kind of medieval catholic practice. Now, as a medievalist myself, if it were a medieval development that would not necessarily disqualify it in my book. Yet as we look at the primary sources what we find is that the season of Lent has very ancient origins in the Christian church, almost as ancient as the origins of the church itself and her New Testament scriptures.

While this may seem like a fantastic claim, I am confident it can be substantiated. Let me begin with one prominent example. St. Athanasius (c. 297-373 AD) is an early church father who is held in high regard by all Christians, including Protestants. There are two main reasons for this respect. First of all, Athanasius is considered to be the champion of Nicene orthodoxy against the early heresy of Arianism, which taught that Jesus was not God but the highest of all created beings. Athanasius was present at the Council of Nicaea (from which we have been bequeathed the ancient and venerable Nicene Creed), and he continued to fight for the orthodox view of the Trinity and the deity of Christ throughout his life, suffering much on account of the faith including two separate exiles from his pastoral see.

The second reason Protestants revere Athanasius is because of his famous 39th Festal Letter written to his parishioners in Alexandria in the year 367. Now, this letter is precious to Protestants, and especially ones of Reformed persuasion, because in this letter is the first articulation of the entire New Testament canon that we now possess. For this reason, Athanasius is known to some as the Father of the Biblical Canon.

Now, what may interest you, dear reader, is that in his 2nd Festal Letter some 37 years before, in the year 330 AD, Athanasius wrote this to his flock:

We begin the fast of forty days on the 13th of the month Phamenoth (Mar. 9). After we have given ourselves to fasting in continued succession, let us begin the holy Paschal week on the 18th of the month Pharmuthi (April 13). Then resting on the 23rd of the same month Pharmuthi (April 18), and keeping the feast afterwards on the first of the week, on the 24th (April 19), let us add to these the seven weeks of the great Pentecost, wholly rejoicing and exulting in Christ Jesus our Lord, through Whom to the Father be glory and dominion in the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever.

Given this evidence, if one was so inclined one might make the argument that the observance of Lent was older than the biblical canon. While I personally would not go so far as to make this particular argument, I would point out that those who lay claim to Athanasius and his Festal letter as proof for the biblical canon might also take a look at an earlier letter of his that shows his support for keeping the 40 day fast of Lent.

I would also make a similar observation to those who hold Athanasius in such high regard due to his championing of Nicene Orthodoxy. We may note that the Council of Nicaea met in the year 325 and that this letter followed only five years later. Again, one could make the argument that the observance of Lent is just as old as Nicene Orthodoxy, but, well, I think you get my point.

While this quotation is a significant piece of historical evidence, we have to be careful not to overstate its reach. Though this quote reveals to us Athanasius’ desire for a 40 day fast preceding Easter we also find from later letters that this was a change of practice in Alexandria that he was attempting to introduce there. Yet from other sources, including his letter to Bishop Serapion, we find that at least by 340 AD the practice was more widespread and that Athanasius likely received it from Rome. So it seems that it is safe to say that the by the early to mid 4th century, the practice of observing a 40 day fast in preparation for Easter was becoming the norm.

Furthermore, I would like to point out that while the Council of Nicaea did not declare a 40 day fast for Lent, it did acknowledge the existence of a 40 day preparatory liturgical season preceding Easter when it declared that local synods should meet twice a year, “One before Lent (Greek: tessarakosta; Latin: quadragesima; literally: 40 days), so that all pettiness being set aside, the gift offered to God may be unblemished,” (Canon 5). This piece of evidence seems significant, because it confirms that Athanasius’ practice was not isolated in 330AD. If the Nicene Fathers referred to Lent in their deliberations, it must have been a pretty widely accepted practice.

While we can trace the observance of a 40 day lent to the mid 4th century, the setting aside of some time of preparation in advance of Easter is still at least one century more ancient. In several sources, including the Didascalia Apostolorum, The Apostolic Tradition, and a Festal Letter by Dionysius of Alexandria, we find that there was a one, two, or six day preparatory fast leading up to Easter, depending on the time and location. This, according to scholar Thomas J. Talley, places the practice of preparatory fasting as early as the first half of the third century (200-250 AD). It seems that this six day preparatory fast has become our modern Holy Week, and that by the 4th century this period was extended to 40 days to symbolize the fasts of Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.

