For the Word of God and God, always and in all things, wills to accomplish the mystery of His embodiment.
St Maximos Confessor
In light of some arguments I have been having (such as here) with fellow Lutherans about synergism and monergism, I found the following observation by the Orthodox priest Fr Stephen Freeman quite remarkable:
... forgiveness, like repentance, is not automatic, or even the sort of thing we can “do,” in and of ourselves.
We may need to forgive someone desperately and yet not find it within ourselves to do so. In the words of Fr. Thomas Hopko, the most we can sometimes do is to “want to want to forgive.”
Neither is repentance a natural given. We are given the call to repentance - but at the heart of its meaning - a “change of the mind (nous)” repentance is no more within our own power than forgiveness. These are outright miracles - the working of grace in our lives.
I don't know, but that sounds like Lutheran-style monergism to me -- just as article II of the Formula of Concord sounds like Orthodox synergism to me.
Read the whole post at Father Stephen's weblog.
As many of my online friends know, and as the epigram under my weblog title indicates, I have a particular devotion to St Maximos Confessor. This brief comment from the Confessor on the Epiphany of our Lord Jesus Christ may give some idea why that is:
Christ our God is born. He who created all things from nothing takes flesh endowed with a human soul and becomes a man. A star from the east, visible by day, guides the wise men to the place where lies the incarnate Word, to show in a mystical way that the word contained in the law and the prophets is superior to the evidence of the senses, and to lead the Gentiles to the full light of knowledge. For clearly, the word of the law and the prophets, rightly understood, is like a star leading those divinely chosen and called by the power of grace to recognize the incarnate Word.
The great mystery of the divine incarnation for ever remains a mystery. How can the person of the Word truly exist in the flesh while at the same time being wholly with the Father? How could he who is wholly divine by nature have become completely human without in any way repudiating either his divine nature in which he subsists as God, or ours in which he was made man? Only faith can grasp these mysteries. Faith is the ground of our confidence concerning things we can neither perceive nor understand.
Hat tip to the Young Fogey.
I should not have believed it, had I not read it with my own eyes: the Good News of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ, proclaimed and published in a daily newspaper:
The glory of God in the flesh has opened the gates of glory to us all, without exception.
Hat tip to James of the Northwest.
My Endlessly Rocking friend Thomas has a post on his weblog this morning asking himself whether he is, any longer, a "conservative". It is a good question, one that I have been pondering, too, after being a "movement conservative" all of my adult life (which is rather a long time, now). But is there really a "conservative movement" anymore? And if not, how is it possible to remain a conservative in the old sense?
Here's a sample of the excellence that has been added to my blogroll. Father Benjamin Harju writes on the relationship among confessional subscription, systematic theology, and the holy liturgy (guess which one wins):
... the Faith doesn't come pre-packaged in anatomy books (i.e. multi-volume dogmatic treatises crisp enough to give you a nose bleed). Our Lord Jesus imparts a revelation that is to be lived (or better put, that lives its own life in you), for the revelation He gives is Life Himself. And this Life - our Heavenly Father through His Son and by His Spirit - isn't received in pieces, but altogether through the sacramental life of the Church.
I've made several changes to the blogroll on this site: a few deletions and a bunch of additions.
I don't like making deletions to the blogroll. Every weblog listed is a site that I find real value in, and I don't want to leave the impression that a site is no longer valuable. There are a few, however, that have either explicitly "closed up shop" or have been dormant for so long that it seems clear that the author has no current intent to maintain it.
Accordingly, I've removed the following weblogs:
(Conspicuous by its absence from this list is "Here We Stand", which has also been explicitly shut down by its author. I don't expect HWS to re-surface anytime soon, but its author has pride of place as the founder of the confessional Lutheran blogosphere. I'm leaving the link up as a mark of respect for that primacy.)
These are stolen shamelessly, but with gratitude, from Fr John Fenton's blogroll. Many of them I've already been reading regularly, but just hadn't gotten around to blogrolling; others are new to me. In any case, they are all excellent.
