As Iron Sharpens Iron

An ongoing and online discussion between: an Orthodox informed Ecumaniac without a denominational home, an ordained Baptist youth pastor with an open mind, a Calvinist worship leader/seminarian with a staggering vocabulary and ability to make a point, and a cradle Catholic with a love/hate relationship to Rome.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Is God Just?

How can you call God just when you read the passage on the wage given to the workers? ‘Friend, I do thee no wrong; I will give unto this last even as unto thee who worked for me from the first hour. Is thine eye evil, because I am good?’ How can a man call God just when he comes across the passage on the prodigal son, who wasted his wealth in riotous living, and yet only for the contrition which he showed, the father ran and fell upon his neck, and gave him authority over all his wealth? None other but His very Son said these things concerning Him lest we doubt it, and thus He bare witness concerning Him. Where, then, is God’s justice, for whilst we were sinners, Christ died for us!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Reason for the Season

The care of the Creator for his creatures is well known to us, and it explains why the Redeemer became incarnate. It was consistent with his love not to leave the human race to go to perdition, from the moment he had constructed the universe and given existence to non-existent beings. The Lord of the world did not consider it right to allow human beings, for love of whom everything had been made, to be besieged by sin and to be sold like slaves to death.

For this reason he assumed human form, hid his invisible nature under visible guise, and kept the visible nature free from the stain of sin. Undoubtedly, it would have been easy for him to save the human race without assuming the garment of the flesh. He could have overthrown the power of death by a simple act of will. He could have made the father of that power, sin, disappear by exiling it from earth in such a way that no trace of it would remain on the earth.

Instead, he chose to demonstrate the holiness of his providential care.

To restore salvation to human beings he did not employ as his servants the angels and archangels, nor cause a piercing voice to resound from heaven. He preferred to build for himself a chamber in the womb of the Virgin and from there to come among us.

For this reason we think of him as man and adore him as God. Begotten of the father from before the beginning of time, he took of the Virgin a visible body. He is the being who is both new and pre-existent.

Theodoret of Cyrrus, The Cure of Pagan Diseases 5th c.

Trinity Shield

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Christmas Hymn

Jesus Christ, radiant center of glory,
image of our God, the invisible Father,
revealer of His eternal designs,
prince of peace;
Father of the world to come.
For our sake he took the likeness of a slave,
becoming flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary,
for our sake, wrapped in swaddling bands
and laid in a manger
adored by the shepherds
and hymned by the angelic powers, who sang:
Glory to God in the heavens
and on earth peace and good to men.
Make us worthy, Lord, to celebrate and to conclude in peace
the feast which magnifies the rising of your light,
by avoiding empty words, working with justice,
fleeing from the passions,
and raising up the spirit above earthly goods.
Bless your Church, formed long ago
to be united with yourself through your life-giving blood.
Come to the aid of your faithful shepherds,
of the priests and the teachers of the Gospel.
Bless your faithful whose only hope is in your mercy;
Christian souls, the sick, those who are tormented in spirit,
and those who have asked us to pray for them.
Have pity, in your infinite clemency, and preserve us
in fitness to receive the future, endless, good things.
We celebrate your glorious Nativity
with the Father who sent you for our redemption,
with the life-giving Spirit,
now and for ever and through all ages. Amen

from an ancient Syriac liturgy

The Christmas Sermon of Pope Leo the Great

Christmas was established on the day of the pagan festival Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (Birthday of the Unconquered Sun) and some seem to have brought elements of sun-worship into Christianity.

Having therefore so confident a hope, dearly beloved, abide firm in the Faith in which you are built: lest that same tempter whose tyranny over you Christ has already destroyed, win you back again with any of his wiles, and mar even the joys of the present festival by his deceitful art, misleading simpler souls with the pestilential notion of some to whom this our solemn feast day seems to derive its honour, not so much from the nativity of Christ as, according to them, from the rising of the new sun!

