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.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Creation ex-nihilo and an infinite God

I was assisting a fellow teacher by preparing some information on Eriugena and Aquinas for him. As I read about Eriugena, I was struck with a question for which I don't have an answer, and one with which he seemed to struggle. If God is infinite (meaning all that is), then what are we? If we are totally other (as we were created ex nihilo) does that not logically negate God being infinite (because there is something other than Him)? But if we are part of God, does that not mean pantheism?

I've included some selected readings, but, if you have time, it would probably be best to read all of the presented links (they're not too terribly long). I would love to know both your answer to the question and your take on what Eriugena had to say. For the record, many say he advocated pan-en-theism (God IN everything) rather than pantheism (God IS everything).

John Scotus Eriugena was a philosopher and theologian, born in Scotia (now Ireland), who stands outside the mainstream of mediaeval thought. He taught at the Court of Charles I, the Bald, in France, then supported Hincmar in the predestination controversy with his De praedestinatione (851, On Predestination), which the Council of Valence condemned as pultes Scotorum (‘Irishman's porridge’). He also translated into Latin and provided commentaries on the Greek writings of the theologians of the Eastern Church. His major work, De divisione naturae (c.865, On the Division of Nature), tried to fuse Christian and Neoplatonic doctrines, but his work was later condemned for its pantheistic tendencies.

Here is a selection from Irvine's Notes on Eriugena:

Creation is a theophany, but what is the nothing from which it was created, if it is nothing other than God? Since God transcends intellect God is duly nothing, so creation may be considered a divine process from nothing into otherness. God ‘comes to be’ in creation. The term of this process is that God be all in all, a motif Eriugena picks up from I Cor. 15:28.

Eriugena’s account of the God-world relation is ultimately ambiguous. The world is created by God and so is other than God. The world is also eternal, for it is not outside God: its logos and primordial causes are in God, it participates in God, and God participates in it, and it will ultimately be assumed back into God when God will be all in all.

And several selections from the (comprehensive) Stanford Encyclopedia entry on Eriugena:

Attribution of being is subject to the dialectic of affirmation and negation. Eriugena returns in Book Three to give a very complex discussion of the meaning of ‘ex nihilo’ in the concept of creatio ex nihilo, which makes use of some of these modes of being and non-being, and, in general, these modes should be borne in mind when interpreting Eriugena's more overt metaphysical statements. Thus when Eriugena calls God ‘nothing’, he means that God transcends all created being, God is nihil per excellentiam (‘nothingness on account of excellence’) or, as he puts it, nihil per infinitatem (‘nothingness on account of infinity’). Matter, on the other hand, is also called ‘nothing’ but it is ‘nothing through privation’ (nihil per privationem). Similarly, created things are called ‘nothing’ because they do not contain in themselves their principles of subsistence (Eriugena is here repeating St. Augustine's view that the creature, considered apart from God, is mere nothing).

Eriugena conceives of the act of creation as a kind of self manifestation wherein the hidden transcendent God creates himself by manifesting himself in divine outpourings or theophanies (I.446d). He moves from darkness into the light, from self-ignorance into self-knowledge. The divine self-creation or self-manifestation (I.455b) is, at the same time (or rather timelessly), the expression of the Word and hence the creation of all other things, since all things are contained in the Word. The Word enfolds in itself the Ideas or Primary Causes of all things and in that sense all things are always already in God:

...the Creative nature permits nothing outside itself because outside it nothing can be, yet everything which it has created and creates it contains within itself, but in such a way that it itself is other, because it is superessential, than what it creates within itself (Periphyseon, III.675c).

God's transcendent otherness above creatures is precisely that which allows creatures to be within God and yet other than God. Eriugena stresses both the divine transcendence above and immanence in creation. The immanence of God in the world is at the same time the immanence of creatures within God. Creatures however, as fallen, do not yet know that they reside in God. In cosmological terms, however, God and the creature are one and the same:

It follows that we ought not to understand God and the creature as two things distinct from one another, but as one and the same. For both the creature, by subsisting, is in God; and God, by manifesting himself, in a marvelous and ineffable manner creates himself in the creature... (Periphyseon, III.678c).

Elsewhere Eriugena's asserts that God is the ‘essence of all things’ (essentia omnium) and the ‘form of all things’ (forma omnium). In the thirteenth century, expressions such as these led to the accusation of heresy, i.e. that Eriugena is collapsing the difference between God and creation. It must be noted, however, that although Eriugena asserts the identity of God and creation, he explicitly rejects the view that God is the ‘genus’ or ‘whole’ (totum) of which the creatures are ‘species’ or ‘parts’. Only metaphorically (metaforice, translative) can it be said that God is a ‘genus’ or a ‘whole’. Assertions concerning the immanence of God in creation are always balanced in Eriugena's writings by assertions of God's transcendence above all things. God is both ‘form of all things’ and also is without form, formless. Since God cannot be said to be anything, God cannot be simply identified with any or every creature either.