From The Theology of Confirmation in relation to Baptism by Dom Gregory Dix. Dacre Press, Westminster 1946. (all emphasis in the original):
We know now, too, that the Apostolic paradosis of practice, like the Apostolic paradosis of doctrine, is something which actually ante-dates the writing of the New Testament documents themselves by some two or three decades. It is presupposed by those documents and referred to more than once as authoritative in them. This paradosis of practice continued to develop in complete freedom from any control by those documents for a century after they were written, before they were collected into a New Testament 'Canon' and recognised for the first time as authoritative 'Scripture' beside and above the Jewish 'Scriptures' of the Old Testament, which alone formed the 'Bible' of the Apostolic Church. Now that the history of the Canonisation of the New Testament is better understood, we can begin to shake ourselves free from the sixteenth century -- or rather the mediaeval -- delusion that primitive Christian Worship and Church Order must have been framed in conscious deference to the precedents of a New Testament which as such did not yet exist. The purely occasional documents now found in it do not contain, and were never intended by their authors to contain, anything like the Old Testament codes of prescriptions for the rites of worship. That was governed by the authoritative 'Apostolic Tradition' of practice, to which it is plain that the scattered Gentile Churches adhered pretty rigidly throughout the second century. I am not for a moment seeking to question the authoritative weight of the New Testament Scriptures for us as a written doctrinal standard. I am only trying to point out that there is available another source of information on the original and authentic Apostolic interpretation of Christianity, which the Scriptures presuppose and which must be used in the interpretation of the Scriptures. I do not deny that in time the recognition of this fact will be bound to lead to some considerable readjustment of ideas for more than one set of people. But tonight all I would say is that the liturgical tradition can be shewn to be older in some of its main elements than the New Testament Scriptures, and that down to the end of the second century, at least, it was regarded as having an 'Apostolic' authority of its own independently of them. We cannot look, therefore, for any attempt in this period to conform the practice of worship to them artificially. Nevertheless, the two do illustrate one another in a remarkable way.
I find the principle advanced here by Dix to be both compelling and fraught with implications. Its implications for the way in which most of us understand and apply the principle of Sola Scriptura are, despite Dix's demurral (I am not for a moment seeking to question the authoritative weight of the New Testament Scriptures for us as a written doctrinal standard), nothing short of revolutionary.
There are some topics just about guaranteed to cause a dust-up among Lutherans (try bringing up the Semper Virgo in the Lutheran Confessions, and sit back and watch the sparks fly). The Confessing Evangelical brought up one of these the other day: the age of confirmation and first communion. I made a series of longish comments on that thread and John H suggested that I "wump them up" into a post of their own here at All The Fulness. So here it is -- all "wumped up" with no place to go.
Confirmation and first communion is a very confusing, and confused, area in Lutheran (and Western, generally) theology and practice. It has to be admitted that Lutheran practice has been inconsistent, and the theological basis for that practice has never been articulated well.
First, about confirmation ...
James of the Northwest blogs on Hb 2.14-15 -- a passage he had no particular awareness of as a conservative Protestant, but which now resonates very strongly with him.
I, too, was blown away by this passage a while back, when I happened upon it in the pew Bible at Church. Our pastor had asked us to open to that page to consider a nearby verse (Hb. 2.18: because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted, if I recall correctly); and as I often do, I skimmed the rest of the chapter to try to see the verse in context. When I did, I read this:
Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
James was struck by the Paschal character of the passage (and indeed, it is reminiscent of the Paschal troparion in the Byzantine liturgy: Christ is risen from the dead, death by death destroying ..); but I was struck by its implications for the doctrine of original sin, in particular for our understanding of how original sin is transmitted to us.
They say that "Scripture interprets Scripture" (a principle I do not find very helpful, for how do we know which verses must be interpreted, and which other verses are the key for interpretation?). But let us try it. Does Hb. 2.15 help us understand Ro 5.12?
Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned
The last phrase of Ro 5.12 is εφ ω παντες ημαρτον, literally "upon which all have sinned". So, what noun does the relative pronoun "which" refer to? The pronoun is masculine (or neuter) singular, so the candidates are "one man" (that is, Adam), or "death". Those are the only masculine nouns available in the sentence. If we ask the question "why do we all sin?", most Christians would probably say "because Adam sinned, and we are his descendants". This is to read εφ ω παντες ημαρτον as "in Adam all have sinned". But Hb 2.15 would encourage us to read εφ ω παντες ημαρτον as "because of death all have sinned". Because we are in bondage to the devil -- a bondage which he maintains by the power that the fear of death has over us -- we cannot do other than sin. That's a rather different picture of original sin than the customary "sinfulness by inheritance".
So which is it?