In conclusion, what are we to take away from this historical evidence? I argue that we should take from it that Lent is a very ancient and universal practice of the Christian Church. Evidence for it is as ancient as evidence for the biblical canon and our most important statement of Trinitarian orthodoxy. Nevertheless, I am not arguing that keeping Lent is as important as the canon of the New Testament or the belief in the Trinity, and neither am I arguing that Lent is as old as these things. This is because Athanasius’ 39th Festal letter is not the origin of the biblical canon. This concept existed far before the year 367 and was held, evidently, by the first Christian disciples of the 1st century. Likewise, neither was the Trinity invented at the council of Nicaea. Trinitarian belief was a part of the Christian faith from it’s earliest days after the resurrection of Jesus.

Therefore, while the observance of Lent is not as ancient and venerable as two of the pillars of our faith, the biblical canon and the Nicene Creed, it is regardless a very ancient and very respectable practice, as old as one of the earliest major proponents of these two pillars, Athanasius of Alexandria. 

If you hold St. Athanasius in high regard due to his articulation of the canon and his fight for orthodoxy, consider also hearing his adjuration to keep a Holy Lent:

But I have further deemed it highly necessary and very urgent to make known to you that you should proclaim the fast of forty days to the brethren, and persuade them to fast; to the end that, while all the world is fasting, we who are in Egypt should not become a laughing-stock, as the only people who do not fast, but take our pleasure in those days… But, O, our beloved, whether in this way or any other, exhort and teach them to fast forty days. For it is even a disgrace that when all the world does this, those alone who are in Egypt, instead of fasting, should find their pleasure.

This is part one of a series. Part two can be read here. Part three, here.


Sources: The Origins of the Liturgical Year, by Thomas J. Talley; The Second Festal Letter of Athanasius, accessed here; The 39th Festal Letter of Athanasius, accessed here; Athanasius’ April 340 letter to Serapion found in Les lettres festales de saint Athanase, edited by L. Lefort, pp 654-656; The Canons of the Council of Nicaea, in Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils by Norman P. Tanner.

A Collect for Reformation Sunday

Here is a collect I wrote for Reformation Sunday, which is this Sunday, October 28.

Each year the Reformed Churches solemnize the Sunday closest to October 31 in commemoration of the nailing of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany. I have composed this prayer in a manner that celebrates all reformations throughout all times in every branch of the Church, and prays for the Lord to continue that reform.

Heavenly Father,
You have set Your Son Jesus Christ as Head of the Church and Your Holy Spirit to guide her into all truth.
We give You thanks for our fathers in the faith who reformed Your Church in ages past,
and we pray that You would so guide her so that she is being continually reformed according to Your Word;
We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord;
Amen.

Feel free to reproduce this prayer and use it in your worship and prayers this week.

What is the Catholic Church?

There has been much discussion on the interblags lately concerning Protestant conversions to the Roman Catholic church. This discussion has shown up on my Facebook feed and has raised some questions, so I thought I would write a post in order to address some of those questions. I also thought that I might offer my own perspective on the issue.

There have been several blog posts which have done a good job getting at some of the relevant issues. These can be seen here, here, and here. While these posts are good enough to stand on their own, I want to add a bit to the discussion from my perspective as one holding a PhD in Historical Theology and one who was specifically trained and wrote my dissertation in early medieval ecclesiology.

To my Roman Catholic Friends
First of all I must pay heed to the great elephantoid presence among us and say something to address my friends who are Roman Catholic, many of whom converted to the Roman Church from Protestantism. I realize that seeing a series of articles linked to my Facebook wall and seeing a post like this on my blog may be unsettling or even offensive to some of you. To this I would like to say two things. First of all, this post is not directed to Roman Catholics. My purpose in writing this is not to try to convert anyone, even if I could. This post, as well as the others I have posted are written to Protestants. I realize that some of the arguments we are using may strike a nerve with some of you because they may be addressing some of the issues you faced when you converted, yet this is not my intention. I hope that you will grant an indulgence to us as we have an “in house” discussion. Secondly, I am a Presbyterian for a reason. I have not converted to Roman Catholicism, though I have heard all the arguments for it (over many pints with some of you at mid-town St. Louis pubs). I would hope that you would grant me that latitude to express my Presbyterian distinctives, as I would you if you would express yours.

To the Protestants in the Room
It seems to me that the essence of this discussion boils down to a matter of ecclesiology. What is the nature of the church? Until we have understood and come to terms with a common definition of what the church is, we will not be able to address the issue of conversion to the Roman church. So what is the church? Our Roman Catholic brethren will claim that the church is defined by apostolic succession. What do we Protestants have against the apostles? Well, nothing at all. We all profess that the church is apostolic. The rubber meets the road, however, with how we define apostolic succession. They define it as an uninterrupted succession of bishops who are a part of a physical succession of laying on of hands that goes all the way back to the apostles. Sounds neat doesn’t it? Sounds pretty persuasive.

The only problem is that the bible doesn’t define the true church this way, and neither did the catholic church before the late middle ages. I don’t have a copy of Denzinger on me, but I would guess that, as with most things, the doctrine of apostolic succession as we know it today was not articulated until the Council of Trent. Nevertheless, even the article from the New Catholic Encyclopedia on “apostolic succession” admits that all the churches did not even have bishops until the 2nd or 3rd century, and that in many churches before that time rule was by a college of presbyters, what we today call a presbytery.

Now, this article is not a defense of Presbyterianism, so let’s not get off track. What I’m trying to do is talk about what is apostolic. It seems that before the time of Tertullian and Irenaeus (by the turn of the 3rd century) apostolic succession was held by all ordained pastors, not just the bishops. Clement of Rome in his letter to the church at Corinth espouses such an idea. Later on, it seemed expedient that the bishop become the sole authority and the-buck-stops-here’er with regard to defense of orthodoxy. Now, that is known, as I have argued to my Roman Catholic friends, as changing the rules in the middle of the game. Because if apostolic succession is defined by an unbroken chain of ministers laying hands on ministers going all the way back to the apostles, then we certainly have claim to it.

Yet I’m not even trying to make the claim that Protestants have apostolic succession. At least not yet. My purpose in writing this article is to argue that apostolic succession is not, nor never was intended to be, the marker of unity with the true church. In its inception, apostolic succession was a concept used to defend the true faith against heresy. Yet if you were to ask Tertullian or Irenaeus what the marks of the true church were, they would likely tell you that it was adherence to the orthodox faith and that unity was centered around the sacraments. This may seem like splitting hairs, but it becomes important at the Reformation. The claim of the Reformation is that the Church of Rome had departed from the apostolic faith. So what matters more, adherence to the apostolic faith, or adherence to an artifice that was once helpful in preserving the apostolic faith? No, the definition of the church cannot be changed in the middle of the game. The definition of the church and the symbol of its unity has always been centered around faith in Jesus Christ and the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist, and not on its form of government.

This was how the early medievals viewed the matter. In Western Europe from the 5th-10th centuries, or so, there was an influx of new peoples into the church who were formerly pagan, or Arian, Germanic tribes. Rome was in decline, so Rome could not be depended on for help. The local bishops were largely laymen of aristocratic class who were educated in the palace courts. Who then would lead the charge for evangelism, revival, and church building in this strange new world?

The answer is that it came largely down to monks. Monks who were trained to be local parish pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and apostolic bishops. Yet how did these churchmen, who were seeking to unite the large swath of newly converted Europe into the church of Christ, how did they define the church? Was it the bishops?

No. The early medievals did what they did with almost any theological issue (or any issue at all, for that matter), they went to the bible. And what they found was that the bible defines the church as those who believe in Christ and who are unified by means of the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist. What then was to be the continual driving force of unity in this nascent European civilization? The Eucharist. The Lord’s Table was the place where all men and women came to be united into one body of Christ and one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. This, if you are interested, was also the view of St. Augustine.

[Addendum: It is interesting to note that before the separation from the East and the West and before the separation of the Reformation, the church was defined around the Lord’s Table. It was only after these splits that other definitions were sought]

So what does this mean for me if I am considering the Roman Church? It means that if you are looking for the Catholic Church you may find it right where you are. The Catholic Church exists wherever the apostolic faith is professed, and the table of the Lord is held open to all baptized disciples of Jesus. If you are looking for something ancient, you will find it there: the table of the Lord was instituted by Christ himself. If you are looking for tradition, you will find it there:St. Paul says that he handed down the tradition of the Eucharist as he received directly from Jesus. If you are looking for unity with the Catholic Church, you will find it there: Sts. Paul and Augustine say that anyone who partakes of the body of Christ becomes and is in union with the body of Christ. If you are looking for salvation, you will find it there: Jesus says in the gospel of John that those who eat his flesh and blood will have eternal life. I love how Peter Leithart recently put it in this blog post: the Eucharist makes the church. That hits the nail on the head. It’s no coincidence that Peter found this insight by reading a book by Cardinal Henri de Lubac where he wrote about the early medievals and their concept of the body of Christ.

