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Tertullian of Carthage

Tertullian

A woodcut of Tertullian

So far we have read only fathers who wrote in Greek. This is no surprise, given that the apostles and evangelists wrote in Greek, and that in the first several centuries, the language of politics, commerce, and intellect in the Roman Empire was universally Greek and not Latin. Our next father, Tertullian of Carthage, was the first significant Christian author to write in Latin. Thus he earned for himself the appellation “father of Latin Christianity.”

Biography

Little is known for certain about Tertullian’s life. Both Jerome’s Lives of Illustrious Men (ch. 53) and Eusebius’s History of the Church (2.2) give brief biographies of Tertullian, but scholarship that has examined Tertullian’s own writings closely has concluded that these accounts are unreliable.

Tertullian was born in North Africa around 160. North Africa will be important later in our reading as the home of many of the Latin fathers, chief among them Augustine of Hippo. Eusebius writes that he was “a man well versed in the law of the Romans.” Tertullian’s father may have been a centurion. He may have spent some time as a rhetorician or lawyer in Rome, but most of his life was spent in Carthage. In his lifetime Carthaginian Christians experienced persecution, since in his treatise To Scapula, he asks the Roman governor of Carthage to cease persecuting Christians, and since he wrote a treatise On Running Away from Persecution. Several accounts of Carthaginian martyrs contemporary with Tertullian survive.

Map of Carthage in 250

Map of Carthage and other Christian centers in 250

Tertullian mostly likely converted to Christianity from paganism during his adulthood, perhaps between the years 180 and 190. Jerome calls Tertullian a presbyter (or priest) of the church. But when Tertullian compares the clergy and the laity, he seems to include himself with the laity. It is possible that he wrote those works while he was yet a layman. He was probably, though not definitely, married, since he wrote a treatise To His Wife.

Tertullian was a Catholic Christian from the date of his conversion, meaning that he was a member of the orthodox faith and not a part of the numerous breakaway sects. Beginning around the year 206 Tertullian became enamored with Montanism. Montanus was a Christian prophet who was especially ecstatic and extravagant in his prophecies about the Paraclete. He also laid down very strict ascetic guidelines for his followers. Montanus was not at first heretical, but his followers were eventually excommunicated from the Catholic Church. The teachings of the Montanist heresy were greatly exaggerated in the following centuries. Tertullian himself broke with the Catholic Church around 207, and wrote a number of vociferous tracts against the church and its leaders. A very small sect gathered around him; their remnants rejoined the Catholic Church thanks to the reconciliation of Augustine.

Tertullian died in his old age, perhaps around the year 220.

Works

Tertullian wrote in both Latin and Greek, though only his Latin works survive. Altogether some thirty-one of his works survive. We will be reading all of them, starting with his Apology.

Tertullian was a master of prose, with a barbed pen, witty but also humorous. It matters a great deal that Tertullian wrote in Latin. His works originated the distinctive idiom of Western Latin as opposed to Eastern Greek theology. To give but one example: Tertullian was likely the first to translate the Greek word μυστήριον (mysterion) into the Latin sacramentum. If Christianity is essentially a religion of translation, as the missiologist and historian Lamin Sanneh has put it, then to Tertullian we owe the translation of Christianity from its native Greek to Latin, and thus the origination of one of the great linguistic and cultural forms of Christianity.

Chief among his works was the Apology, a statement of Christian beliefs in a genre pioneered by Justin that is by now familiar to us. His other works, To the Nations and On the Witness of the Soul are also primarily apologetic.

Tertullian authored a number of polemical works written primarily against Gnosticism. The chief of these was his five books Against Marcion, which refuted the noted heretic. He takes up such topics as the doctrines of God, of Christ, and of the Trinity, the relationship between reason, tradition, and Scripture, and humans’ resurrection and final judgment in his works Prescription Against Heretics, Against Hermogenes, On the Flesh of Christ, On the Soul, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, and Against Praxeas.

Tertullian was a rigid and ascetic man, as demonstrated by his treatises that describe practices of discipline and morals. These works include On Fasting, On Penitence, and On Modesty. As Tertullian became more and more interested in Montanism, these works became increasingly extreme in the practices that they advocate. These works are useful for as evidences for early Christian practices, especially the practice of penance.

Theology

Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage, according to Jerome, “was accustomed never to pass a day without reading Tertullian, and that he frequently said to [his secretary], ‘Give me the master,’ meaning by this, Tertullian.”

In judging Tertullian’s works, it is crucial to keep in mind that his writing developed over time, and that his later, Montanist works have a different theology than his earlier, catholic works. Yet this difference must not be understood too sharply, as all of Tertullian’s writings were enthusiastic and concerned with the Paraclete. We must also keep in mind that Tertullian wrote for different audiences—sometimes to heretics, sometimes to pagans or Roman officials, sometimes to Catholic Christians, sometimes against Catholics—using different rhetorical strategies and modes of argumentation. The result is that Tertullian’s works must be taken as a whole, rather than in parts.

One of Tertullian’s key theological contributions was his doctrine of the Trinity. In arguing against Marcion, who believed in a cruel god of the Old Testament and a gracious God of the New Testament, Tertullian argued for the unity of God. In arguing against Praxeas, who probably held to the heresy of modalism or patripassianism, 1 Tertullian argued that God was a Trinity (trinitas), a word that he was the first to use. He distinguished between the Father, Son, and Spirit as each being a different person (persona), yet sharing a union of substance (substantia). Tertullian thus contributed some of the key ideas and vocabulary of the orthodox understanding of the Trinity, eventually formalized at the Councils of Nicaea (315) and Constantinople (381). Tertullian also understood the Son to be of two natures, divine and human, a position later defined at the Council of Chalcedon (451). Though Tertullian argued that the Son was derived from the Father, his deviation from Nicene orthodoxy is understandable since a fuller theological statement of the doctrine of the Trinity would not be worked out for well over a century.

Ruins of Carthage

Ruins of Carthage

Tertullian writes frequently on the relationship between Scripture and tradition or the rule of faith (regula fidei), that is, the Christian teaching passed down from the apostles that preceded the written record of the Scriptures. Tertullian argued for and used the Scriptures as authoritative, while holding that what made the Scriptures authoritative was their agreement with the tradition from which they were derived. As Geoffrey Dunn argues, “We find in Tertullian the priority of Tradition over Scripture (to use the language of the sixteenth-century Reformations) because Scripture is a record of Tradition.” Tertullian defended the authority of all the Scriptures against Marcion, who greatly reduced the canon to some of the epistles of Paul and parts of Luke’s Gospel.

Tertullian also deals with a host of other theological questions, among them the doctrine of the soul. His writings are an important witness to practices among early Christians, though as stated earlier, his own proclivities were far more radically ascetic than those of other Christians.

Alternate editions and sources

English translations of Tertullian’s works have been published in the Fathers of the Church series: Rudolph Arbesmann, et al., trans., Tertullian, Apologetical Works (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America, 1950; reprint, 2008) and Tertullian, Disciplinary, Moral and Ascetical Works (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America, 1959; reprint, 2008). Those with access to a university library can find the Latin text of Tertullian’s works in the Corpus Christianorum Series Latina, volume 1, Opera Catholica (Brepols, 1954) and volume 2, Opera Montanistica (Brepols, 1954). The Latin texts and English translations of the Apology and On the Spectacles have been published in the Loeb Classical Library edition, edited and translated by T. R. Glover. Tertullian’s treatise On the Lord’s Prayer has been published in Alistair Stewart-Sykes, Tertullian, Cyprian, And Origen On The Lord’s Prayer (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2004), part of the excellent Popular Patristics Series. Three of the less studied treatises are translated, with a sixty-page introduction to Tertullian, in Geoffrey D. Dunn, Tertullian (London: Routledge, 2004).

The fullest biography is Timothy David Barnes, Tertullian: A Historical and Literary Study (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985). Barnes doubts most of the details given by Jerome and Eusebius. Tertullian’s theology is treated in Eric Osborn Tertullian, First Theologian of the West (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997). See also the Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. “Tertullian.” The Tertullian Project contains bibliographies and primary texts.

