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Ancient Paths: The Athanasian Creed

Ancient Paths: The Athanasian Creed

Of the three creeds that are acknowledged by all of the ancient western Christian traditions*, the Athanasian Creed is known and used the least. It may be because it’s longer. But really it has a lot to do with its content.  Much of its purpose is an attempt to hammer down and make explicit one key point: the equality, unity and distinctness of the three persons of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Maybe one of the reasons that this creed doesn’t resonate as strongly as the others is that … well, it’s not that convincing to the human intellect.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways.” This is the Lord’s declaration. “For as heaven is higher than earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Is. 55:8-9). We, of course, try to understand the thoughts and ways of God. Though there is an infinite separation between God’s truths and our ability to understand them (“as heaven is higher than the earth“), we are still encouraged to seek the face of God (Ps. 105:4, 27:8). The Apostle Paul says that, “For now, we see only a reflection as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12).

All we can know about God is what has been revealed. Thankfully, God has gone to great lengths to let us know what we can know. As Jesus told His disciples on that Maundy Thursday evening, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you an advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth … He lives with you and will be in you … I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you … when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (from John 14-16). So, “all truth” is ours … that is, all the truth that we both need, and can handle. But ultimately, the fullness of truth about God is beyond our grasp.

That’s why descriptions about God can be so unsettling, and less than “convincing”. You can say it over and over again (as does the Athanasian Creed), but it doesn’t become more convincing through repetition. “We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one.” Like a bad cowlick, no amount of hair gel can pin this down. Three just isn’t one. And different just isn’t the same.

But both are true in our revelations from God. The writings of the prophets, the incarnation of Jesus, the authoritative teachings of the apostles — all agree that a) God is one, and 2) there are three persons who are God. Equally glorious, equally majestic, equally unlimited, equally mighty, equally authoritative … all eternal, all infinite, all uncreated. “He therefore that will be saved, let him thus think of the Trinity.” 

It’s just hard, even impossible, to “think thus.” We can say it. And we can choose to believe it. But to “think thus”? “My thoughts are not your thoughts.” 

The Ancient Path is One of Belief

Herein lies the huge point for all of us as we pilgrimage down the ancient path. Ours is a journey of belief, not all-knowing; faith, not sight; revelation, not exploration. 

Many theological traditions, especially since the days of the Reformation, have prided themselves in their exhaustive studies of the scriptures, and their incessant attempts to pin down the cowlick of the mystery of God. Rather than taking Biblical revelation and believing it, they take the revelations collectively, and “try to make sense” of it. They end up with theological systems that say things that the scriptures don’t, claiming all the while that their thinking must be true – given what we know in revelation, compounded by our own brilliance that now makes it understandable.

This kind of speculation can fool us into extra-biblical thinking. But at worst, this work of theology can be a gross violation of the first commandments: We theologically “create” a “God” who isn’t simply the God He revealed Himself to be. This “God” becomes an idol – a product of our image-ination – that we then worship. And we misuse the name of God by attributing that name to a faux-version of “God”. “The Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name” (Ex. 20:7). But, I’m ahead of myself. The ancient path of the 10 Commandments is my next blog entry …

Read the Athanasian Creed. Read it regularly. When it warms your heart, rejoice. When it bugs you, believe! It’s at those moments we are obliged to bend the knee to a God Who is much bigger, better and more brilliant than we. It is good to think thus.

– EO

* The Athanasian Creed is historically endorsed by the Lutherans, Anglicans, Reformed Churches, and Roman Catholics.

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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

 

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Meet G. K. Chesterton

Meet G.K. Chesterton

– by Shane Fuller

GK 3“He said something about everything and he said it better than anyone else.”

Gilbert Keith Chesterton, who is commonly and most often referred to as G. K. Chesterton, was born in 1874 and lived until 1936. He would go down as one of the best writers in the 20th Century.

He was born in London and educated at St. Paul’s. Surprisingly, Chesterton never attended college, but went to art school instead. He began writing when, as an art student, he was asked to contribute a few articles to an art magazine where he critiqued some new pieces. From those humble beginnings, Chesterton would go on to write over 100 of his own books, while contributing to over 200 more. He also wrote hundreds of poems, five plays, five novels, nearly 200 short stories. Chesterton, who considered himself more of a journalist than a writer, also wrote weekly columns for 43 years of his life. Few in history have been such prolific authors…and he didn’t start publishing until 1900.