Book Three discusses the nature of created effects and the meaning of ‘creation from nothing’ (creatio ex nihilo). The term ‘nothing’ has two meanings: it can mean ‘nothing through privation’ (nihil per privationem), or ‘nothing on account of excellence’ (nihil per excellentiam). The lowest rung in the hierarchy of being, unformed matter, is ‘almost nothing’ (prope nihil), or ‘nothing through privation’. In contrast, God is non-being through the excellence of His nature which transcends all being. Since there is nothing outside God, ‘creation from nothing’ cannot mean creation from some principle outside God, rather it means: creation out of God's superabundant nothingness. God creates out of himself (a se) and all creation remains within him.

OK, that's enough. Let me know what you think.

A cartoon depicting a supposed exchange between Eriugena and Charles the Bald. The latter, having offended the former, follows by saying, "What is separates a sot from a scot?"

Eriugena replied, "Only a table."

- The Mystery of God in John Scotus Eriugena
- Soliloquy of Eriugena

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

How serious is your Christian Faith?

KABUL, Afghanistan, March 20, 2006 — Despite the overthrow of the fundamentalist Taliban government and the presence of 22,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, a man who converted to Christianity is being prosecuted in Kabul, and a judge said Sunday that if convicted, he faces the death penalty.

Abdul Rahman, who is in his 40s, says he converted to Christianity 16 years ago while working as an aid worker helping Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

Relatives denounced him as a convert during a custody battle over his children, and he was arrested last month. The prosecutor says Rahman was found with a Bible.

Judge Says He Could Escape Punishment If He's Ruled Insane

More at:

Monday, March 13, 2006

From a Lenten Sonnet Cycle

The sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called with a loud voice, “Father into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said, this he breathed his last. The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.”
- Luke 23:45-47.

He was a righteous man, the Son of God:
centurion and evangelist both agree,
for the testimony of the walking dead
and darkened mid-day sky was plain to see.
Yes, God and man were finally reconciled;
the ancient, holy veil was torn in two.
But death was just a consequence of choice,
although he did what he was born to do.
For he alone decided to forfeit
the force that gave his broken body breath.
He could chose to live or not to live—
for my good, and yours, he chose this death.
He paid the price his father could demand;
then said “I commit my spirit to your hands.”

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Life of Christ

Saturday, March 11, 2006

If You Are A Lutheran: 18 Thing You Didn't Know You Believed

by Pastor William Chancellor Weedon

A quia subscription to the Lutheran Confessions is required of all pastors in the confessional Lutheran churches associated, worldwide, with the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Quia means one subscribes to the Lutheran Confessions because they are a faithful exposition of Scripture - every Lutheran likes to think he's a quia. The nasty alternative is quatenus - subscribing insofar as the Confessions agree with Scripture. What follows is a test of your quiatitude.

True or False?
  1. Virginity is a higher gift than marriage.
  2. Mary prays for the Church
  3. Mary is called the most holy virgin
  4. Prayer for the dead is not useless
  5. It would be wicked thing for private absolution to disappear from the church.
  6. The bread in the Lord’s Supper is Christ’s body.
  7. Pastors do not commune those they have not examined and absolved.
  8. Mary is the Mother of God.
  9. Justification can mean “to declare righteous” or “to make righteous” because Scripture speaks both ways.
  10. II Maccabees is Scripture.
  11. In the Eucharist the flesh of Christ given for the life of the world is our food and makes us alive by joining us to Christ.
  12. We should teach people that church rites (made by humans) are to be kept if they can be observed without sin and contribute to peace and good order.
  13. The best way for the Church to be governed is to have one head, Christ, and all the bishops – equal in office – keep diligently together in unity of teaching, faith, sacraments, prayers and works of love.
  14. When the church is deprived of valid judicial process, you can’t remove ungodly teachings and impious forms of worship.
  15. An ordination performed by a pastor in his own church is valid by divine right.
  16. Children should be taught to make the sign of the cross.
  17. The baptized children of God have free will and cooperate with the Holy Spirit.
  18. After Baptism, the inborn corruption is to daily decrease so that we become increasingly gentle, patient, and meek, breaking away from greed, hatred, envy, and pride.
Answer Key