Holy Saturday Sermon on the Symbol of Faith

After our Maundy Thursday and Good Friday sermons, we continue with a sermon for this Holy Saturday. It was an ancient practice of the church to require people who wished to become Christians to undergo a period of instruction, called a catechumenate, before they were baptized. These catechumens were separate, symbolically and perhaps physically, from the body of believers who had been baptized, called the faithful. The culmination of instruction for catechumens was instruction in the creed (or symbol) and Lord’s Prayer, after which they would be baptized the night before Easter, baptism being the symbol of the Lord’s death, burial, and resurrection. Thus our reading today is Augustine’s sermon to catechumens teaching them the creed.

Baptism of Augustine

Baptism of Augustine. Note on the wall the words Te deum laudaumus, the opeing words of the creedal hymn supposedly composed for Augustine’s baptism.

A Sermon to Catechumens on the Creed

1. Receive, my children, the Rule of Faith, which is called the Symbol (or Creed ). And when you have received it, write it in your heart, and be daily saying it to yourselves; before ye sleep, before ye go forth, arm you with your Creed. TheCreed no man writes so as it may be able to be read: but for rehearsal of it, lest haply forgetfulness obliterate what care has delivered, let your memory be your record-roll: what you are about to hear, that are you to believe; and what you shall have believed, that are about to give back with your tongue. For the Apostle says,With the heart man believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For this is the Creed which you are to rehearse and to repeat in answer. These words which you have heard are in the Divine Scriptures scattered up and down: but thence gathered and reduced into one, that the memory of slowpersons might not be distressed; that every person may be able to say, able to hold, what he believes. For have ye now merely heard that God is Almighty? But ye begin to have him for your father, when you have been born by the church as yourMother.

2. Of this, then, you have now received, have meditated, and having meditatedhave held, that you should say, I believe in God the Father Almighty. God isAlmighty, and yet, though Almighty, He cannot die, cannot be deceived, cannot lie; and, as the Apostle says, cannot deny Himself. How many things that He cannot do, and yet is Almighty! Yea therefore is Almighty, because He cannot do these things. For if He could die, He were not Almighty; if to lie, if to be deceived, if to dounjustly, were possible for Him, He were not Almighty: because if this were in Him, He should not be worthy to be Almighty. To our Almighty Father, it is quite impossible to sin. He does whatsoever He will: that is Omnipotence. He does whatsoever He rightly will, whatsoever He justly will: but whatsoever is evil to do, He wills not. There is no resisting one who is Almighty, that He should not do what He will. It was He Who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, invisible and visible. Invisible such as are in heaven, thrones, dominions, principalities, powers, archangels, angels: all, if we shall live aright, our fellow citizens. He made in heaven the things visible; the sun, the moon, the stars. With its terrestrial animals He adorned the earth, filled the air with things that fly, the land with them that walk and creep, the sea with them that swim: all He filled with their own proper creatures. He made also man after His own image and likeness, in the mind: for in that is the image of God. This is the reason why the mind cannot be comprehended even by itself, because in it is the image of God. To this end were we made, that over the other creatures we should bear rule: but through sin in the first man we fell, and are all come into an inheritance of death. We were brought low, became mortal, were filled with fears, with errors: this by desert of sin: with which desert and guilt is every man born. This is the reason why, as you have seen today, as you know, even little children undergo exsufflation, exorcism; to drive away from them the power of the devil their enemy, which deceived man that it might possess mankind. It is not then the creature of God that in infants undergoesexorcism or exsufflation: but he under whom are all that are born with sin; for he is the first of sinners. And for this cause by reason of one who fell and brought all into death, there was sent One without sin, Who should bring unto life, by delivering them from sin, all that believe in Him.

3. For this reason we believe also in His Son, that is to say, God the FatherAlmighty’s, His Only Son, our Lord. When you hear of the Only Son of God, acknowledge Him God. For it could not be that God’s Only Son should not be God. What He is, the same did He beget, though He is not that Person Whom He begot. If He be truly Son, He is that which the Father is; if He be not that which the Father is, He is not truly Son. Observe mortal and earthly creatures: what each is, that it engenders. Man besets not an ox, sheep besets not dog, nor dog sheep. Whatever it be that begets, that which it is, it begets. Hold ye therefore boldly, firmly, faithfully, that the Begotten of God the Father is what Himself is, Almighty. These mortal creatures engender by corruption. Does God so beget? He that is begotten mortal generates that which himself is; the Immortal generates what He is: corruptible begets corruptible, Incorruptible begets Incorruptible: the corruptible begets corruptibly, Incorruptible, Incorruptibly: yea, so begets what Itself is, that One begets One, and therefore Only. You know, that when I pronounced to you theCreed, so I said, and so you are bounden to believe; that we believe in God the Father Almighty, and in Jesus Christ His Only Son. Here too, when you believe that He is the Only, believe Him Almighty: for it is not to be thought that God the Father does what He will, and God the Son does not what He will. One Will of Father and Son, because one Nature. For it is impossible for the will of the Son to be any whit parted from the Father’s will. God and God; both one God: Almighty and Almighty; both One Almighty.

4. We do not bring in two Gods as some do, who say, God the Father and God theSon, but greater God the Father and lesser God the Son. They both are what? Two Gods? You blush to speak it, blush to believe it. Lord God the Father, you say, andLord God the Son: and the Son Himself says, No man can serve two Lords. In Hisfamily shall we be in such wise, that, like as in a great house where there is the father of a family and he has a son, so we should say, the greater Lord, the lesserLord? Shrink from such a thought. If you make to yourselves such like in your heart, you set up idols in the one soul. Utterly repel it. First believe, then understand. Now to whom God gives that when he has believed he soon understands; that is God’s gift, not human frailness. Still, if you do not yet understand, believe: One God the Father, God Christ the Son of God. Both are what? One God. And how are both said to be One God? How? Do you marvel? In the Acts of the Apostles, There was, it says, in the believers, one soul and one heart. There were many souls, faith had made them one. So many thousands ofsouls were there; they loved each other, and many are one: they loved God in the fire of charity, and from being many they have come to the oneness of beauty. If all those many souls the dearness of love made one soul, what must be the dearnessof love in God, where is no diversity, but entire equality! If on earth and amongmen there could be so great charity as of so many souls to make one soul, where Father from Son, Son from Father, has been ever inseparable, could They both be other than One God? Only, those souls might be called both many souls and onesoul; but God, in Whom is ineffable and highest conjunction, may be called OneGod, not two Gods.

5. The Father does what He will, and what He will does the Son. Do not imagine anAlmighty Father and a not Almighty Son: it is error, blot it out within you, let it not cleave in your memory, let it not be drunk into your faith, and if haply any of you shall have drunk it in, let him vomit it up. Almighty is the Father, Almighty the Son. If Almighty begot not Almighty, He begot not very Son. For what say we, brethren, if the Father being greater begot a Son less than He? What said I, begot? Man engenders, being greater, a son being less: it is true: but that is because the one grows old, the other grows up, and by very growing attains to the form of his father. The Son of God, if He grows not because neither can God wax old, was begotten perfect. And being begotten perfect, if He grows not, and remained not less, He is equal. For that you may know Almighty begotten of Almighty, hear Him Who is Truth. That which of Itself Truth says, is true. What says Truth? What says the Son, Who is Truth? Whatsoever things the Father does, these also the Son likewise does. The Son is Almighty, in doing all things that He wills to do. For if the Father does some things which the Son does not, the Son said falsely, Whatsoever things the Father does, these also the Son does likewise. But because the Son spoke truly, believe it: Whatsoever things the Father does, these also the Son does likewise, and you have believed in the Son that He is Almighty. Which word although ye said not in the Creed, yet this is it that you expressed when youbelieved in the Only Son, Himself God. Hath the Father anything that the Son has not? This Arian heretic blasphemers say, not I. But what say I? If the Father has anything that the Son has not, the Son lies in saying, All things that the Father has, are Mine. Many and innumerable are the testimonies by which it is provedthat the Son is Very Son of God the Father, and the Father God has His Very-begotten Son God, and Father and Son is One God.

6. But this Only Son of God, the Father Almighty, let us see what He did for us, what He suffered for us. Born of the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary. He, so great God, equal with the Father, born of the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary, born lowly, that thereby He might heal the proud. Man exalted himself and fell; Godhumbled Himself and raised him up. Christ’s lowliness, what is it? God has stretched out an hand to man laid low. We fell, He descended: we lay low, He stooped. Let uslay hold and rise, that we fall not into punishment. So then His stooping to us is this, Born of the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary. His very Nativity too as man, it is lowly, and it is lofty. Whence lowly? That as man He was born of men. Whence lofty? That He was born of a virgin. A virgin conceived, a virgin bore, and after the birth was a virgin still.