Chesterton had a spouse who anchored his personality, writing, lifestyle, diet, and many other things. His wife, Frances, seems to have single-handedly kept G. K. on track with his personal schedule. One letter even has Chesterton writing to his wife about where he was, and asking her where he ought to be instead.

He was as amazing a character as any of his fictional creations. G. K. was over six feet tall, and weighed nearly 300 pounds. He wore a cape and a crumpled top hat. Almost every picture that exists of G. K. has him sporting a mustache and glasses. He
Quotation-G-K-Chesterton-religion-thankful-Meetville-Quotes-139598would commonly walk with a cane, and nearly always kept a cigar in his mouth. He was incredibly large, loud and friendly, often was bellowing out laughs through his cigar and mustache.

Chesterton continues to have the same type of impact on his world as he did with his contemporaries. For example, C.S. Lewis, who was a staunch atheist, was brought to faith through the reading of Chesterton’s little book The Everlasting Man. Another example has a man living in British-ruled India, who became inspired by a Chesteron writing, and through it was led to start a movement, which eventually ended British rule in India The man: Mohandas Gandhi. And if these accounts are not amazing enough, one can simply read the praises that came from other intellectuals of his day: George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, Bertrand Russell, Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Elliot,Dorothy Sayers, and H. G. Welles. Shaw, who had a friendly rivalry with G. K., once described him as “a man of colossal genius”. Elliot affirmed that “Chesterton deserves a permanent claim on our loyalty.”

Perhaps you’re wondering, “why have I not heard much of this Chesterton figure?” One reason may be that he has always been hard to label – either as a man of faith, or a politician. Another may be that he often put forth challenging ideas about controversial topics. For example, Chesterton is famous for arguing the cause of the common man. He was fond of defending the poor, and the family. Chesterton, always a lover of the arts, would also write often of the beauty he found in things that society would not find so beautiful. He defended Christian thought and morals in a day of growting secularism, and championed the Roman Catholic faith in the land of the Church of England. He also wrote regularly against such GK 9things as materialism, scientific determinism, moral relativism, and agnosticism. Since all of these have grown stronger since his day, it makes sense that G. K. and his arguments may have lost favor over the years.

Where does Chesterton fit in the narrative of Church history?

Chesterton began his faith journey in the High Anglican Church. We can certainly be pleased with his role in the conversion of C. S. Lewis. But, well beyond that single instance, Chesterton was publicly bold in his defense of Christian thought. Chesterton began his faith journey in the High Anglican Church, but ultimately converted to Roman Catholicism. But, he preferred to be called “orthodox” (His most widely read book to this day is Orthodoxy, in which Chesterton defends “orthodox” Christian views). From this platform of defending a traditional Christian understanding of truth, Chesteron would argue against the pride and willfulness of modernistic thought. For example, he stated that “the worship of will is the negation of will”. When one lifts up one’s own will as supreme, then one must respond to another’s will with a like deference, saying “do as you will”. This means that “I have no will in the matter” of another — meaning one’s will is acutally negated, and doesn’t matter.

GK 9aHe also defended Christian ideals like fighting for a Biblical anthropology. A popular topic in London during his time was eugenics. Eugenics proposed the termination or sterilization of people with limited mental capacity. Also, leading thinkers in London had begun to think of the poor as a race of people that had failed to produce good offspring. Chesterton was vehemently opposed to these ideas, writing books, essays, and poems in defense of those who were challenged mentally and economically.

GK 8 cathG. K. also wove himself into Christian history through his work as a biographer. In his personal study of Thomas Aquinas, Chesterton skimmed through one book … and then penned what is perhaps the greatest biography written on the man.

As for his conversion to Catholicism, Chesterton’s main reason was the church’s catholicity: He very much enjoyed being a part of something that felt bigger than him, and his country, and his century. Chesterton didn’t consider himself a child of his age, but instead a product of the truths and traditions that had survived the centuries before him.

As for this sort of thinking, who can blame him?

 

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