RSS

Category Archives: Early Church

Anglicans and Lutherans

Anglican_LutheranAn interesting article about two of my favorite “families” in Christianity.

Confessional Lutherans & Anglicans Draw Closer Together

As I have sought out denominational families to which I could be tethered in a wholehearted and fulfilling way, these have been the two that emerge.

– EO

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

The Past of Our Future

Read Amos 9:8b-15

HOPE! Part 1 of 3

After what we’ve been reading in Amos, v.8 is so refreshing! “‘Except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,’ declares the Lord.” God will sift His people through the sieve of His judgment, but a remnant of solid stones will remain!

Remnant. God always takes a bit of the past in order to build the future. Remember Noah and the Ark? God could have really started from scratch, and just made a new Adam and Eve. But He doesn’t.

Evangelical Orphan was launched out of a desire to better know the remnant God has used through time to bring me us where we are today. I was “orphaned” when I became a Christian in a Restoration Movement church. Leaders adopted an ahistoric primitivism, saying that the remnant through Church history was irrelevant after the New Testament accounts, and that all we need is God’s pure revelation, the scriptures, in order to build our family expression today.

True?

But God, and His Word, betray a different agenda. Encased in our texts is our Biblical heritage, Old Testament and New, warts and all. God wants us to know this time-and-space history. And Jesus came as the fulfillment of that history: the seed, the root, the stump, the branch. And now we are grafted into that history through the Messianic gospel being proliferated to the nations.

God never gave up on His covenant people, and did a do-over. Why do we think that, since Christ, God gives up occasionally on His Church, but does a contemporary do-over today? Because we deserve it more than they have in preceding centuries? Because we’ve are more, I don’t know, enlightened? (Don’t get me started…)

“In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old” (v. 11). God could start over. Instead, He deals with ruins. And the completed project will be a re-stored people “as in the days of old.” We look back for an image of our glorious future. (I love that the “booth” or “hut” of David is contrasted with the ritzy, collapsing temple at Bethel earlier in the chapter.)

“I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them”  (v. 14). God will restore (see also v. 11, v. 15), but the people will do the rebuilding. Like Nehemiah, we are to be about God’s business of exploring our collective rubble, and rallying our people for the rebuilding of our tradition.

The past provides the plumb line for our building of our today, and our tomorrow. Our hope is firmly imbedded in our heritage. Without a keen sense of our history, we are lost. With it, we have hope.

Who is this hope for? And what will it look like? Two more days, friends…two more days…

– EO

 
 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Cultural Disconnect?

Wow.

“One of the major reasons why the church has fallen prey to a cultural accommodation is that it has become disconnected from its roots in Scripture, in the ancient church and in its heritage through the centuries. . . . If it is true that the road to the future lies in the past, it is also true that when the past has been lost or neglected there is no certain future. . . . When the past is lost, as it now is in our Western world, there is nothing left to focus on except the self.” – Dr. Robert E. Webber, 2008

Church history matters.

– EO

 
1 Comment

Posted by on October 12, 2015 in ancient-future, Church History, Early Church

 

Tags: , , ,

Meet Nestorius

MEET NESTORIUS – Saint or Heretic?

– by Qi Li

n1Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople from 428 to 431, was a native of Syria and a theologian of the Antiochene school. Although he earned his fame as a pious monk and eloquent preacher in the early 5th century, he is known to people of later times more due to the Nestorianism controversy which bears his name.

Life

Very little is known of the early years of Nestorius. He is believed to be born in 391 in Germanicia of Syria (Kahramanmaraş of Turkey today), and was trained under Theodore of Mopsuestia.

Some sources hold that Nestorius was also a student of John Chrysostom, as the latter had been a close friend of Theodore. This could be possible but the chance would be slim, given that Chrysostom left Antioch in late 397 to become bishop of Constantinople. Still, when making a comparison between the life of Nestorius and Chrysostom, there are many interesting similarities: Both were trained at the Antiochene school, both gained a great reputation as an outstanding preacher, both were appointed to the See of Constantinople, both were blunt and made themselves enemies of political powers as well as some of the ecclesiastical leaders, and both were eventually banished and died in exile.