7. What next? Suffered under Pontius Pilate. He was in office as governor and was the judge, this same Pontius Pilate, what time as Christ suffered. In the name of thejudge there is a mark of the times, when He suffered under Pontius Pilate: when He suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried. Who? What? For whom? Who? God’sOnly Son, our Lord. What? Crucified, dead, and buried. For whom? For ungodly and sinners. Great condescension, great grace! What shall I render unto the Lord for all that He has bestowed on me?

8. He was begotten before all times, before all worlds. Begotten before. Before what, He in Whom is no before? Do not in the least imagine any time before thatNativity of Christ whereby He was begotten of the Father; of that Nativity I am speaking by which He is Son of God Almighty, His Only Son our Lord; of that am I first speaking. Do not imagine in this Nativity a beginning of time; do not imagineany space of eternity in which the Father was and the Son was not. Since when the Father was, since then the Son. And what is that since, where is no beginning? Therefore ever Father without beginning, ever Son without beginning. And how, you will say, was He begotten, if He have no beginning? Of eternal, coeternal. At notime was the Father, and the Son not, and yet Son of Father was begotten. Whence is any manner of similitude to be had? We are among things of earth, we are in the visible creature. Let the earth give me a similitude: it gives none. Let the element of the waters give me some similitude: it has not whereof to give. Some animal give me a similitude: neither can this do it. An animal indeed engenders, both what engenders and what is engendered: but first is the father, and then is born the son. Let us find the coeval and imagine it coeternal. If we shall be able to find a father coeval with his son, and son coeval with his father, let us believe God the Father coeval with His Son, and God the Son coeternal with His Father. On earth we can find some coeval, we cannot find any coeternal. Let us stretch the coeval andimagine it coeternal. Some one, it may be, will put you on the stretch, by saying,When is it possible for a father to be found coeval with his son, or son coeval with his father? That the father may beget he goes before in age; that the son may be begotten, he comes after in age: but this father coeval with son, or son with father, how can it be? Imagine to yourselves fire as father, its shining as son; see, we have found the coevals. From the instant that the fire begins to be, that instant it begets the shining: neither fire before shining, nor shining after fire. And if we ask, which begets which? The fire the shining, or the shining the fire? Immediately ye conceive by natural sense, by the innate wit of your minds ye all cry out, The fire the shining, not the shining the fire. Lo, here you have a father beginning; lo, a son at the same time, neither going before nor coming after. Lo, here then is a father beginning, lo, a son at the same time beginning. If I have shown you a father beginning, and a son at the same time beginning, believe the Father not beginning, and with Him the Son not beginning either; the one eternal, the other coeternal. If you get on with your learning, you understand: take pains to get on. The being born, you have; but also the growing, you ought to have; because no man begins with being perfect. As for the Son of God, indeed, He could be born perfect, because He was begotten without time, coeternal with the Father, long before all things, not in age, but in eternity. He then was begotten coeternal, of which generation theProphet said, His generation who shall declare? begotten of the Father withouttime, He was born of the Virgin in the fullness of times. This nativity had times going before it. In opportunity of time, when He would, when He knew, then was He born: for He was not born without His will. None of us is born because he will, and none of us dies when he will: He, when He would, was born; when He would, He died: how He would, He was born of a Virgin: how He would, He died; on the cross. Whatever He would, He did: because He was in such wise Man that, unseen, He was God; Godassuming, Man assumed; One Christ, God and Man.

9. Of His cross what shall I speak, what say? This extremest kind of death He chose, that not any kind of death might make His Martyrs afraid. The doctrine He showed in His life as Man, the example of patience He demonstrated in His Cross. There, you have the work, that He was crucified; example of the work, the Cross; reward of the work, Resurrection. He showed us in the Cross what we ought to endure, He showed in the Resurrection what we have to hope. Just like a consummate task-master in the matches of the arena, He said, Do, and bear; do the work and receive the prize; strive in the match and you shall be crowned. What is the work?Obedience. What the prize? Resurrection without death. Why did I add, without death? Because Lazarus rose, and died: Christ rose again, dies no more, death willno longer have dominion over Him.

10. Scripture says, You have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord. When we read what great trials Job endured, it makes one shudder, it makes one shrink, it makes one quake. And what did he receive? The double of what he had lost. Let not a man therefore with an eye to temporal rewards be willing to have patience, and say to himself, Let me endure loss, God will give me back sons twice as many; Job received double of all, and begot as many sons as he had buried. Then is this not the double? Yes, precisely the double, because the former sons still lived. Let none say, Let me bear evils, and God will repay me as He repaid Job: that it be now no longer patience but avarice. For if it was not patience which that Saint had, nor a brave enduring of all that came upon him; the testimony which the Lord gave, whence should he have it? Have you observed,says the Lord, my servant Job? For there is not like him any on the earth, a man without fault, true worshipper of God. What a testimony, my brethren, did this holyman deserve of the Lord! And yet him a bad woman sought by her persuasion to deceive, she too representing that serpent, who, like as in Paradise he deceived the man whom God first made, so likewise here by suggesting blasphemy thought to be able to deceive a man who pleased God. What things he suffered, my brethren! Who can have so much to suffer in his estate, his house, his sons, his flesh, yea in his very wife who was left to be his tempter! But even her who was left, the devilwould have taken away long ago, but that he kept her to be his helper: because byEve he had mastered the first man, therefore had he kept an Eve. What things, then, he suffered! He lost all that he had; his house fell; would that were all! It crushed his sons also. And, to see that patience had great place in him, hear what he answered; The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away; as it pleased the Lord, so has it been done; blessed be the name of the Lord. He has taken what He gave, is He lost Who gave? He has taken what He gave. As if he should say, He has taken away all, let Him take all, send me away naked, and let me keep Him. What shall I lack if I have God? Or what is the good of all else to me, if I have not God? Then it came to his flesh, he was stricken with a wound from head to foot; he was one running sore, one mass of crawling worms: and showed himself immovable in hisGod, stood fixed. The woman wanted, devil’s helper as she was not husband’scomforter, to put him up to blaspheme God. How long, said she, do you suffer so and so; speak some word against the Lord, and die. So then, because he had been brought low, he was to be exalted. And this the Lord did, in order to show it tomen; as for His servant, He kept greater things for him in heaven. So then Job who was brought low, He exalted; the devil who was lifted up, He brought low: for He puts down one and sets up another. But let not any man, my beloved brethren, when he suffers any such-like tribulations, look for a reward here: for instance, if he suffer any losses, let him not perhaps say, The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away; as it pleased the Lord, so is it done: blessed be the name of the Lord; only with the mind to receive twice as much again. Let patience praise God, not avarice. If what you have lost you seek to receive back twofold, and therefore praisest God, it is of covetousness you praise, not of love. Do not imagine this to be the example of that holy man; you deceive yourself. When Job was enduring all, he was nothoping for to have twice as much again. Both in his first confession when he bore up under his losses, and bore out to the grave the dead bodies of his sons, and in the second when he was now suffering torments of sores in his flesh, you may observe what I am saying. Of his former confession the words run thus: The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away: as it pleased the Lord, so is it done: blessed be the name of the Lord. He might have said, The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; He that took away can once more give; can bring back more than He took. He said not this, but, As it pleased the Lord, said he, so is it done: because it pleases Him, let it please me: let not that which has pleased the good Lord misplease His submissive servant; what pleased the Physician, not misplease the sick man. Hear his other confession: You have spoken, said he to his wife, like one of the foolishwomen. If we have received good at the hand of the Lord, why shall we not bearevil? He did not add, what, if he had said it, would have been true. The Lord is able both to bring back my flesh into its former condition, and that which He has taken away from us, to make manifold more: lest he should seem to have endured in hope of this. This was not what he said, not what he hoped. But, that we might be taught, did the Lord that for him, not hoping for it, by which we should be taught, that God was with him: because if He had not also restored to him those things, there was the crown indeed, but hidden, and we could not see it. And therefore what says the divine Scripture in exhorting to patience and hope of things future, not reward of things present? You have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord. Why is it, the patience of Job, and not, You have seen the end of Job himself? You would open your mouth for the twice as much;would say, Thanks be to God; let me bear up: I receive twice as much again, likeJob. Patience of Job, end of the Lord. The patience of Job we know, and the end of the Lord we know. What end of the Lord? My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me? They are the words of the Lord hanging on the cross. He did as it were leave Him for present felicity, not leave Him for eternal immortality. In this isthe end of the Lord. The Jews hold Him, the Jews insult, the Jews bind Him, crown Him with thorns, dishonor Him with spitting, scourge Him, overwhelm Him with revilings, hang Him upon the tree, pierce Him with a spear, last of all bury Him. He was as it were left: but by whom? By those insulting ones. Therefore you shall but to this end have patience, that you may rise again and not die, that is, never die, even as Christ. For so we read, Christ rising from the dead henceforth dies not.