If you got 18 statements as true, congratulations! you really are a quia subscriber to the Lutheran Confessions. You are a Lutheran because you believe that the Lutheran Confessions agree with Scriptures, and not simply insofar as they agree with the Scriptures- one can agree with the Koran insofar as it agrees with the Bible, after all.
  1. Apology XXIII (XI), paragraph 38; Apology XXII:10
  2. Apology XXI (IX), paragraph 27
  3. Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, VIII, paragraph 24
  4. Apology XXIV (XII), paragraph 96
  5. Apology XII:100
  6. SA 3 III:6:1
  7. Apology XXIV:1
  8. Formula of Concord, Epitome VIII:12
  9. Apology, Article IV, par. 71, 72.
  10. Apology XXI (IX), paragraph 9
  11. Apology XXII:10
  12. AC XV:1
  13. SA Part II:4:9
  14. Treatise on the Primacy and Power of the Pope, par. 51
  15. Treatise on the Primacy and Power of the Pope, par. 65
  16. Small Catechism, Morning / Evening Prayers, par, 1, 4
  17. Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, II:67
  18. Large Catechism IV:65-67

Pastor Weedon found, and posted, some other interesting things to add to his infamous "Quia Eye for the Lutheran Guy", what has been titled here "You are a Lutheran...":
  • While good works are not meritorious for forgiveness, grace, or justification, they ARE meritorious for other physical and spiritual rewards in this life and in that which is to come. (See Ap. IV:194)
  • Whoever casts love away will not keep his faith, because he will not keep the Holy Spirit. (See Ap. IV:219)
  • To disparage the mortification of the flesh would be to disparage the outward administration of Christ's rule among men. (See Ap. IV:193)
  • The punishments that chasten us are lightened by our prayers and good works. (See Ap. IV:268)
  • Alms merit many divine blessings, lighten our punishments, and merit a defense for us in the perils of sin and death. (See Ap. IV:278)
  • Among the justified works merit bodily and spiritual rewards through faith and thus there will be distinctions in glory among the saints. (See Ap. IV:355)
  • We are justified so that we might be begin to do good works and to obey the law. (See Ap. IV:348)

Friday, March 10, 2006

Tollhouse Cookies

Edwin, what is your understanding of Purgatory?

Gerontissa (Elder) Gabrielia (1897-1992), also known as Gavrilia, was a 20th century saintly Greek Orthodox nun
The other day a lady asked me what would happen with the 'toll booths' after death. I said to her, " I will tell them the Light of Christ shines to All! You however are in darkness and I don't see you!"
Excerpt from Orthodox Article on what happens after death:
In our tradition, this teaching about the need to be purified to enter into the kingdom got developed into a kind of allegory called the 'tollbooths'. You can read in some of he Christian literature that you have to go through around 20 or 22 tests in order to make it into the kingdom of God. Then I think some weird teachings developed which are not Orthodox and not according to the Scripture, but like every crazy teaching have a kernel of truth. The crazy teachings are that when you die you have to be punished for the things that you do and go through each of these tool-booths in order to get punished by the demons for that particular sin. So you go through the tollbooth of lust to get punished for your lust, you go through the tollbooth of greed to be punished for your greed, you go through the tollbooth of anger to be punished for anger, and so on until you are punished enough and make it.

In the western church, even before the Reformation, there was a teaching that if you pray for these people you can get some of the punishment off. It was called temporal punishment due to your sin and those were called were called indulgences and then you could actually go to church to light a candle, say a prayer or give some money to get the time off from the punishment. This was called the "purgatorium" (or the "purgatory") connected with the doctrine of punishment and inflicted pain that had to be done away with. This is not our Orthodox teaching.

The Orthodox teaching is that we do have to be tested by every possible demon and be victorious over that demon by the grace of God, the intercessions of the Saints, and anything that we can do to open ourselves in faith to God so that we can be delivered. So the truth of the tollbooth myth or allegory is not that the soul will go through some "astral space" getting tempted by demons and getting punished for sin. The right interpretation is that, as taught by many holy fathers such as Sts John Klimacus and Athanasias, death is the moment of truth and every demon is going to try to get you to apostatise, hate God and try to make you cling to corporeal things. They would like to stop you from letting go of everything so that you can only love God and let God save you. So the tests will see if we hang on to our pride, arrogance and so on. These tests you have to pass through are symbolically represented by the tollbooths; you have to be 'tried'.

