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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.

 

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.

 

Fr. Georges Florovsky on “The Lost Scriptural Mind”

Georges Florovsky

Fr. Georges Florovsky

Father Georges Florovsky (1893–1979) was an Eastern Orthodox priest, theologian, and historian. Expelled from Russia in 1920, he became a professor at Orthodox seminaries in Paris and New York, then a professor at Harvard University and Princeton University. In this excerpt from a 1951 essay titled “The Lost Scriptural Mind,” Florovsky argues that the fathers of the Christian church are more relevant than modern theologians. You can read the full essay here.

Christian ministers are not supposed to preach their private opinions, at least from the pulpit. Ministers are commissioned and ordained in the church precisely to preach the Word of God. They are given some fixed terms of reference — namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ — and they are committed to this sole and perennial message. They are expected to propagate and to sustain “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” Of course, the Word of God must be preached “efficiently.” That is, it should always be so presented as to carry conviction and command the allegiance of every new generation and every particular group. It may be restated in new categories, if the circumstances require. But, above all, the identity of the message must be preserved.

One has to be sure that one is preaching the same gospel that was delivered and that one is not introducing instead any “strange gospel” of his own. The Word of God cannot be easily adjusted or accommodated to the fleeting customs and attitudes of any particular age, including our own time. Unfortunately, we are often inclined to measure the Word of God by our own stature, instead of checking our mind by the stature of Christ. The “modern mind” also stands under the judgment of the Word of God.

Modern Man and Scripture

But it is precisely at this point that our major difficulty begins. Most of us have lost the integrity of the scriptural mind, even if some bits of biblical phraseology are retained. The modern man often complains that the truth of God is offered to him in an “archaic idiom” — i.e., in the language of the Bible — which is no more his own and cannot be used spontaneously. It has recently been suggested that we should radically “demythologize” Scripture, meaning to replace the antiquated categories of the Holy Writ by something more modern. Yet the question cannot be evaded: Is the language of Scripture really nothing else than an accidental and external wrapping out of which some “eternal idea” is to be extricated and disentangled, or is it rather a perennial vehicle of the divine message, which was once delivered for all time?

We are in danger of losing the uniqueness of the Word of God in the process of continuous “reinterpretation.” But how can we interpret at all if we have forgotten the original language? Would it not be safer to bend our thought to the mental habits of the biblical language and to relearn the idiom of the Bible? No man can receive the gospel unless he repents — “changes his mind.” For in the language of the gospel “repentance” (metanoeite) does not mean merely acknowledgment of and contrition for sins, but precisely a “change of mind” — a profound change of man’s mental and emotional attitude, an integral renewal of man’s self, which begins in his self-renunciation and is accomplished and sealed by the Spirit.

We are living now in an age of intellectual chaos and disintegration. Possibly modern man has not yet made up his mind, and the variety of opinions is beyond any hope of reconciliation. Probably the only luminous signpost we have to guide us through the mental fog of our desperate age is just the “faith which was once delivered unto the saints,” obsolete or archaic as the idiom of the Early Church may seem to be, judged by our fleeting standards.

Preach the Creeds!

What, then, are we going to preach? What would I preach to my contemporaries “in a time such as this?” There is no room for hesitation: I am going to preach Jesus, and him crucified and risen. I am going to preach and to commend to all whom I may be called to address the message of salvation, as it has been handed down to me by an uninterrupted tradition of the Church Universal. I would not isolate myself in my own age. In other words, I am going to preach the “doctrines of the creed.”

I am fully aware that creeds are a stumbling block for many in our own generation. “The creeds are venerable symbols, like the tattered flags upon the walls of national churches; but for the present warfare of the church in Asia, in Africa, in Europe and America the creeds, when they are understood, are about as serviceable as a battle-ax or an arquebus in the hands of a modern soldier.” This was written some years ago by a prominent British scholar who is a devout minister too. Possibly he would not write them today. But there are still many who would wholeheartedly make this vigorous statement their own. Let us remember, however, that the early creeds were deliberately scriptural, and it is precisely their scriptural phraseology that makes them difficult for the modern man.

Thus we face the same problem again: What can we offer instead of Holy Scripture? I would prefer the language of the Tradition, not because of a lazy and credulous “conservatism” or a blind “obedience” to some external “authorities,” but simply because I cannot find any better phraseology. I am prepared to expose myself to the inevitable charge of being “antiquarian” and “fundamentalist.” And I would protest that such a charge is gratuitous and wrong. I do keep and hold the “doctrines of the creed,” conscientiously and wholeheartedly, because I apprehend by faith their perennial adequacy and relevance to all ages and to all situations, including “a time such as this.” And I believe it is precisely the “doctrines of the creed” that can enable a desperate generation like ours to regain Christian courage and vision.

The Tradition Lives

“The church is neither a museum of dead deposits nor a society of research.” The deposits are alive—depositum juvenescens, to use the phrase of St. Irenaeus. The creed is not a relic of the past, but rather the “sword of the Spirit.” The reconversion of the world to Christianity is what we have to preach in our day. This is the only way out of that impasse into which the world has been driven by the failure of Christians to be truly Christian. Obviously, Christian doctrine does not answer directly any practical question in the field of politics or economics. Neither does the gospel of Christ. Yet its impact on the whole course of human history has been enormous. The recognition of human dignity, mercy and justice roots in the gospel. The new world can be built only by a new man.

The Modern Crisis

The first task of the contemporary preacher is the “reconstruction of belief.” It is by no means an intellectual endeavor. Belief is just the map of the true world, and should not be mistaken for reality. Modern man has been too much concerned with his own ideas and convictions, his own attitudes and reactions. The modern crisis precipitated by humanism (an undeniable fact) has been brought about by the rediscovery of the real world, in which we do believe. The rediscovery of the church is the most decisive aspect of this new spiritual realism. Reality is no more screened from us by the wall of our own ideas. It is again accessible. It is again realized that the church is not just a company of believers, but the “Body of Christ.” This is a rediscovery of a new dimension, a rediscovery of the continuing presence of the divine Redeemer in the midst of his faithful flock. This discovery throws a new flood of light on the misery of our disintegrated existence in a world thoroughly secularized. It is already recognized by many that the true solution of all social problems lies somehow in the reconstruction of the church. “In a time such as this” one has to preach the “whole Christ,” Christ and the church—totus Christus, caput et corpus, to use the famous phrase of St. Augustine. Possibly this preaching is still unusual, but it seems to be the only way to preach the Word of God efficiently in a period of doom and despair like ours.

The Relevance of the Fathers

I have often a strange feeling. When I read the ancient classics of Christian theology, the fathers of the church, I find them more relevant to the troubles and problems of my own time than the production of modern theologians. The fathers were wrestling with existential problems, with those revelations of the eternal issues which were described and recorded in Holy Scripture. I would risk a suggestion that St. Athanasius and St. Augustine are much more up to date than many of our theological contemporaries. The reason is very simple: they were dealing with things and not with the maps, they were concerned not so much with what man can believe as with what God had done for man. We have, “in a time such as this,” to enlarge our perspective, to acknowledge the masters of old, and to attempt for our own age an existential synthesis of Christian experience.1

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