11. He ascended into heaven: believe. He sits at the right hand of the Father:believe. By sitting, understand dwelling: as [in Latin] we say of any person, In that country he dwelt (sedit) three years. The Scripture also has that expression, that such an one dwelt (sedisse) in a city for such a time. Not meaning that he sat and never rose up? On this account the dwellings of men are called seats (sedes).Where people are seated (in this sense), are they always sitting? Is there no rising, no walking, no lying down? And yet they are called seats (sedes). In this way, then,believe an inhabiting of Christ on the right hand of God the Father: He is there. And let not your heart say to you, What is He doing? Do not want to seek what is not permitted to find: He is there; it suffices you. He is blessed, and from blessednesswhich is called the right hand of the Father, of very blessedness the name is, right hand of the Father. For if we shall take it carnally, then because He sits on the right hand of the Father, the Father will be on His left hand. Is it consistent with piety so to put Them together, the Son on the right, the Father on the left? There it is allright-hand, because no misery is there.

12. Thence He shall come to judge the quick and dead. The quick, who shall be alive and remain; the dead, who shall have gone before. It may also be understood thus: The living, the just; the dead, the unjust. For He judges both, rendering unto each his own. To the just He will say in the judgment, Come, you blessed of My Father, receive the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world. For this prepare yourselves, for these things hope, for this live, and so live, for thisbelieve, for this be baptized, that it may be said to you, Come ye blessed of My Father, receive the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. To them on the left hand, what? Go into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and hisangels. Thus will they be judged by Christ, the quick and the dead. We have spoken of Christ’s first nativity, which is without time; spoken of the other in the fullness of time, Christ’s nativity of the Virgin; spoken of the passion of Christ; spoken of the coming of Christ to judgment. The whole is spoken, that was to be spoken of Christ, God’s Only Son, our Lord. But not yet is the Trinity perfect.

13. It follows in the Creed, And in the Holy Ghost. This Trinity, one God, onenature, one substance, one power; highest equality, no division, no diversity, perpetual dearness of love. Would ye know the Holy Ghost, that He is God? Bebaptized, and you will be His temple. The Apostle says, Do you not know that your bodies are the temple within you of the Holy Ghost, Whom you have of God? Atemple is for God: thus also Solomon, king and prophet, was bidden to build atemple for God. If he had built a temple for the sun or moon or some star or someangel, would not God condemn him? Because therefore he built a temple for God he showed that he worshipped God. And of what did he build? Of wood and stone, because God deigned to make unto Himself by His servant an house on earth, where He might be asked, where He might be had in mind. Of which blessedStephen says, Solomon built Him a house; howbeit the Most High dwells not intemples made by hand. If then our bodies are the temple of the Holy Ghost, what manner of God is it that built a temple for the Holy Ghost? But it was God. For if our bodies be a temple of the Holy Ghost, the same built this temple for the Holy Ghost, that built our bodies. Listen to the Apostle saying, God has tempered the body, giving unto that which lacked the greater honor; when he was speaking of the different members that there should be no schisms in the body. God created our body. The grass, God created; our body Who created? How do we prove that the grass is God’s creating? He that clothes, the same creates. Read the Gospel, If then the grass of the fields, says it, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, God so clothes. He, then, creates Who clothes. And the Apostle: You fool, that which you sow is not quickened except it die; and that which you sow, you sow not that body that shall be, but a bare grain, as perchance of wheat, or of some other grain; but God gives it a body as He would, and to each one of seeds its proper body. If then it be God that builds our bodies, God that builds our members, and our bodies are the temple of the Holy Ghost, doubt not that the Holy Ghost isGod. And do not add as it were a third God; because Father and Son and Holy Ghost is One God. So believe ye.

14. It follows after commendation of the Trinity, The Holy Church. God is pointed out, and His temple. For the temple of God is holy, says the Apostle, which (temple) are you. This same is the holy Church, the one Church, the true Church, the catholic Church, fighting against all heresies: fight, it can: be fought down, it cannot. As for heresies, they went all out of it, like as unprofitable branches pruned from the vine: but itself abides in its root, in its Vine, in its charity. The gates ofhell shall not prevail against it.

15. Forgiveness of sins. You have [this article of] the Creed perfectly in you when you receive Baptism. Let none say, I have done this or that sin: perchance that is not forgiven me. What have you done? How great a sin have you done? Name any heinous thing you have committed, heavy, horrible, which you shudder even to think of: have done what you will: have you killed Christ? There is not than thatdeed any worse, because also than Christ there is nothing better. What a dreadful thing is it to kill Christ! Yet the Jews killed Him, and many afterwards believed on Him and drank His blood: they are forgiven the sin which they committed. When you have been baptized, hold fast a good life in the commandments of God, that you may guard your Baptism even unto the end. I do not tell you that you will live here without sin; but they are venial, without which this life is not. For the sake of all sins was Baptism provided; for the sake of light sins, without which we cannot be, was prayer provided. What has the Prayer? Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. Once for all we have washing in Baptism, every day we have washing in prayer. Only, do not commit those things for which you must needs be separated from Christ’s body: which be far from you! For those whom you have seen doing penance, have committed heinous things, either adulteries or some enormous crimes: for these they do penance. Because if theirs had been light sins, to blot out these daily prayer would suffice.

16. In three ways then are sins remitted in the Church; by Baptism, by prayer, by the greater humility of penance; yet God does not remit sins but to the baptized. The very sins which He remits first, He remits not but to the baptized. When? When they are baptized. The sins which are after remitted upon prayer, upon penance, to whom He remits, it is to the baptized that He remits. For how can they say, Our Father, who are not yet born sons? The Catechumens, so long as they be such, have upon them all their sins. If Catechumens, how much more Pagans? How much more heretics? But to heretics we do not change their baptism. Why? Because they have baptism in the same way as a deserter has the soldier’s mark: just so these also have Baptism; they have it, but to be condemned thereby, not crowned. And yet if the deserter himself, being amended, begin to do duty as a soldier, does any man dare to change his mark?

17. We believe also the resurrection of the flesh, which went before in Christ: that the body too may have hope of that which went before in its Head. The Head of theChurch, Christ: the Church, the body of Christ. Our Head is risen, ascended intoheaven: where the Head, there also the members. In what way the resurrection of the flesh? Lest any should chance to think it like as Lazarus’s resurrection, that you may know it to be not so, it is added, Into life everlasting. God regenerate you! God preserve and keep you! God bring you safe unto Himself, Who is the Life Everlasting. Amen.

 

“Passus sub Pontio Pilato, crucifixus, mortuus, et sepultus”: Good Friday Sermon

Since we are in Holy Week, we at Read the Fathers wish to bring you a series of sermons for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. Today is Good Friday, when we remember that our Lord “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried.” Our sermon today is from Leo the Great, the fifth century pope and bishop of Rome whose Tome was was foundational to the work of the Council of Chalcedon in defining the doctrine of Christ’s two natures. Leo preached a number of sermons during Passion Week, many of which take up the theme of Christ’s two natures revealed in his sufferings on the cross. Especially worth reading are sermons 54, 59, and 67. Today’s sermon 68 is the last in the collection.

Icon of the crucifixion

Icon of the crucifixion from Mount Sinai, 13th century. Notice that Christ’s cross stands over a skull, both because the Gospels name the place as Golgatha, the place of the skull, and because some early Christians believed that Christ was crucified at the place where Adam was buried, a connection that fits with Paul’s theology of Christ as the second Adam.

Sermon LXVIII. (On the Passion, XVII.: delivered on the Wednesday.)