The major difference between the two was their Christology. Nestorius’ views evoked fiery debate which led to the third Ecumenical Council, the Council of Ephesus in 431, when his doctrine was declared heretical, and he was deposed. A simple man who had no interest in public power and prominence, Nestorius withdrew to his monastic life in Antioch. But he was not left in peace and was later exiled to Petra, a remote city in Upper Egypt in 436. There he remained for the rest of his life, and died in 451.

The Christology Debate

The Christology debate mainly involved theologians of the Antiochene school and the Alexandrian school over the doctrine of Jesus’ incarnation. It was evoked by Nestorius’ rejection of the use of the term “theotokos”, a title for the Virgin Mary which means “bearer of God”. Nestorius declared that calling Mary the “Mother of God” implied that the Godhead is passible, and that attributing the characteristics of the flesh (such as sacrifice, sweating, hunger, etc.) to the Godhead is blasphemy. He suggested the term “Christotokos”, which means “bearer of Christ”, and insisted on attributing divinity to the Godhead and humanity to the manhood accordingly.

Nestorius didn’t make his first discussion clear of confusions, and left the impression that Jesus Christ was divided into “two persons” (or “two sons”). Cyril, bishop of Alexandria, immediately sensed the potential danger of making Christ a mere man, and therefore wrote to Nestorius. There were three letters from Cyril to Nestorius, and it was in the second letter where Cyril fully explained his incarnational doctrine, encouraging Nestorius to base his teachings on the Nicene Creed. Sent in early 430, this letter is one of the most important Christological documents of the early church, and later formed part of the Chalcedonian Formula in 451.

Expounding the idea of the Word of God being made flesh and made man, Cyril wrote, “The Word, in an ineffable and incomprehensible manner, ineffably united to himself flesh animated with a rational soul, and thus became man…While the natures that were brought together into this true unity were different, nonetheless there is one Christ and Son from out of both…And so, we must not divide the One Lord Jesus Christ into two sons.”  [1]

As for calling Mary the “Mother of God”, Cyril explained, “This does not mean that the nature of the Word or his divinity took the beginning of its existence from the holy virgin, rather that he is said to have been born according to the flesh insofar as the Word was hypostatically united to that holy body which was born from her endowed with a rational soul.” [2]

In responding to Cyril, Nestorius also clarified his ideas by saying, “Christ is a term that applies to both the impassible and the passible natures in a single persona…impassible in the Godhead, but passible in the nature of his body.”[4] He also reaffirmed the doctrines they shared in common: “I applaud the fact you make a division between the natures according to Godhead and manhood, admitting their conjunction in one persona; and also that you deny that God the Word had need a second generation from a woman; and that you confess that the deity cannot undergo any suffering. All this is truly orthodox.” [5]

n2Obviously, Nestorius held to the orthodox understanding that Christ is one persona with two natures. To accuse him of dividing Christ into two sons is, at least, a misunderstanding. For Nestorius, the issue at stake is to make a distinction between the two natures in an effort to protect the deity as impassible. As shown in the above chart, the major difference between Cyril and Nestorius’ standpoints lies on how the union of the divinity and the humanity is described. Nestorius’ treatment, typical of the Antiochene thinking, attributes the lowly things experienced by Christ (such as birth, fatigue, sorrow, suffering, death) to his human nature, and the glorious things (pre-existence, miracles, rising from death) to his godhead. But for Cyril and the Alexandrians they insisted that “all the sayings in the Gospels are to be attributed to one prosopon (person), and to the one enfleshed hypostasis of the Word”.[6]

Nestorius’ treatment is not without weakness, but it should not have been understood as heretical. Apparently his argument had been based on the premise of “One Christ and Son”. Emphasizing on the impassibility of the godhead does not necessarily imply that the one who died on the cross is not God the Word but the man Jesus.

n3

Council of Ephesus, 431

The Condemnation

Neither of the two incarnation doctrines is perfect, and neither is necessarily wrong. However, it was not Cyril’s interest to reach a compromise on this theological issue. With his political skills and maneuver, Cyril gained support from the synod of Rome, as well as the royal family, in addition to his own Alexandrian camp. In his third letter to Nestorius, which served as an ultimatum, Cyril conclusively condemned Nestorius as a heretic, and called for him to recant. Like Chrysostom before him, though popular with the public, Nestorius had made a number of enemies – through stern words about heresies, and criticisms against the rich and powerful. Before Nestorius got a chance to respond to the third letter, the Council of Ephesus was held in late 431 to his great disadvantage. With the absence of the majority of his supporters, and without being given a chance to defend himself, Nestorius was condemned and deposed from his office.

As pointed out by several contemporary theologians and Christian historians, the Christology debate here was more personal and political than theological. Among the five patriarchates, Antioch and Alexandria were more prominent than the others in the development of Christianity in the early centuries. By the late fourth century, Constantinople had become the capital of the Eastern Empire and with its rising importance, the Antiochenes and the Alexandrians became rivals to hold that important office.[7]  It was under such circumstances that Nestorius became the patriarch of the capital. And now, he was confronted by the more politically experienced opponent, Cyril – who is said to be trained by his uncle Theophilus, the bishop who orchestrated Chrysostom’s banishment!

It is noteworthy that Nestorius was not the first to reject the Theotokos title. His teacher before him, Theodore, also called it into question. This is why Theodore is actually called “the father of Nestorianism”[8]. His influence on Nestorius contributed at least partially to his own posthumous condemnation on the Second Council of Constantinople in 553.

Works and Reevaluation

Nestorius’ extensive writings include seven sermons, eleven letters and numerous fragments.[9]  Due to his condemnation, most of his writings had been destroyed, with only one work, the “Book of Heraclides” (Bazaar), being preserved in full. Written in the latter years of his life, the book is an autobiography as well as an elaboration of his more mature theology. The discovery of this book in 1895 caused a reevaluation of his Christological views. Although no wide-spread agreement was reached on whether he was orthodox or heretic, it can be concluded from what he said in his Bazaar that he did not agree with what had become the traditional Nestorianism: he did not split Jesus Christ into two persons as did the Nestorians.[10]

[1] Readings in World Christian History: Earliest Christianity to 1453, ed. by John Wayland Coakley and Andrea Stark (Maryknoll, N.Y: Orbis Books, 2004), p. 166.

[2] Coakley and Stark, p. 167.

[4] Coakley and Stark, p. 168.

[5] Coakley and Stark, p. 168.

[6] Coakley and Stark, p. 172.

[7] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Rev. and updated, 2nd ed (New York: HarperOne, 2010), pp. 298–299.

[8] Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, The True Image: The Origin and Destiny of Man in Christ, 1st British ed (Grand Rapids, Mich. Leicester, England: Eerdmans Inter-Varsity Press, 1989), p. 294.

[9] Hubertus R. Drobner and Siegfried S. Schatzmann, The Fathers of the Church: A Comprehensive Introduction, English ed (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007), p. 464.

[10] <http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/32/32-1/32-1-pp073-083_JETS.pdf&gt;

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Meet Tertullian

QUINTUS SEPTIMIUS FLORENS TERTULLINA

tertVery little is known about the life of the Christian apologist and writer Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullian except that which is found in his own writings and from other early historians such as Eusebious of Caesarea and Jerome. However, what can be clearly said and seen is that the prolific writings of Tertullian were instrumental in developing a rational, logical, and ardent defense against the many heresies of his day and have served to become the basis for Christian doctrine and what is now known to be orthodoxy. What will follow will be a brief look at the life or Tertullian through the eyes of church historians, both from the today and yesterday, and an examination of some of his most important writings in defense of Christians doctrine and orthodoxy.

As mentioned above not much is known about the early life of Tertullian. What is generally agreed upon is that he was born in the Roman province of Carthage located in northern Africa around 155 CE. He was converted to Christianity in Rome around 190 CE but returned to Carthage where he became an influential leader and prolific writer. The facts around his childhood, his education, and profession seem to be grounded in church tradition stemming from the writing of his contemporaries and those that soon followed him.

