Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas and Call for Submissions for Patristics Carnival XIX

I can't believe I'm posting this on Christmas Eve. Ah well, there is still a week before the end of the month and I'm calling for patristic entries for Patristics Carnival XIX. This month, we're back here at hyperekperissou.

The guidelines remain the same as the Modest Proposal entry back in November, 2006 and my additions in August, 2007.

The last day of submission will be December 31 and the postings will be up by the week of January 10th. (I'll be away until the 3rd).

Remember you can offer submissions on the carnival site or the dedicated e-mail (

Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Doing Advent

Advent is time of waiting and expectation. All of us who attend liturgical churches know that and all of us know how much a challenge that waiting is amid the craziness of the Christmas season these days. For me, the weeks leading up to Advent and Advent itself involve marking, lesson preparation and the standard running-around which life as a teacher entails. By the time Advent comes around, I'm usually worn to a frazzle and trying to squeeze out the last reserves just to get done what I need to get done before the Christmas holidays really begin.

I don't think this overwhelmed feeling is uncommon at all. All of us are busy this time of year and Christmas preparations and socializing just add to that load. It is hard to find time to wait quietly and to reflect on the coming of Jesus, both on that night more than two thousand years ago and in the coming age (whenever that is). That is the dilemma that I found myself in this year...again.

As Advent started this year, I found myself catching up marking from a busy November, taking on an additional task at school (which I should never have taken on--when will I learn!) and I was getting very cranky. Two or three days into Advent, I was muttering under my breath that I didn't feel like I would get any Advent this year. That woke me up. Something was very wrong with my attitude and with me, if I was feeling that way so early in Advent.

That was when a thought came to my head: why not just leave work at work, do what I can and take Advent back for myself? Sounds simple doesn't it? Simple and, frankly, a little scary, given how behind I was feeling. How was I supposed to get work done and have Advent? Won't I just fall further behind and get more stressed, instead of relieving my stress by getting the work out of the way, even if it meant flogging myself to get things done? Given the way that my brain works, that actually made sense to me and made the decision that I was making seem a little crazy. I still made it, but with some trepidation.

So, what happened? I'd love to say that I was perfect in my resolution and didn't bring work home (I did a couple nights towards the end of the period, but only less than an hour's worth of work each night). I'd love to say that I had spiritual epiphanies each night (many nights I fell asleep reading or watching TV). I'd love to say that I had a fresh understanding of Christ child and the incarnation (see the previous parenthesis).

What did happen is that, instead of my stress increasing, I found it dropping and my productivity at school so much greater because I knew the work needed to get done there. I found I could take the time out to pray and to reflect (at least, before I fell asleep) on what Christ has meant to my life. I found I had time for my wife and son which was wonderful. I found I could be grateful for the good things in my life and to have compassion for others around me in a way I don't think I could have without that time. All those things are precious gifts and slowing down for Advent was what enabled me to receive them peacefully.

So, as Advent winds to a close, I'm still trying to keep a peaceful Advent. I still have some school work I want to get done. I still have many other tasks clamouring for my attention, but I still want to take the time out to wait for the coming of the Lord. There is always more things to do and there are more and better ways to keep Advent than the simple action I took this year. Still, I hope this is a start to a deepening of my Advent experiences. With God's help, I hope that the Advent season will be a time for us to prepare ourselves to meet Christ again; in prayer, in those we help and in those around us.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Sulpicius Severus, Life of St. Martin 24

Here is the next installment of the Life of St. Martin. Enjoy!


It is necessary to note, however, that there was, at almost the same time, a young man in Spain, who gained authority for himself with many signs. He was so puffed that he claimed he was Elijah. (2) When many people rashly believed this, he went on to say that he was Christ. In this claim, he deceived people to the point that a certain bishop, Rufus, venerated him as God because of which we see that he was later deposed from his bishopric. (3) Very many from our brothers reported that, at the same time, a certain person arose in the East, who boasted that he was John (the Baptist). From these events, we are able to conclude that, since false prophets of this type were arising, the advent of the Anti-Christ, who is already practicing through these people the mystery of iniquity, was at hand.

(4) But it seems that it is necessary not to ignore by what trickery the devil tempted Martin in these days. On that day, after prayers were made previously, the devil, being surrounded in purple light so that he might deceive people more easily by the brightness of the shining light, clothed even in royal clothing, wreathed with a diadem made out of gems and gold, his shoes gilded with gold, with a serene face and a happy expression so that he would be reckoned as anyone else except the devil, himself stood next to Martin, who was praying in his cell (5) Since Martin was stupefied by the first appearance of him, both held much silence for a long time. Then, the devil first said "Martin, recognize who you perceive: I am Christ. I will come down to the earth, but I first wanted to show myself to you." (6) When Martin was silent and did not respond to this, the devil dared to repeat the boldness of his profession: "Martin, why do you hesitate to believe, when you see it? I am Christ". (7) Martin, since the Spirit uncovered what was happening so that he perceived that this was the devil and not the Lord, said "Jesus did not say he will come clothed in purple and shining with a diadem. I will not believe that Jesus came unless in that same clothing and form in which he suffered, unless bearing forth the marks of the cross."(8) In answer to this, the devil at once disappeared alike smoke and filled the cell with such a stench that it left undoubted evidence that this was the devil. This happened as I reported above. I learned about it from Martin's own mouth. No one should reckon it fabulous.