I. Christ’s Godhead never forsook Him in His Passion.

The last discourse, dearly-beloved, of which we desire now to give the promised portion, had reached that point in the argument where we were speaking of that cry which the crucified Lord uttered to the Father: we bade the simple and unthinking hearer not take the words “My God, [my God, why hast thou forsaken me?],” in a sense as if, when Jesus was fixed upon the wood of the cross, the Omnipotence of the Father’s Deity had gone away from Him; seeing that God’s and Man’s Nature were so completely joined in Him that the union could not be destroyed by punishment nor by death. For while each substance retained its own properties, God neither held aloof from the suffering of His body nor was made passible by the flesh, because the Godhead which was in the Sufferer did not actually suffer. And hence, in accordance with the Nature of the Word made Man, He Who was made in the midst of all is the same as He through Whom all things were made. He Who is arrested by the hands of wicked men is the same as He Who is bound by no limits. He Who is pierced with nails is the same as He Whom no wound can affect. Finally, He Who underwent death is the same as He Who never ceased to be eternal, so that both facts are established by indubitable signs, namely, the truth of the humiliation in Christ and the truth of the majesty; because Divine power joined itself to human frailty to this end, that God, while making what was ours His, might at the same time make what was His ours. The Son, therefore, was not separated from the Father, nor the Father from the Son; and the unchangeable Godhead and the inseparable Trinity did not admit of any division. For although the task of undergoing Incarnation belonged peculiarly to the Only-begotten Son of God, yet the Father was not separated from the Son any more than the flesh was separated from the Word.

II. Christ’s death was voluntary on His part, and yet in saving others He could not save Himself.

Jesus, therefore, cried with a loud voice, saying, “Why hast Thou forsaken Me?” in order to notify to all how it behoved Him not to be rescued, not to be defended, but to be given up into the hands of cruel men, that is to become the Saviour of the world and the Redeemer of all men, not by misery but by mercy; and not by the failure of succour but by the determination to die. But what must we feel to be the intercessory power of His life Who died and rose again by His own inherent power. For the blessed Apostle says the Father “spared not His own Son, but gave Him up for us all;” and again, he says, “For Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify it.” And hence the giving up of the Lord to His Passion was as much of the Father’s as of His own will, so that not only did the Father “forsake” Him, but He also abandoned Himself in a certain sense, not in hasty flight, but in voluntary withdrawal. For the might of the Crucified restrained itself from those wicked men, and in order to avail Himself of a secret design, He refused to avail Himself of His open power. For how would He who had come to destroy death and the author of death by His Passion have saved sinners, if he had resisted His persecutors? This, then, had been the Jews’ belief, that Jesus had been forsaken by God, against Whom they had been able to commit such unholy cruelty; for not understanding the mystery of His wondrous endurance, they said in blasphemous mockery: “He saved others, Himself He cannot save. If He be the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we believe Him.” Not at your blind will, O foolish scribes and wicked priests, was the Saviour’s power to be displayed, nor in obedience to blasphemers’ evil tongues was the Redemption of mankind to be delayed; for if you had wished to recognize the Godhead of the Son of God, you would have observed His numberless works, and they must have confirmed you in that faith, which you so deceitfully promise. But if, as you yourselves acknowledge, it is true that He saved others, why have those many, great miracles, which have been done under the public gaze, done nothing to soften the hardness of your hearts, unless it be because you have always so resisted the Holy Ghost as to turn all God’s benefits towards you into your destruction? For even though Christ should descend from the cross, you would yet remain in your crime.

III. A transition was then being effected from the Old to the New Dispensation.

Therefore the insults of empty exultation were scorned, and the Lord’s mercy in restoring the lost and the fallen was not turned from the path of its purpose by contumely or reviling. For a peerless victim was being offered to God for the world’s salvation, and the slaying of Christ the true Lamb, predicted through so many ages, was transferring the sons of promise into the liberty of the Faith. The New Testament also was being ratified, and in the blood of Christ the heirs of the eternal Kingdom were being enrolled; the High Pontiff was entering the Holy of Holies, and to intercede with God the spotless Priest was passing in through the veil of His flesh. In fine, so evident a transition was being effected from the Law to the Gospel, from the synagogue to the Church, from many sacrifices to the One Victim, that, when the Lord gave up the ghost, that mystic veil which hung before and shut out the inner part of the Temple and its holy recess was by sudden force torn from top to bottom, for the reason that Truth was displacing figures, and forerunners were needless in the presence of Him they announced. To this was added a terrible confusion of all the elements, and nature herself withdrew her support from Christ’s crucifiers. …

IV. Let us profit by fasting and good works at this sacred season of the year.

… [L]et us, dearly-beloved, prostrate our bodies and our souls and worship God’s Grace, which has been poured out upon all nations, beseeching the merciful Father and the rich Redeemer from day to day to give us His aid and enable us to escape all the dangers of this life. For the crafty tempter is present everywhere, and leaves nothing free from his snares. Whom, God’s mercy helping us, which is stretched out to us amid all dangers, we must ever with stedfast faith resist so that, though he never ceases to assail, he may never succeed in carrying the assault. Let all, dearly-beloved, religiously keep and profit by the fast, and let no excesses mar the benefits of such self-restraint as we have proved convenient both for soul and body. For the things which pertain to sobriety and temperance must be the more diligently observed at this season, that a lasting habit may be contracted from a brief zeal; and whether in works of mercy or in strict self-denial, no hours may be left idle by the faithful, seeing that, as years increase and time glides by, we are bound to increase our store of works, and not squander our opportunities. And to devout wills and religious souls God’s Mercy will be granted, that He may enable us to obtain that which He enabled us to desire, Who liveth and reigneth with our Lord Jesus Christ His Son, and with the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever. Amen.

“Mandatum novum do vobis”: Maundy Thursday Sermon

Since we are in Holy Week, we at Read the Fathers wish to bring you a series of sermons for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. Today is known as Maundy Thursday, a term probably derived from the Vulgate’s translation of the words of our Lord on this Thursday: “mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos ut et vos diligatis invicem. in hoc cognoscent omnes quia mei discipuli estis si dilectionem habueritis ad invicem”; “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34–35). And so our preacher for the day is Augustine, bishop of Hippo Regius, with a sermon on that text.

Lorenzo Monaco, The Last Supper, 1394–95

Lorenzo Monaco, The Last Supper, 1394–95

Chapter XIII. 34, 35.

1. The Lord Jesus declares that He is giving His disciples a new commandment, that they should love one another. “A new commandment,” He says, “I give unto you, that ye love one another.” But was not this already commanded in the ancient law of God, where it is written, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”? Why, then, is it called a new one by the Lord, when it is proved to be so old? Is it on this account a new commandment, because He hath divested us of the old, and clothed us with the new man? For it is not indeed every kind of love that renews him that listens to it, or rather yields it obedience, but that love regarding which the Lord, in order to distinguish it from all carnal affection, added, “as I have loved you.” For husbands and wives love one another, and parents and children, and all other human relationships that bind men together: to say nothing of the blame-worthy and damnable love which is mutually felt by adulterers and adulteresses, by fornicators and prostitutes, and all others who are knit together by no human relationship, but by the mischievous depravity of human life. Christ, therefore, hath given us a new commandment, that we should love one another, as He also hath loved us. This is the love that renews us, making us new men, heirs of the New Testament, singers of the new song. It was this love, brethren beloved, that renewed also those of olden time, who were then the righteous, the patriarchs and prophets, as it did afterwards the blessed apostles: it is it, too, that is now renewing the nations, and from among the universal race of man, which overspreads the whole world, is making and gathering together a new people, the body of the newly-married spouse of the only-begotten Son of God, of whom it is said in the Song of Songs, “Who is she that ascendeth, made white?” Made white indeed, because renewed; and how, but by the new commandment? Because of this, the members thereof have a mutual interest in one another; and if one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; and one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it. For this they hear and observe, “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another:” not as those love one another who are corrupters, nor as men love one another in a human way; but they love one another as those who are God’s, and all of them sons of the Highest, and brethren, therefore, of His only Son, with that mutual love wherewith He loved them, when about to lead them on to the goal where all sufficiency should be theirs, and where their every desire should be satisfied with good things. For then there will be nothing wanting they can desire, when God will be all in all. An end like that has no end. No one dieth there, where no one arriveth save he that dieth to this world, not that universal kind of death whereby the body is bereft of the soul; but the death of the elect, through which, even while still remaining in this mortal flesh, the heart is set on the things which are above. Of such a death it is that the apostle said, “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” And perhaps to this, also, do the words refer, “Love is strong as death.” For by this love it is brought about, that, while still held in the present corruptible body, we die to this world, and our life is hid with Christ in God; yea, that love itself is our death to the world, and our life with God. For if that is death when the soul quits the body, how can it be other than death when our love quits the world? Such love, therefore, is strong as death. And what is stronger than that which bindeth the world?

2. Think not then, my brethren, that when the Lord says, “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another,” there is any overlooking of that greater commandment, which requires us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind; for along with this seeming oversight, the words “that ye love one another” appear also as if they had no reference to that second commandment, which says, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” For “on these two commandments,” He says, “hang all the law and the prophets.” But both commandments may be found in each of these by those who have good understanding. For, on the one hand, he that loveth God cannot despise His commandment to love his neighbor; and on the other, he who in a holy and spiritual way loveth his neighbor, what doth he love in him but God? That is the love, distinguished from all mundane love, which the Lord specially characterized, when He added, “as I have loved you.” For what was it but God that He loved in us? Not because we had Him, but in order that we might have Him; and that He may lead us on, as I said a little ago, where God is all in all. It is in this way, also, that the physician is properly said to love the sick; and what is it he loves in them but their health, which at all events he desires to recall; not their sickness, which he comes to remove? Let us, then, also so love one another, that, as far as possible, we may by the solicitude of our love be winning one another to have God within us. And this love is bestowed on us by Him who said, “As I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” For this very end, therefore, did He love us, that we also should love one another; bestowing this on us by His own love to us, that we should be bound to one another in mutual love, and, united together as members by so pleasant a bond, should be the body of so mighty a Head.

3. “By this,” He adds, “Shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another:” as if He said, Other gifts of mine are possessed in common with you by those who are not mine,—not only nature, life, perception, reason, and that safety which is equally the privilege of men and beasts; but also languages, sacraments, prophecy, knowledge, faith, the bestowing of their goods upon the poor, and the giving of their body to the flames: but because destitute of charity, they only tinkle like cymbals; they are nothing, and by nothing are they profited. It is not, then, by such gifts of mine, however good, which may be alike possessed by those who are not my disciples, but “by this it is that all men shall know that ye are my disciples, that ye have love one to another.” O thou spouse of Christ, fair amongst women! O thou who ascendest in whiteness, leaning upon thy Beloved! for by His light thou art made dazzling to whiteness, by His assistance thou art preserved from falling. How well becoming thee are the words in that Song of Songs, which is, as it were, thy bridal chant, “That there is love in thy delights”! This it is that suffers not thy soul to perish with the ungodly; it is this that judges thy cause, and is strong as death, and is present in thy delights. How wonderful is the character of that death, which was all but swallowed up in penal sufferings, had it not been over and above absorbed in delights! But here this discourse must now be closed; for we must make a new commencement in dealing with the words that follow.

Fifteenth century Russian icon of the events of Maundy Thursday

Fifteenth century Russian icon of the events of Maundy Thursday

Translation for Wednesday, March 20, 2013

We hope you have been enjoying Clement’s rather detailed practical guide to Christian living. Perhaps it has helped you to refine your table manners, or perhaps—as some readers have told us—its humorous specificity has caused you to lose your composure at the breakfast table!

In tomorrow’s reading, Clement turns his attention to marriage, gender roles, and sexuality. As our public domain translation was crafted in 1869, at the height of Victorian sensibility, the translator William Wilson left much of Book 2 Chapter 10 of the Instructor (Pedagogus) untranslated. Agreeing with the ANF editors that Wilson may have “been too cautious” in his “sacrifice to a proper verecundia” (sense of modesty), we are supplying an alternative translation (PDF) for our readers who happen to lack proficiency with Latin.

That translation comes from Simon Wood’s Christ the Educator (Fathers of the Church Series, 1954). For convenience’ sake, we are including both chapters 9 and 10 of Wood’s translation of our prescribed reading tomorrow. Readers who up to this point have not used an alternate translation may be surprised to find that what constitutes seven pages in the ANF series fills roughly thirty pages of the alternate edition! We assure you the amount of content is substantially the same, though the text formatting is not. (When we use another alternate edition—for the same reasons—next month for Book 3 of the Stromata, the ratio is closer to eighteen pages.)

We hope you find Clement’s thoughts on sleep, intercourse, and adornment worth pondering.

Feast of Polycarp of Smyrna

Today (February 23) is the Feast of Polycarp of Smyrna in both the Western and the Eastern churches. We read Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians and the account of his martyrdom in our first week back in December.

How old, you might ask, is the practice commemorating the saints and martyrs who have gone on to their reward? The answer is, at least since the death of Polycarp, either circa 155–56 or circa 166–67. The story of Polycarp’s martyrdom records that the Roman official who ordered Polycarp’s death at first refused to turn over his bodies to the Christians, for fear that they would abandon the worship of Jesus in favor of the worship of Polycarp. The Christians thought his fear patently absurd (ch. 17):

This he said at the suggestion and urgent persuasion of the Jews, who also watched us, as we sought to take him out of the fire, being ignorant of this, that it is neither possible for us ever to forsake Christ, who suffered for the salvation of such as shall be saved throughout the whole world (the blameless one for sinners), nor to worship any other. For Him indeed, as being the Son of God, we adore; but the martyrs, as disciples and followers of the Lord, we worthily love on account of their extraordinary affection towards their own King and Master, of whom may we also be made companions and fellow-disciples! 1

But though the body of Polycarp was burned by the centurion, the Christians gathered his bones and commemorated the anniversary of his death (ch. 18):

The centurion then, seeing the strife excited by the Jews, placed the body in the midst of the fire, and consumed it. Accordingly, we afterwards took up his bones, as being more precious than the most exquisite jewels, and more purified than gold, and deposited them in a fitting place, whither, being gathered together, as opportunity is allowed us, with joy and rejoicing, the Lord shall grant us to celebrate the anniversary of his martyrdom, both in memory of those who have already finished their course, and for the exercising and preparation of those yet to walk in their steps.

There you have a very early example of Christians marking their calendars to remember they are “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [martyrs].”

Irenaeus and the Development of the Creeds

We’ve been quiet here on the Read the Fathers blog for the last few weeks. If Facebook, Twitter, RSS, and e-mail subscriptions are any indication, though, many of you are still reading, and maybe some new folks have joined us. In the past few weeks, we’ve had a big accomplishment: we finished the long and demanding text Against Heresies by Irenaeus of Lyons. We’ve also finished the first of the volumes in the Ante-Nicene Fathers; only thirty-six more volumes to go! Right now we’re in the midst of a few minor authors: The Shepherd of Hermas (not so minor, actually), Tatian the Assyrian, Theophilus of Antioch, and Athenagoras the Athenian. After that we tackle Clement of Alexandia, for whom we’ll have a proper introductory post. I might be able to work something up about the Shepherd of Hermas (see Scholiast’s post).

I’d be remiss to let Irenaeus pass without so much as a word. We have Scholiast’s introduction to Irenaeus, but I’d like to point out Irenaeus’s contributions to our creeds.

Against Heresies was a tough book to read because so much of it was spent detailing the Gnostic heresies. Nevertheless, Irenaeus is brimful with positive statements of Christian doctrine. The most interesting of these are the creedal statements that Irenaeus makes.

In the first instance, Irenaeus describes the creedal statement as having been “received from the apostles and their disciples” (bk. 1 ch. 10):

The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father “to gather all things in one,” and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, “every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess” to Him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send “spiritual wickednesses,” and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory.

In the second place where Irenaeus sums up the faith of the church, he again emphasizes that the church is holds the deposit of the faith, “since the apostles, like a rich man [depositing his money] in a bank, lodged in her hands most copiously all things pertaining to the truth: so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from her the water of life” (bk. 3 ch. 4):

To which course many nations of those barbarians who believe in Christ do assent, having salvation written in their hearts by the Spirit, without paper or ink, and, carefully preserving the ancient tradition, believing in one God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and all things therein, by means of Christ Jesus, the Son of God; who, because of His surpassing love towards His creation, condescended to be born of the virgin, He Himself uniting man through Himself to God, and having suffered under Pontius Pilate, and rising again, and having been received up in splendour, shall come in glory, the Saviour of those who are saved, and the Judge of those who are judged, and sending into eternal fire those who transform the truth, and despise His Father and His advent. Those who, in the absence of written documents, have believed this faith, are barbarians, so far as regards our language; but as regards doctrine, manner, and tenor of life, they are, because of faith, very wise indeed; and they do please God, ordering their conversation in all righteousness, chastity, and wisdom.

In the third and final place where Irenaeus makes a creedal statement, the emphasis is on the creedal statement as being the judge of who belongs to the church and who does not (bk. 4 ch. 33):

He shall also judge those who give rise to schisms, who are destitute of the love of God, and who look to their own special advantage rather than to the unity of the Church; and who for trifling reasons, or any kind of reason which occurs to them, cut in pieces and divide the great and glorious body of Christ, and so far as in them lies, [positively] destroy it,—men who prate of peace while they give rise to war, and do in truth strain out a gnat, but swallow a camel. For no reformation of so great importance can be effected by them, as will compensate for the mischief arising from their schism. He shall also judge all those who are beyond the pale of the truth, that is, who are outside the Church; but he himself shall be judged by no one. For to him all things are consistent: he has a full faith in one God Almighty, of whom are all things; and in the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord, by whom are all things, and in the dispensations connected with Him, by means of which the Son of God became man; and a firm belief in the Spirit of God, who furnishes us with a knowledge of the truth, and has set forth the dispensations of the Father and the Son, in virtue of which He dwells with every generation of men, according to the will of the Father.

Philip Schaff, in his work The Creeds of Christendom, has a chart of Irenaeus’s creedal statements arranged into the component doctrines that parallel the Apostles’ Creed. He also has another chart that compares the development of the Apostles’ Creed among many of the fathers.

There are two points to be made from these observations. First, the content of the Apostles’ Creed is of great antiquity, since it appears in a well developed form by c. 170–180 in Irenaeus. Second, these creedal statements were very early treated as the authentic, authoritative statement of the essentials of the Christian faith.

 

An Introduction to the Septuagint, the Old Testament in Greek

[N.B. This blog has many kinds of readers, some of whom are interested in the academic side of patristics, others of whom are not. Occasionally we’ll make forays into Greek and Latin or other technical topics, but these are a sidelight to our main purpose.]

In our readings from Justin in the past and coming weeks, Justin makes a spirited case for Christianity on the basis of the Old Testament. Though Justin had access to the “memoirs of the apostles,” which likely included the Gospel of John, the Scriptures that became the New Testament had not yet been canonized and collected, so it is not surprising that Justin relies on the Old Testament. Since he was writing in Greek, Justin did not read the Old Testament in Hebrew, but in Greek. In two notable passages, which we’ll take up in a moment, Justin describes how the Old Testament was translated into Greek and the difference that made for Christian theology.

In all our reading so far, you might have noticed that when the fathers quote from the Old Testament, the wording does not quite match the text of your English Bible. Sometimes the father is only alluding to a passage, as you might in a conversation, or sometimes the father seems to be quoting from memory. But often the quotation differs because the fathers were using a Greek Old Testament, but your English Bible is a translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. Of course you need not look to the fathers to find these differences, because the New Testament writers also often quoted from a Greek rather than a Hebrew text. Both the apostles and the fathers were using a version of the Old Testament called the Septuagint.

In his First Apology (ch. 31), Justin describes how the Hebrew Scriptures came to be translated into Greek at Alexandria, a story given at greater length in the Letter of Aristeas. The legend of the Septuagint is that the Ptolemy II Philadelphus, the Hellenistic king of Egypt from 283 to 246 BC, requested a translation of the Pentateuch into Greek for the library at Alexandria. On the island of Pharos in the harbor of Alexandria, which was the site of a lighthouse that was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, seventy-two Jewish elders from Jerusalem met and translated the Pentateuch into Greek in seventy-two days.

This story is just a legend, of course, but sometime in the third-century BC the Pentateuch and later the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek at Alexandria. These collection of Greek texts came to be known as the Septuagint (meaning “seventy” and abbreviated LXX). The Septuagint was only the oldest of several Greek versions of the Scriptures in the two or three centuries before Christ. The church father Origen (184–254), whom we’ll read starting next September, was famous for his Hexapla, a six-column collection of a Hebrew and several Greek versions of the Old Testament, and Jerome also identified other Greek translations. But the Septuagint bears the distinction of having been the version used most often by the apostles and the fathers.

Most modern English versions of the Old Testament are translated from the Masoretic Text, a text type of the Hebrew Bible passed down with great precision by Jewish scribes. The oldest extant manuscripts of the Masoretic Text date to the ninth century A.D., though the text preserved is older. The Septuagint is not a translation of the Masoretic Text; rather, it is a translation of Hebrew manuscripts that predate the Masoretic Text. Thus the Hebrew Masoretic Text and Greek Septuagint are independent witnesses to the original Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament.1

The differences between the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint are not always easy to spot. Many English translations, especially older translations like the Authorized Version, attempt to reconcile the Hebrew Old Testament with the New Testament’s quotations in Greek, and thus with the Septuagint. Even modern English translations, like the NRSV or ESV, which are translated from the Masoretic Text rather than from the Septuagint, are translated in light of a Christological interpretation originally based on the LXX.

Comparison of the Septuagint and Masoretic Text

The most obvious difference between the Septuagint and the Hebrew Bible is the list of books that comprises each. The Septuagint contains all the books that are part of the Hebrew Bible, albeit in a different combination and order, but the Septuagint also includes other books, such as Judith, Tobit, the books of the Maccabees, the Wisdom of Sirach (also called Ecclesiasticus). In addition, some of the books included in the Hebrew canon have longer versions in the Septuagint, including Daniel and Esther.

The various churches of Christendom disagree about the authority of these additional books. In the most general of terms: All Christians accept all of what comprises the Hebrew canon. The Eastern Orthodox churches accept all of the books in the Hebrew canon as translated in the Septuagint, and they accept all of the books in the Septuagint. The Roman Catholic church accepts most of the books in the Apocrypha (the so-called deuterocanon). Since Luther, Protestants accept only the Hebrew canon. (Luther not only denied the authority of the Apocrypha, he also doubted the canonicity of several New Testament books, most famously James, and some Old Testament books, such as Esther.) But many Protestant churches make use of the Apocrypha in liturgical readings (in the words of the Thirty-Nine Articles, “the Church doth read [those books] for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine”), and Protestant versions of the Bible such as the King James Version and the Revised Standard Version routinely included the Apocrypha.2

The other important difference between the Septuagint and the Hebrew Bible is the wording of specific passages. Two examples will suffice:

  • Hebrews 10:5–7 is a quotation from Psalm 40:6–8. The phrase in Hebrews “a body you have prepared for me” is a quotation from the LXX version of Psalm 40:6, where the Masoretic text reads, “ears you fashioned for me.”
  • Matthew 1:23 (“the virgin shall conceive”) is a quotation from the LXX version of Isaiah 7:14. The word for “virgin” in both the Septuagint and the gospel is παρθένος, and Christian apologetics both ancient and modern have had to demonstrate that the Greek word is an accurate translation of the underlying Hebrew word.

One related textual variation that is important for understanding the fathers concerns Psalm 96:10 (=95:10 LXX). The Hebrew Bible, modern critical editions of the Septuagint, and all modern English translations render part of that verse as “The Lord reigns.” But some of the fathers had a Greek or Latin version that added the words, “ἀπο του ξύλου”—”The Lord reigns from the tree,” with obvious Christological implications. In his Dialogue with Trypho, Justin goes so far as to accuse Jews of removing those words from the text (ch. 73), though these words were certainly added by Christians  and not removed by Jews.3 Augustine interpreted the Psalm including those words, though Jerome disagreed that they were part of the text.4

Significance of the Septuagint

I’m not going to try to resolve the theological and apologetic questions that the differences between the Hebrew and Greek Old Testaments pose. Those large questions can only be answered by detailed investigation into the particulars of New Testament and patristic use of the Old Testament. But I do want to suggest several reasons to consult the Septuagint.