Regarding his childhood . . .  

mapJerome (347-420 CE) writes the following, “Tertullian, the presbyter . . . was the son of a proconsul or Centurion.”[1] This paltry statement is one of very few statements that speaks to the childhood years of Tertullian and is seen by some modern day historians as suspect. For example, in Justo Gonzalez’s introduction to the early years of Tertullian the author’s language is vague and non-committal to the facts surrounding his early years and makes no mention of the possibility of his father being a Roman proconsul or Centurion. Additionally, according to literary critic Timothy David Barnes, Ph.d, “it is unclear whether any such position in the Roman military ever existed.”[2]

Regarding his education and profession . . .  

The common belief is that he was educated and trained in rhetoric and was most likely employed as a lawyer.[3] However this too has been called into question by critics such as Dr. Barnes who asserts that many of the writing that clearly identify Tertullian as a lawyer are only fragments and belong to a contemporary of Tertullian with the a similar name. Additionally Dr. Barnes asserts that the legal expertise exhibited in the writings of Tertullian is that which would be commonly known and understood by a Roman citizen.[4]

Regarding his writings and in particular marriage . . .

Despite the vagueness of Tertullian’s childhood and upbringing it is clear that he had a keen mind and an unyielding desire to define and defend Christian doctrine and orthodoxy. This is evidenced by his radical commitment to holiness as well as the many writings that are attributed to his name. These numerous writings cover a wide range of topics and issues that faced the early church and provide modern readers with a glimpse into how the early church viewed early practices and institutions. For example Gonzalez notes that Tertullina’s De Baptismo (On Baptism) is the oldest surviving work that speaks to the early church’s view and practice of baptism and that his two letters Ad Uxorem (To His Wife) provide a glimpse into how the early church viewed marriage marriage.[5]

fragAd Uxorem Tertullian make many observations regarding marriage that many would find to be still held in the modern day Evangelical Christian Church. First, that although marriage is good and lawful, he views celibacy as being preferable. For example he writes the following,

In short, there is no place at all where we read that nuptials are prohibited; of course on the ground that they are “a good thing.” What, however, is better than this “good,” we learn from the apostle, who permits marrying indeed, but prefers abstinence; the former on account of the insidiousnesses of temptations, the latter on account of he straits of the times.[6]

Other views held by Tertullian that are still held by many today is that there will be no marriage in the resurrection, marriage is lawful but polygamy is not, marriage serves to sooth the flesh of its carnal desires, it provides the legitimate avenue for the blessing of children, and that death definitely ends the marriage covenant and returns freedom to the surviving spouse. However it is on this last observation that some modern day evangelicals might find some disagreement.

For Tertullian the motive of all Christian men and women was to live a life in pursuit of the highest good, the truest truth, holiness, and as noted above although it was good to be married it was better and more preferable to be single and celibate. Therefore, in his view, once liberty and the freedom to worship God without distraction had been returned through the death of a spouse the surviving spouse should seek to devote himself or herself to the ministry of the church. This view is not emphasized or held by many today. In fact it is common practice, and almost expected, that those who find themselves newly single will eventually remarry.

Regarding the rigorousness of Tertullian . . .

Tertullian’s rigorous pursuit of truth and of the highest good not only shaped his view of marriage but also led to his eventual break from the church and his involvement with Montanism.

Montanism was an extreme sect of early Christianity that believed that the true church had entered into a new age marked by the prophecies of Montanus who called for a more rigorous life. The attraction for Tertullian is clear as he struggled with his own sins and those of other believers. For him Montansim provided a means of explaining why sin existed in the life of the believer even after baptism as well as provided a system of dealing with those sins. Still the rigorous lifestyle of Montansim proved to be insufficient and eventually he left this order and formed his own sect, which would later be known at the Tertullinaists.[7]

It is an interesting fact that whereas the Roman Catholic Church has canonized many of his contemporaries as Saints, Tertullian’s involvement with Montanism and the formation of his own sect based on the rigors of his own writings has prevented the Roman Catholic Church from labeling him as a Saint.