This passage represents the climax of both the section dealing with Martin's dealings with the demons and the devil himself and of the whole Life of St. Martin. We have already seen an escalation in the seriousness of the human and diabolical enemies of Martin, but here we pass into eschatological language which places Martin into the midst of what is framed as the beginning of the Last Days. We can see that the first paragraph of this section sets the eschatological expectation which is central to the passage. Through his references to the false prophets in this paragraph and in the previous section (see section 23) which featured the would-be prophet, Anatolius, Sulpicius sets up his conclusion that he (and, by implication, Martin) was already living during the coming of the Anti-Christ. All this sets the stage for Martin's direct encounter with the devil.

Furthermore, this encounter is also, as many of the incidents in this work, meant to allude to Jesus' own life; specifically, Jesus' temptation by the devil (Matthew 4, 1-11; Mark 1, 12-13; Luke 4, 1-13). The content of the temptation is, of course, different. St. Martin isn't Christ. Yet, the pattern is similar. The devil tries to use the expectations set up in the Bible as a cloak to lure his intended victim to worship him and, thus, turn him from a true man of God to a false prophet such as the ones already noted by Sulpicius in the early part of this passage. He is foiled because the 'victim', through the Holy Spirit, sees through the fallacy of the devil's exegesis and his trickery. Thus, St. Martin sees through the 'coming again in glory' of the devil by noting that the wounds of Christ are not in prominent display as they should be in the real 'coming again in glory' of Christ. This results in the devil disappearing, quite literally, in a puff of smoke, the victim of St. Martin's superior spiritual discernment.

What I find particularly fascinating in this passage, however, is how St. Martin saw through the deception of the devil. Really, the vision of Christ's return provided here by the devil was a shrewd re-enactment. In St. Martin's time (and our own, in certain circles), the Second Coming was depicted as a purely martial event in which a mighty king will descend to smite the enemies of Christians all over the world. This. of course, picks up the imagery in Revelation 19, hence, is Biblical, as far as it goes. It, also, appeals to the expectations of those who joined the Church because it was the winning side in the politics of the Late Roman Empire or those who feel left out by the secularization of Western countries in the last century or so. Yet, as St. Martin recognizes, this is, by itself, an inadequate basis to judge that the Second Coming has occurred because it is too easy to be dazzled by glory in all its manifestations and miss the truly unique element of Jesus' incarnation- his self-sacrifice for us.

This is why St. Martin's declaration that he would not believe that Christ came unless he saw him in the same appearance as he left and bearing the wounds of the cross is so interesting. The latter proof may strike us as odd because St. Thomas is slightly rebuked by Jesus for insisting on seeing the same marks before believing Jesus' resurrection (John 20, 24-29). As an aside, I wonder if we over-do the emphasis on Thomas' doubt here, but this passage also establishes that Christ's wounds will remain as a mark of what He has done for us. This also picks up the image of the slain Lamb from earlier in Revelation (Revelation, 5,6-14) in the sense that the marks of the Lamb's slaughter remain, even while it is opening the Seven Seals which begin the final war against evil.

What all this suggests is that Christ's Second Coming will not only be a return in glory, but that the marks of the glory would be what were, before the resurrection, considered the marks of a shameful death. In that sense, what Christians should look for as marks of glory is not what the world and, here, the devil, think it should be-crowns and royal trappings- but, rather, the wounds inflicted on Jesus to humiliate him, but which provided him the means by which he defeated sin and death. That, by implication, is the true glory and what we Christians should be looking for in any Second Coming. The failure of the devil to understand this meant that, when he wanted to trick St. Martin, he missed entirely what the point of Jesus' first coming was. Given how big a mistake that was, is there any wonder that he simply didn't understand what the Second Coming will look like?

So, the devil's mistake here isn't just one of too much reliance on external glory on the analogy of the financier in the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade who choose (unwisely) the gold-encrusted goblet as the true Grail. It was a fundamental failure to discern the cosmic Judo move which the Incarnation represents when the power of sin and death was broken by Jesus' willingness to sacrifice himself for us. Here, St. Martin reaches to the core of the meaning of the resurrection by recognizing from where Jesus' true glory comes.


Monday, December 08, 2008

Patristics Carnival XVIII- November, 2008

Welcome to Patristics Carnival XVIII. It has been a busy month. I hope you enjoy the offerings for this month.

New Under the Tent

Nothing new this month.

Front Gate: Introductions to the Fathers

Michael Haykin on the Reformata blog discusses the evangelical revival in patristic studies and its roots in the Puritan-Baptist tradition.

The Midway: Articles on the Fathers

Mike Aqulina on The Way of the Fathers blog discusses the cult of the saints in the patristic era, reprints part of an interview he had with the National Catholic Register about the Fathers, announces his new book, The Early Church, announces a second book, A Companion Guide to Pope Benedict's The Fathers.

Chad Pullins on the keeping the faith, never losing hope, always loving blog reflects on St. Irenaeus' concept of the fall as Adam (and, through him, humanity) growing up too fast.

Kevin on the Courting the Mystery blog offers an introduction to the patristic understanding of deification, summarizes a paper by Pak-Wah Lei, a PhD. candidate at the University of Durham on Moses as an exemplar in patristic writing

Kent Brandenburg on the What is Truth? blog examines the traditional evangelical understanding of the canon.

Kate on the kt-rae blog expresses her gratitude to the Fathers, even while preparing for a Church History exam (which is high praise, really. I usually felt bitter when I was studying for exams)

David Waltz on the Articuli Fidei blog examines what Arius may have actually taught.

William J. Tsamis on the Fidei Defensor examines the two most prominent non-Christian sources on the life of Christ, