Jay’s post here. The nu
1. The doctrine of a third Person was not clearly taught in the first few centuries. Indeed, even by Basil’s time, he expressed hesitation about declaring for sure that the Spirit was a third hypostasis in the godhead. The problem with this is that we must either admit a very extreme form of doctrinal development, which few are willing to admit, or we must say that in some way the fathers of the 1-3 centuries were utterly deficient in their doctrine of God. How did they carry on the apostolic Tradition, if many of them did not even grasp the divinity and Personhood of the Spirit? In fact, Justin Martyr posited a Dyad. Consider also the “development” of the notion from Athanasius that the Son is generated from the essence of God, to the Cappadocian idea that He is generated from the Father proper. Once you read Plotinus, though, it becomes clear how influential the Platonic tradition was on the Alexandrians and the Latins in their triadic formulations. But once we admit this, we have moved far from the Hebraic and Mosaic tradition, into what appears to be a Greek Hellenic mystery religion. Indeed, if you pay attention to Christian writers, notice how often when speaking of God, it is a singular Person, with a singular will acting. Yet when we come to Trinitarian theology and God acting, we are immediately caught in a whirlwind of explaining how three Persons act in different way, yet don’t. It’s a maze that ends up being miles away from the Shema. Peruse the 5th Ennead for yourself, which Augustine openly borrowed heavily from: http://classics.mit.edu/Plotinus/enneads.5.fifth.html
Response to (1): Were they deficient in their doctrine of God or were they merely deficient in their language expressing the doctrine of God? Your argument only lends support to the latter. However, I grant your contention about carrying on apostolic tradition. I am getting the impression that the “deposit” mentioned in Jude is not the “Full Theology of the Seven Councils” ala the East, nor the “seed-form of everything 21st Century Catholicism would eventually say.” Rather, I am seeing the apostolic deposit as the faith in the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 15). In this case, I thank Mr Dyer for sharpening my understanding of the issue.
2. Can we pray impreccatory prayers now? C.S. Lewis found them offensive and demanded we cannot. Aquinas says we must in no wise despise our enemies. If no, this would be absurd, since it would mean God composed many prayers in the Psalms that are now useless. Although some might resort to lengthy explanations as to how we can pray them, this would run counter the tradition of many of the saints, who forbid such an idea. And based on a simple reading of the Sermon on the Mount, it would appear we cannot pray them. Other examples of how this is fuzzy would be something like martyrdom – does God want me to fight my opponents and possibly save the lives of others, or am I bound to martyrdom? When we look at the Church of the first few centuries, pacifism was almost the absolute law. Why such a radical change in God’s social rules?
For all of the problems with the Reformed faith, this isn’t one of them. My wife and I sing impreccatory psalms as lullabies to our little girl. As to the Sermon on the Mount, there is yet to be a contradiction demonstrated. A tension maybe, but I can life with tensions. And for what it’s worth, N. T. Wright has suggested that the Sermon is not meant to be read as a normative ethical blueprint–though certainly not to be discarded–but as an urgent summons to the rebellious 1st century Jews to abandon their way of being Israel to be a New Israel. The failure to heed would result in their rebellious actions getting their temple destroyed.
3. The sexual views of the fathers of the first few centuries are generally somewhat bizarre. Sex is viewed in some form as evil, and even up to Maximus’ time, it is somehow dirty and base. It is not hard to see why this is when you read the 5th Ennead of Plotinus. Augustine borrowed from this in large chunks. This is the source of the idea that the Spirit is the glue between the One and it’s generated image. The generated nous returns the love to the One and this is a pure, “spiritual” love. Plotinus and Augustine and many fathers in the East too, conceive of love in an Eros or sexual way apart from purely procreative ends as evil. If you’ve ever wondered where the Church/Augustine got this, read the 5th Ennead. And I needn’t explain how different this view is from the Law and Prophets views on sexuality. This is why the Church has to “spiritualize” all the texts in the Law and wisdom texts about the importance of having sons. What God really wants is “spiritual” sons in the Church, since sex is lesser and base. No one can tell me this isn’t the case with the fathers, East and West, as top Eastern theologian Phillip Sherrard admits:
Studies have shown that conservative Protestants have the best sex lives. Actually, the last part of your objection is kind of funny and spot-on.
4. Related to that last issue, it now casts a new light on the matter of the rise in the position of women in Christianity, and this is concurrent with the place of the Virginal Queen of heaven, who over the centuries achieves a progressively higher place of veneration in the Church. It is not surprising, then, that this religion emasculates men, and has progressed to a point where large numbers of the priests in the Latin tradition are now homosexual. One can say that it was not always this way, but I suspect the sublimation of sexuality as dirty and in some form involving some degree of sin (as Augustine says), has lent great impetus to this being the end result. We can blame Masons all day long, but at a certain point, that is just a bunch of excuses. Stepping back and looking at the issues, it becomes apparent that a Latin tradition that exalts celibacy, derives its theism largely from Plotinus, raises women to the status of virtual goddess, and promotes monastic asceticism as the higher calling – that this tradition would eventually fall into mass homosexuality and perversion. Why shouldn’t it? It holds that the good things of nature – race, sex, beauty, are actually bad and despised by the God who purportedly gave them. God has chosen the base things of the world – the stupid, the inane, the poor, right? So why is it surprising that when I attend the local Novus Ordo, it’s a communistic, college girl led, fag fest? The Orthodox Christians may escape some of this, but they cannot even tell us whether God punishes or not, so I am not as thrilled about them as seeking Latin Catholics might be.
Presumably this is an in-house Catholic debate.
5. Thus the next issue – Lex talionis. God Himself operates on the “eye for an eye” principle in many texts in the Law and prophets and writings. Most Christians, however, have read Jesus’ sermon as a rejection of this approach. There have been many exegetes who explain and qualify this as meaning that we as individuals are forbidden to operate this way, but God still does. Well, who believes this anymore? If they did, they would execute homosexuals, since that is the requirement of the Law for this sin crying to heaven for vengeance, but no Catholic or Orthodox would dare have the balls to say this (aside for me and a friend or two). What this makes clear is that Christianity, for all its ad nauseam touting of its practicality cannot even get off the ground on basic moral issues. Indeed, after 2,000 years, we don’t know what to do with imrpeccatory prayers or the death penalty. Within the first few centuries, we ended up having to debate the very issues (such as “justified lying”) the rabbinate had already debated.
Lex talionis is a limit of maximum justice, not a mandate to pursue vengeance to the hilt. This is kind of where theonomy falters: it doesn’t really explain how the law is variously, if not apparently contradictorily applied in the Old testament. Jesus is simply limiting the desire to pursue vengeance to the hilt. We know, however, that Christ did not do away with the penal commands of the Old Testament, for in Matthew 15 he implicitly affirms the death penalty against rebellious children.
6. Why does the Church retain Pentecost as a feast, and not other feasts of the Law? Why do we retain “holy water” and not other aspects that are found in Numbers? It becomes clear this is ad hoc and arbitrary. I know the answer – that the Apostles, via their apostolic authority, confirmed these elements (supposedly – we don’t see holy water in the fathers), and not others. The problem is that we have no consistent hermeneutic for determining why we utilize these “ceremonial” elements, and reject other elements such as the priestly ephod, as fulfilled. This is why in the history of the church, you see new elements become incorporated that were formerly ceremonial (such as holy water or the “tabernacle’).
Interestingly, Jay’s reading of the Fathers and Holy Water is identical to Calvin’s. Westminster Protestants do have a more consistent hermeneutics: the ceremonial laws typify Christ. I am not saying this is the best answer in the world. I am simply saying it is a more consistent answer.
7. The early church for the firt 3 centuries was the persecuted, pilgrim church. After that period, it becomes the imperial church that begins to justify its notion of “Christendom” by saying that the kingdom is now united to the Empire. The kingdom becomes a step more worldly, and the notion of Christian Emperors arises, and ruling as a Christian king. The idea of persecuting heretics by the state is first justified by Ambrose and then Augustine. So the poor church becomes the state church, and Rome more adn more takes on the appearance of an alter-Israel. The texts are then read, not of “spiritual Israel,” but of the state church which can execute or banish heretics and wizards. So the typology of the heavenly Jerusalem becomes more earth-grounded, and Rome, by the time of the papal states, looks more and more like Israel, to the point where the church’s locus is identified with a city-state – Vatican City, replete with its own huge bank, etc. So we have a new church/state/nation, yet the Church was supposed to be the eternal, spiritual eschatological reality, and not another historical institution operating more and more like historical Israel over time. Indeed, the types of the loss of land in Leviticus apply to Israel, but somehow not the curses to the Church. Yet we turn around and end up using these texts for God’s judgments on the church at different points in history. The hermeneutic is again inconsistent. The textual arguments for the Messianic age uniformly tell us of an end to idolatry, yet the Church took numerous pagan elements that God in Deuteronomy 12 says are forbidden, and Christianizes them. In other words, the very things defined as idolatry in the Law and used by the fathers as proof of Christianity as the fulfillment of the covenant (the end of idolatry), become the norm in the Church and are somehow a “proof” of the spread of the messianic age!
This seems to be a slam against traditional, institutionalized churches. Since I am apparently part of neither, this slam doesn’t bother me. Per the eschatological thrust of the post, I am a premillennialist and dont’ believe we are in the Messianic Age, understood as the Millennium.