Regarding Adversus Praxean (Against Praxeas) . . .

The most compelling argument for Tertullian’s contribution to Christendom is his early work in the formation of the Trinitarian view of God as a defense against the heresies of Praxeas and what would come to be know as patripassianism.[8] Tertullian writes the following against Praxeas;

That this rule of faith has come down to us from the beginning of the gospel, even before any of the older heretics, much more before Praxeas . . . especially in the case of this heresy, which supposes itself to possess the pure truth, in thinking that one cannot believe in One Only God in any other way than by saying that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are the very selfsame Person.[9]

In this seminal defense of the faith Tertullian is the first to develop the following view of God, which would serve as the foundation for the Doctrine of the Trinity, “one substance and three persons.”

trinFor Tertullian, the paradox and mystery of God, was not something to be fully understood but that did not mean that humankind could not grasp the truth of the Trinity for God himself had revealed himself in the following ways. First, there eternally existed God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Secondly, these three are not distinct gods but one God of the same substance. Finally, although they are distinct in person, or aspect, or power, they again are of one substance and fall under the names of the Father, and of the son, and of the Holy Ghost. Again Tertullian writes;

As if in this way also one were not All, in that All are of One, by unity (that is) of substance; while the mystery of the dispensation is still guarded, which distributes the Unity into a Trinity, placing in their order the three Persons-the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost: three, however, not in condition, but in degree; not in substance, but in form; not in power, but in aspect; yet of one substance, and of one condition, and of one power, inasmuch as He is one God, from whom these degrees and forms and aspects are reckoned, under the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. How they are susceptible of number without division, will be shown as our treatise proceeds.[10]

Throughout this work the keen legal mind of Tertullian and his expertise in the tools of rhetoric are clearly displayed as he defends and defines the doctrine that would formerly become know as The Doctrine of the Trinity. In fact Tertullian is the first writer to use the word Trinity and is also the first to begin to define the terms substance and economy that are the foundational elements of understanding how as he observes a Unity can be divided into diversity.

Concluding thoughts . . .

Anyone seeking to understand the mode and thinking of early Christianity as well as the modern views of Christian doctrine would be well served to read and study the writings of Tertullian.

In them they will find the work of a brilliant mind that was dedicated to defining and defending the beginning of the Christian faith through thoughtful and logical argument and understanding. In addition to this the reader will gain an appreciation for not only the past but also for today as many of the topics that modern day skeptics struggle with are the very same notions that skeptics of yester-year struggled with. The doctrine of the Trinitarian God was a mystery then and is still a mystery today.

By having an appreciation for and understanding of the foundational thoughts of Tertullian, believers today will be better equipped to explain the mysteries of God and perhaps remove many of the obstacles the prevent modern day skeptics from seeing Christianity as something more than a religion for the simple and unlearned, and begin to see it as it truly it – the one true path to the One True God.

– Steven Baker

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Barnes, Timothy David. Tertullian: A Historical and Literary Study. 1985 edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity. Rev. and updated, 2nd ed. New York: HarperOne, 2010.

SELECTED TRANSLATIONS

Excerpts from Tertullian’s Adversus Praxeam Chapter II provided by; http://www.tertullian.org/anf/anf03/anf03-43.htm#P10374_2906966

Experts from Tertullian’s Ad Uxorem provided by

http://www.tertullian.org/anf/anf04/anf04-11.htm#P700_173688

Excerpts from Jerome’s On Famous Men, Chapter 53 provided by; http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2708.htm

SELECTED MEDIA

Image of Tertullian provided by; http://www.higherpraise.com/preachers/tertullian.htm

Image of Ad Uxorem provided by; https://www.deutsche-digitale-bibliothek.de/item/NZD5G7XB5WFLME6VRPV4L3GC7Y3SV7UP

Map of Mediterranean Sea and Christian Area; http://www.higherpraise.com/preachers/tertullian.htm

[1] Translation of Jerome’s On Famous Men, Chapter 53 provided by; http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2708.htm

[2] Timothy David Barnes, Tertullian: A Historical and Literary Study, 1985 edition. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), 11.

[3] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Rev. and updated, 2nd ed. (New York: HarperOne, 2010), Location 1715 of 9758.

[4] Barnes, Tertullian, 23–27.

[5] Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, 1699=1715 or 9758.

[6] Experts from Tertullian’s Ad Uxorem provided by; http://www.tertullian.org/anf/anf04/anf04-11.htm#P700_173688

[7] Ibid., 1780 or 9758.

[8] Patripassianism is the belief that God the Father suffered the cross with Christ. This belief is also referred to as Modalism, which asserts that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are simply modes or appearance of God.

[9] Translation of excerpt from Adversus Praxeam Chapter II provided by; http://www.tertullian.org/anf/anf03/anf03-43.htm#P10374_2906966

[10] Translation of excerpt from Adversus Praxeam Chapter II provided by; http://www.tertullian.org/anf/anf03/anf03-43.htm#P10374_2906966

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

7th Day of Christmastide – Feast Day of Sylvester

Sylvester_I_and_Constantine7th Day of Christmastide – and the feast day of St. Sylvester.

Sylvester, born in Rome, was ordained to the ministry during the peaceeful days before the persecutions of Diocletian. He passed through those days of terror, and eventually saw the triumph of Constantine in the year 312, and the Edict of Milan in 313, which made Christianity legal in the Empire for the first time in centuries. Two years later he became Bishop of Rome, a position held for 24 years until his death in 335.

The Council of Nicaea took place during his papal ministry (325), but he didn’t attend because of his advanced age. He sent his legates in his place, but ultimately it was his “sign-off” on the Nicene Creed that was critical for Western acceptance. St. Sylvester was Pope for twenty-four years and eleven months. He died in the year 335. His Feast Day is December 31st.

Sylvester saw so much change: Peaceful days, heavy persecution, Constantine’s triumph, church freedom and prestige, ecumenical councils, and the move of the Empire’s center from his home town to the east. How I wish I could have a cup of coffee with him, and hear all of those stories.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 31, 2014 in Early Church, Saints

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Second Sunday of Advent – 14.12.07

St.-Ambrose (1)I have personally celebrated the seasons of the church calendar for decades. I have always been saddened by the lack of Advent-themed worship music in the contemporary Evangelical church world. But I have recently become a part of the Lutheran tradition, which has a wealth of Advent hymns! On the remaining Advent Sundays, I’ll share a few of my favorites.

Savior of the Nations, Come is a hymn text written by St. Ambrose of Milan, one of the great Doctors of the early church. It was written in the 4th century – and era when the church was crystalizing its theological understanding about the person and nature of Jesus in the incarnation (e.g., The Council of Nicaea in 325, which produced the Nicene Creed, which we read together today in church). This hymn reflects those theological themes, which Ambrose championed strongly.

Savior of the nations, come! Virgin’s son, make here Your home!

Marvel now, O heaven and earth, that the Lord chose such a birth.

 

nativity-icon-1Not by human flesh and blood, by the Spirit of our God,

was the Word of God made flesh – woman’s offspring, pure and fresh.

 

Here a maid was found with child, yet remained a virgin mild.

In her womb this truth was sown: God was there upon His throne.

 

Then stepped forth the Lord of all from His pure and kingly hall;

God of God, yet fully man, His heroic course began.

 

250px-Nicaea_iconGod the Father was His source; Back to God He ran His course.

Into hell His road went down, back then to His throne and crown.

 

For You are the Father’s Son Who in flesh the victory won.

By Your mighty power make whole all our ills of flesh and soul.

 

From the manger newborn light shines in glory through the night.

Darkness there no more resides; In this light faith now abides.

 

Glory to the Father sing,

Glory to the Son our king.

Glory to the Spirit be now, and through eternity.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 7, 2014 in Advent 2014, ambrose, Early Church, Hope

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,