So what are you looking for? Are you looking for something ancient, some old traditions, something catholic, something salvific? You can find it at the Eucharist at your own local church.

Are you looking for certainty? Are you looking for an authority that will never be shaken? Well, you will not find it there, but sadly, you may find that you won’t find it in Rome either. The only source of truth we have is the Holy Spirit speaking through the scriptures to his people.  The only certain authority we have is the Lord Jesus Christ who rules over his church. Everything else can and will fail and err.

So put your faith in Christ. And be Catholic just where you are.

The Athanasian Creed

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This Sunday at Christ Our King we will be confessing the Athanasian Creed. It is a very long creed, and because of its length the modern church does not confess it much any more. Yet it seems like a good practice to confess this creed at least once a year, on Trinity Sunday. The reason is that the Athanasian Creed is a more detailed, robust, and instructive statement of both the deity and humanity of Christ and the mystery of the Trinity than the Nicene Creed is. It will be good to stretch our theological muscles in this way.

The Athanasian Creed is named for St. Athanasius, a 4th century theologian and churchman who dillgently defended the orthodox faith concerning the Trinity and the deity of Christ against the rising tide of Arianism. At times it seemed to Athanasius as if he was completely alone in defending the truth. Because of this the slogan, Athanasius contra mundum (Athanasius against the world) became to be associated with him.

Athanasius is also important because his Easter Letter of 367 is the first written witness to the entire New Testament Canon.

But Athanasius did not write the Athanasian Creed.

It was attributed to him and was thought to have been written by him up unto the time of the Reformation. Yet we still refer to the creed as Athanasian because it expresses the ideas that the bishop fought for during his life. The author of this creed is still unknown. It is a Western Creed that has been confessed in the churches going back until at least the sixth century.

We will confess it this Sunday, on the Day of the Holy Trinity, because it contains a robust confession of the doctrine of the Trinity as we profess it in catholic churches. The creed is also very instructive, as it lays out many of the nuances of Trinitarian doctrine. Though it is a very long creed, it will be helpful to at least once a year stretch ourselves to profess the doctrine of the Trinity in this way.

The Athanasian Creed

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith unless any person keeps whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither combining the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Spirit. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Spirit. The Father uncreated; the Son uncreated; and the Holy Spirit uncreated. The Father unlimited; the Son unlimited; and the Holy Spirit unlimited. The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and the Holy Spirit eternal. And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated; nor three infinites, but one uncreated; and one infinite. So likewise the Father is Almighty; the Son Almighty; and the Holy Spirit Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties; but one Almighty. So the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Spirit is God. And yet they are not three Gods; but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord; the Son Lord; and the Holy Spirit Lord. And yet not three Lords; but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by Christian truth; to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord; So are we forbidden by the catholic religion; to say, There are three Gods, or three Lords. The Father is made of none; neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created; but begotten. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten; but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits. And in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal. So that in all things, as aforesaid; the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved, let him thus think of the Trinity.

Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation; that he also believe faithfully the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right Faith is, that we believe and confess; that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; God, of the Essence of the Father; begotten before the worlds; and Man, of the Essence of his Mother, born in the world. Perfect God; and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead; and inferior to the Father as touching his Manhood. Who although he is God and Man; yet he is not two, but one Christ. One; not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh; but by assumption of the Manhood by God. One altogether; not by confusion of Essence; but by unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man; so God and Man is one Christ; Who suffered for our salvation; descended into hell; rose again the third day from the dead. He ascended into heaven, he sits on the right hand of the God the Father Almighty, from whence he will come to judge the quick and the dead. At whose coming all men will rise again with their bodies; And shall give account for their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire. This is the catholic faith; which except a man believe truly and firmly, he cannot be saved.