Such men's hearts are wrapped in total darkness, and have no growing perception of the true Light: for they are still drawn away by the foolish errors of heathendom, and because they cannot lift the eyes of their mind above that which their carnal sight beholds, they pay divine honour to the luminaries that minister to the world. Let not Christian souls entertain any such wicked superstition and portentous lie.

Beyond all measure are things temporal removed from the Eternal, things corporeal from the Incorporeal, things governed from the Governor. For though they possess a wondrous beauty, yet they have no Godhead to be worshipped. That power then, that wisdom, that majesty is to be adored which created the universe out of nothing, and framed by His almighty methods the substance of the earth and sky into what forms and dimensions He willed. Sun, moon, and stars may be most useful to us, most fair to look upon; but only if we render thanks to their Maker for them and worship God who made them, not the creation which does Him service.

Then praise God, dearly beloved, in all His works and judgments. Cherish an undoubting belief in the Virgin's pure conception. Honour the sacred and Divine mystery of man's restoration with holy and sincere service. Embrace Christ born in our flesh, that you may deserve to see Him also as the God of glory reigning in His majesty, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit remains in the unity of the Godhead for ever and ever. Amen.

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Pre-Incarnate Word

Before the Word came into the world
The sages sought Him out in every place.
They saw Him not, but sensed His presence everywhere.
They found Him in living beings, in mountain crags and flowing streams, in seas and winds.
He was not these things,
But He spoke in these things, guiding them.
All things followed His Course.
Therefore the sages called Him also by His other name:
The Way (Tao),
The Course that all things are to follow.

The trees, the birds, the rivers and winds:
These had no choice but to follow the Way.
Man alone is given choice;
Man alone can follow or go his own way.
If he follows the Way, he will suffer with the pain of the world,
But he will find the Original Harmony.
If he follows his own way, he will suffer only with himself,
And within him will be chaos.

On the Virgin

"The Valley and the Spirit do not die, " said the Ancient Sage (Lao Tzu).
"They form what is called the Mystic Mother,
From whose gave somes the Origin of heaven and earth."
And "this gate shall be shut," said the Ancient Prophet (Isaiah).
"It shall not be opened, and no one shall pass through it;
For the Lord shal enter by it."

The Mind spoke, and through His Word
Answered the earth's elemental moan.
Above that roaring cry
He answered with a still, small voice:
I will come. Will you receive me, then?
But no man heard that voice.
Only a small young woman,
Who had lived, unknown, in silence and purity in the Great Temple
Was given to hear it.
And in a still,s mall voice, She gave voice to the whole earth.
She answered for all those beings and created forms who could not speak;
She answered for all the people who could not hear.
And to the question of the Uncreated Mind,
She answered: Yes,
I will receive you.
Be it unto me according to Your Word.

In Her the Way had found the lowest place in the entire earth --
The nadir of the Valley,
The supreme humility, lowliness --
And there He came and made His abode.
He took flesh of Her whom He loved above all others who dwelled on the earth,
Who was meek and humble like Himself.
And lowering Himself, emptying Himself, in His love, to the lowest place,
He became a tiny child within Her, the Mystic Mother.

Because of Her profound and intangible humiliy,
Her gate, opened by no man,
Through which no one had passed through,
Became the gate from which came the Origin of heaven and earth.

Because She had returned to the state of the uncarved block, the pristine simplicity,
She became the "mountain unhewn by the hand of man,"
Whom the Ancient Prophet had foretold.
And the Spirit, the Breath of Heaven,
Rested upon Her, the Valley of humillity, as He had open the first-formed world.

On Jesus

He was condemned as a friend of harlots
And the harlots became virgins.
He was condemned as a friend of thieves
And the thieves restored their stolen goods fourfold.
He was condemned as a friend of poor fishermen
And the poor fishermen caught the universe in their nets.
He was condemned as a friend of outcasts
And the outcasts inherited His Kingdom.

He was condemned, and they were created anew.
He wept over what His creation had made of itself,
And by His tears was it remade,
Restored to its true nature, its primitive origin.
The first creation was of the dust of the ground;
The second, of Water, Spirit and Fire.

More on Jesus

As a man the Way was left alone,
But as the Word He was never alone,
Dwelling eternally with the Mind and the Breath.

He willed to be alone as a man
So that man would no longer be alone.
He willed to stand watch as a man
So that man, who preferred to sleep,
Would at last awaken.

The time has been fulfilled.
The work has been accomplished.
And now the Mind places His beloved Word into their hands.
The darkness has no power of itself
Except it be given it by the Father of the Word, in His own time,
That, out of the most horrible even in history --
The murder of the Creator of Life --
Might come for the the greatest event:
The rising of the Destroyer of Death.

He became an outlaw
In order to restore the law.
He took the sentence of death
In order to abolish the sentence of death.
Those who condemned him according to the law
Were themselves condemned by the law,
For the only law He gave was love,
And that love condemned them.
They were judged by love;
And He Who is Love, and is therefore Judge,
Was judged by them as a transgressor of their transgression.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Hymn by Gregory of Narek, Armenian hymnographer, AD 951-1003

O Sun of justice, blessed ray,
the first source of light;
O ardently Desired, above all else;
joy of the good, vision of fulfilled hope,
praised and heavenly, Christ the Creator;
fill the void of my miserable voice
with your almighty word;
and offer it as a supplication
pleasing to your Father Most High,
for you have come into the world in likeness to me,
subjecting yourself to human suffering,
the heritage of the curse.
O blessing of life, watchful providence
for all, both small and great!
If you accepted to die for me,
you, God and Lord of all,
how much more,
for the sake of the body you assumed, of your nature,
will you pardon the weakness that leads me into danger,
interceding for me, a sinner,
with the Father whose glory you share.

Hymn of Praise on Mary's Conception

O Most-glorious God, wonderful and marvelous,
Kind and merciful toward all creation,
The proud dost Thou overturn, the humble dost Thou raise;
Thou Who dost extinguish, Thou Who makest to live,
According to Thy plan, O Creator, Thou canst do all,
According to Thy plan, eternal and divine.
With Thy blessing, the fertile earth brings forth fruit;
By Thy holy word, Thou settest a seal upon the barren.
From one who gives birth, Thou canst take away,
And for the barren one, Thou canst bring forth good fruit.
Thou madest fertile the barren Anna;
Thou didst grant her a holy and noble daughter.
That which was the subject of mockery, Thou didst crown with glory;
The dream of a childless woman Thou didst openly surpass.
The aged woman prayed; her prayer Thou didst accept.
The seal of barrenness Thou didst remove from her body;
Her dead body Thou didst fill with life;
Thou gavest her a Virgin, wondrous in beauty,
And a daughter was born, the Most-holy Virgin,
A Daughter, a Mother, and the Mother of God!
According to Thy plan, O Creator, Thou canst do all,
According to Thy plan, eternal and divine.

The Trinity and the Tao

The triangle is the first full form.
The Three is the principle of Order.
The Order that must exist before the multiplicity of things.
Therefore, the Ancient Sage (Lao Tzu) said:
"The Three produces all things."
The Three acting as One,
One not acting without the Others.

The Triad contains itself in perfection,
For it is the first that surpasses the dyad.
It lies beyond the duality of matter,
Of subject and object,
Of self and other.

The Triad is beyond the distinction of the one and the many;
Its perfection goes beyond the multiplicity of which duality is the root.
Two is the number the separates.
Three the number that transcends all separation.
The one and the many find themselves fathered together in the Three,
For the Triad, being many, is also a Unity:
Not a unity of self-absorption, but of love.

For the Three have on nature, one will, one power, one operation.
As One, They do not blend, or become confused,
But They cleave to each other, having their being in each other.
This is the perfect love, the original unity, the original harmony, the final mystery
To which no human thought has ever succeeded in rising.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Thought and Deed

The Word is begotten of the Mind,
The Breath proceeds from the Mind,
Yet there was never a time when the Mind existed withou the Word and Breath.
They dwelt in the Darkness that was before darkness, outside time,
Yet They made all things within time,
For time and darkness came into being only when the movement and light were made.

By Thinking which is beyond thought, the Primal Essence creates.
The Word brings forth and fulfills the command of the Mind,
The Breath accomplishes and perfects,
And with these two hands of the Mind,
Thought becomes deed.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Is there something for the four of us to learn here?

The Theological Oration of John Scotus Eriugena to the Council of Bishops gathered in Rheims in the Year of Our Lord 843 by Archbishop Hincmar, of the same:

You call the Greeks ignorant, and me a stupid Irishman! You say that because I studied in Byzantium I have no education, letters, dialectic, logic! As if you pompous Franks had a monopoly on them or even knew what they really are, or are really for! Pah!

If your please, Your Eminence, Reverend Bishops, come away with me and I will show you a strange thing: four zealous monks of righteous Corbie who, after their office hours of prayer, spend their quiet minutes filling the air with long and tiresome disputation on the Mass, of the Body and Blood thus debated:

"It's real, therefore a symbol," says Radbertus; true enough, no argument there, but then "If a symbol, not real," replies Ratramnus.

And again, these same four monks, with ridiculous presumption, spend their hours filling the air with noxious winds about divine predestination!

Permit me, please, Your Eminence, to summarize the malodorous essence of that debate:

"If predestined by God, not free as men," say Gottschalck and Ratramnus; "If free as men, not predestined by God," respond Radbertus and Rabanus.

My lord bishops, I perceive that between them both, and between them all -- symbol and reality, providence and liberty, the positions of these four monks of righteous Corbie -- some opposition there must needs be. But is this so? Are all distinctions oppositions? Let us grant their proposition and suppose, my lords, that they are correct in this, their ubiquitous methodological assumption.

Suppose you tell us, you four "theologians," where, in all your tomes and dialectic, do you place Christ? At the beginning, middle, or end?

Is He your presupposition? No? Then you confess another Word of truth.

Is He your method? No? Then you confess another Way.

Is He your conclusion? No? Then you live another Life.

And if you do none of these things, are you theologians, or philosophers? Why do you not use the dogmas of the Church to think through your non-problems? Would you have it that He is either predestined and therefore truly man, or absolutely free to choose, and therefore truly God? But our dogma says that He is fully and perfectly both, and that both the deity and manhood exchange their properties by dint of the Person, without opposition, without confusion, and in the unity of both natures in one Person he is both truly electing and elected. Thus, are you not revealed as having all this time made much ado and argument and disputation about nothing, about abstractions, divorced from the Person of our confession?

Exhibit "A", my right noble lords and reverend fathers in God: their sulking silence! You four talk as if only God the Father predestines! Why don't you mention the Son and the Spirit?

Exhibit "B", my right noble lords and reverend fathers in God: their sulking silence! Silence! In all their learned tomes and debates and dialectics! Not a word about Christ or the Trinity, until after the general philosophical principles are established!

Now, you four, consider this, and pay close attention, because it is trrrricky Greek theology: If God the Father predestined only a few eternally, then God the Son died only for the elect, thus there are some men who, not rising again in Christ, the Second Adam, will not inherit anything from the First Adam. Not inheriting our common corruption and death, from our common father, they will therefore have no need of Christ and His Resurrection.

And that, of course, my noble lords, is not only ridiculous, but the Pelagian heresy, which denied that men inherit anything from Adam.

Therefore, heap up all the quotations of Augustine you wish, you four, and find in them an answer that satisfies not only my mind but my soul, and I shall then embrace your Augustinism and its filioque and all its "mysterious predestination to damnation for the greater glory of God." But until you do, I, for my part, will follow the Sublime Orient and Her Orthodoxy.

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Gospel in 12 Words

If you were asked to present the gospel in 12 words, what would it look like? Here's my submission:

Incarnation: Virgin's womb,
Crucifixtion: Cross's wood,
Resurrection: Empty tomb,
Eucharist, Emmanuel, Marathatha.