First, if you want to understand the theology and biblical interpretation of the fathers, then it can be helpful to have the same Old Testament text in front of you that was in front of them. This includes the books outside the Hebrew canon, which are occasionally cited by the fathers and in a few cases alluded to in the New Testament. I’m not asking anyone to reconsider his or her canon, but it’s worth at least being acquainted with all the books that have been accounted Scripture.

Second, the Septuagint was the first edition of the Old Testament in use in churches, both in the east and in the west. This heritage deserves honor. (I realize that this argument, taken to an extreme could be a fallacy—”It was good for the church fathers [3x] … and it’s good enough for me.”)

Third, using the Septuagint forces us to confront the Scriptures as they are, rather than as we assume they ought to be. In my (narrow) experience, a common error in thinking about the Scriptures is to make some a deductive claim about how the Scriptures ought to function, then to demonstrate that they do in fact function in that way, when instead we ought to first see how how God has used the Scriptures and the church has read them, then learn how we can describe them. The Septuagint makes things messier, but that’s how things really are. If the Scriptures are the Word of God in a way that is parallel to Christ being the incarnated Word of God, then we have to give full weight to the way the Scriptures take human form, without veering into whatever the equivalent of the docetist or gnostic heresies would be, even if that makes the Scriptures sometimes seem like “an untidy and leaky vehicle.”

Fourth, Christians have always interpreted the Septuagint Christologically. We must of course avoid Justin’s mistake in insisting on versions of the text that are absolutely indefensible. But it was reading the Septuagint which persuaded Christians that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, the Logos of God. It’s essential to learn how to read the Old Testament Christologically as the fathers did, and this can be done from the Septuagint.

The Septuagint in English

If you want an English translation of the Septuagint, there is a recent edition titled A New English Translation of the SeptuagintNETS is available for free in its entirety online in PDF proofs of the book. NETS is based on the NRSV, meaning that it amends the NRSV translation of the Hebrew Bible where the Septuagint Greek differs from the Hebrew. The reasoning is well explained in the translators’ preface “To the Readers” (PDF), which I recommend for further information on the Septuagint. The real advantage of NETS is the ability to look up Old Testament passages and have a translation of the edition that the fathers were using.

The Septuagint in Greek

Cover of Rahlfs SeptuagintaSome of our readers may know Greek, and wish to consult a Greek edition. The best complete critical edition of the Greek text of the Septuagint is Rahlfs and Hanhart’s Septuaginta, published by Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft as are the critical editions of the Greek New Testament.5 This edition includes all of the books that comprise the Septuagint. An older edition of the Greek text of the Septuagint is Lancelot C. Brenton’s The Septuagint with Apocrypha, first published in an English translation in 1844, then in a Greek-English diglot in 1870, and still in print by Hendrickson. Brenton’s edition is the cheapest, and to my knowledge it is the only diglot on the market.6 But Brenton’s text is bizarre and unreliable. Besides the progress made in Septuagint scholarship since the nineteenth century, Brenton’s translation is not really a Septuagint at all. The books are listed in the order of the Hebrew Bible rather than the Septuagint, with the additional books of the Septuagint in the back as apocrypha. More troubling, Brenton seems to have included only the verses of the Hebrew Bible, rather than preserving the readings of the Septuagint. Since Brenton’s version is just the Hebrew Bible arranged in Greek, I can’t imagine what useful scholarly purpose it could serve.7

Further Reading

If you’d like a fuller introduction to the Septuagint, I highly recommend Karen H. Jobes and Moiesés Silva’s Invitation to the Septuagint, which discusses the history of the Septuagint, an introduction to current editions, and an explanation of some passages in the Septuagint. If you want help learning to read the Septuagint in Greek, Rodney Decker’s Koine Greek Reader: Selections from the New Testament, Septuagint, and Early Christian Writers is an introductory text, similar in format to the patristic Greek reader I recommended earlier.

Merry Christmas from Read the Fathers

Merry Christmas from Read the Fathers.* We greet you with this passage from St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word (§54):

… Let him marvel that by so ordinary a means things divine have been manifested to us, and that by death immortality has reached to all, and that by the Word becoming man, the universal Providence has been known, and its Giver and Artificer the very Word of God. For He was made man that we might be made God; and He manifested Himself by a body that we might receive the idea of the unseen Father; and He endured the insolence of men that we might inherit immortality. For while He Himself was in no way injured, being impassible and incorruptible and very Word and God, men who were suffering, and for whose sakes He endured all this, He maintained and preserved in His own impassibility. And, in a word, the achievements of the Saviour, resulting from His becoming man, are of such kind and number, that if one should wish to enumerate them, he may be compared to men who gaze at the expanse of the sea and wish to count its waves. For as one cannot take in the whole of the waves with his eyes, for those which are coming on baffle the sense of him that attempts it; so for him that would take in all the achievements of Christ in the body, it is impossible to take in the whole, even by reckoning them up, as those which go beyond his thought are more than those he thinks he has taken in. Better is it, then, not to aim at speaking of the whole, where one cannot do justice even to a part, but, after mentioning one more, to leave the whole for you to marvel at. For all alike are marvellous, and wherever a man turns his glance, he may behold on that side the divinity of the Word, and be struck with exceeding great awe.

An icon of the nativity from fifteenth-century Greece

An icon of the nativity from fifteenth-century Greece

* If you’re on the Old Calendar, as some of our readers may well be, please accept this as a Christmas card that arrives a little early.

Week 2 Recap

As we finish week 2 of our reading, we’ve made it two-thirds of the way through the apostolic fathers. (Because of some idiosyncrasies in ANF, in the coming months we’ll circle back to two texts often classified as part of the apostolic fathers, the Didache and the Shepherd of Hermas.) This next week we’ll finish the rest of the apostolic fathers, and on Saturday we’ll begin Justin Martyr. Tomorrow afternoon we’ll post an introduction to Justin.

I want to bring out two threads from our reading this week. First, Ignatius emphasizes that “you must not do anything without the bishop and the presbyters” (To the Magnesians, ch. 7, among many other places). The importance of Christian unity and harmony within the church was also a main emphasis in Clement of Rome, and we will find this point being made again and again. For Clement, the theological rationale for the unity of the church was the nature of the congregation and indeed the cosmos. For Ignatius, the theological rationale is on the Trinity as a model for the structure of the church, and so he especially emphasizes the bishop as the source of unity.

Second, in Ignatius’s epistles we read a heart-rending account of a man yearning for death so that he can bear witness to his Lord (μάρτυρος = witness), yet fearful that he will be denied martyrdom either by the maneuverings of the church in Rome, or because he will in the end deny his Lord. We will read in countless texts about the theology of martyrdom: should Christians give themselves over to death? How far should they go to avoid it? Should a bishop leave his congregation to avoid martyrdom? Should someone be excommunicated for handing over the Scriptures to save himself? We’ve already seen these questions addressed in the Martyrdom of Polycarp. One of the striking metaphors for martyrdom in the fathers’ writings, with precedent in the epistles of Paul, is the martyr as athlete. The comparison is to the gladiatorial games (which, by the way, the fathers universally condemn). We’ve seen this metaphor in Polycarp—”The most noble Germanicus strengthened the timidity of others by his own patience, and fought heroically with the wild beasts” (Martyrdom, ch. 3)—and in Ignatius—”From Syria even unto Rome I fight with beasts, … being bound to ten leopards, I mean a band of soldiers” (To the Romans, ch. 5). Whenever I encounter this metaphor, I think of Theodore Roosevelt’s famous “Citizenship in a Republic Speech” (“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena …”), only in service not of nationalism, but of people who are “strangers and exiles on the earth.” These accounts and theologies of martyrdom are especially important in an age where perhaps 200 million Christians suffer persecution, much of it state-sponsored.1

 

Martyrdom of Ignatius

The martyrdom of Ignatius—an ancient Christian athlete.

Tebowing

A modern Christian athlete?

Several readers have been posting excerpts of the readings, including Theology for the Road and Near Emmaus (with a long, thoughtful comment thread on this post). It’s great to see people in the community writing about what they’ve been reading.

Bonus: Philip Jenkins explains that the hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is a translation of the ancient “O Antiphons.”

Double bonus: In the most recent issue of Church History, C. P. E. Nothaft reviews the theories and evidence behind the December 25th date for Christmas. (You’ll need a subscription, unfortunately.)

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