Then we that the prayer of the Church and the prayer of the Saints do help us to resist the demons and to be faithful and to be faithful and trust God, but this is true at any moment of our life. We pray for one another now, we are prayer for by the Saints now so that we will not succumb to lust, greed, power etc, so that when we die we are ready to float right through and not have to deal with all that at the very end of our life. However, the teaching is this, deal with it we must because we must do the work that Jesus Christ Himself did. Jesus said, "He who believes in Me will do the work that I do". We must conquer the devils like He did. We must resist the temptations like He did. We must destroy death the way that He did. That is what He gives us the power to do through the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Sacraments and the life of the Church.

Faith v. Works

One of the supposed disparities between Protestants and Catholics (and, by extension, Orthodox) is the doctrine of Sola Fide. Protestants have focused on the issue of Faith vs. Works. They recognize the book of James by saying that "works flow from faith", but still make faith, ala Romans, pre-dominant.

I had supposed that both faith and works are two parts of the same coin, which I called "Love." But I wonder if they might not be more correctly subsumed under "Obedience." In order to obey, you have to have faith in the Giver of Orders as well as action, or works. If God tells me to get out of the boat and walk on the water, and I say, "I have faith that I can walk on the water" and don't get out of the boat, I have no works and I'm not obeying. But if I obey, that means I have both faith in the Commander and works in that I'm actually doing what He said. Each is integral and unseperable from the other.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Scripture Readings and Messiah Tunes for Lent


LENT 2006

Ash Wednesday, Mar. 2

Isa. 40:1-3

Comfort ye my people

Thursday. Mar. 3

Isa. 40:4-5

The Lord hath spoken

Friday, Mar. 4

Hag. 2:6-7

I will shake all nations

Saturday, Mar. 5

Mal. 3:1-3

Like a refiner’s fire

First Sunday in Lent, Mar. 6

Isa. 7:14

A Virgin shall conceive

Monday, March 7

Isa. 40:9

Behold your God

Tuesday, March 8

Isa. 60:1-3

Thy light is come

Wednesday, March 9

Isa. 9:2

A great light

Thursday, March 10

Isa. 9:6

A Child is born

Friday, March 11

Luke 2:8-9

Shepherds in the field

Saturday, March 12

Luke 2:10-11

Good tidings, great joy

Second Sunday in Lent, March 13

Luke 2:13-14

Glory to God

Monday, March 14

Zech. 9:9-10

Thy King cometh

Tuesday, March 15

Isa. 35:5-6

Then: healing

Wednesday, March 16

Isa. 40:11

Like a shepherd

Thursday, March 17

Matt. 11:28-29

Come unto him

Friday, March 18

Matt. 11:30

His yoke is easy

Saturday, March 19

John 1:29

Behold the Lamb of God

Third Sunday in Lent, March 20

Isa. 53: 3

He was despised

Monday, March 21

Isa. 50:6

He hid not his face

Tuesday, March 22

Isa. 53:4-5

Surely he hath borne

Wednesday, March 23

Isa. 53:6

Like sheep gone astray

Thursday, March 24

Ps. 22:7-8

He trusted in God

Friday, March 25

Ps. 69:20

None to comfort him

Saturday, March 26

Lam. 1:12

See his sorrow

Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 27

Isa. 53:8

Cut off from the living

Monday, March 28

Ps. 16:10

Thou didst not leave

Tuesday, March 29

Ps. 24: 7-10

Lift up your heads

Wednesday, March 30

Heb. 1:5-6

Let angels worship

Thursday, March 31

Ps. 68:18

Gone up on high

Friday, April 1

Ps. 68:11

The Lord gave the word

Saturday, April 2

Rom. 10:15 & 18

The Gospel

Fifth Sunday in Lent, April 3

Ps. 2:1-3

Why do nations rage?

Monday, April 4

Ps. 2:4

The Lord shall laugh

Tuesday, April 5

Ps. 2:9

Dashed like a vessel

Wednesday, April 6

Rev. 19:6; 11;15; 19:16


Thursday, April 7

Job 19:25-26

My Redeemer liveth

Friday, April 8

1 Cor. 15:20-22

Now is Christ risen

Saturday, April 9

1 Cor. 15:51-52

We shall not all sleep

Palm Sunday, April 10

1 Cor. 15: 52-53

The trumpet

Monday, April 11

1 Cor. 15:54-55

Swallowed up

Tuesday, April 12

1 Cor. 15:55-56

Where is thy sting?

Wednesday, April 13

1 Cor. 15:57

Thanks be to God

Maunday Thursday, April 14

Rom. 8:31, 33-34

Who can be against?

Good Friday, April 15

Rev. 5:12

The Lamb who was slain

Holy Saturday, April 16

Rev. 5:13

Forever and ever

Easter Sunday, April 17

Rev 5:14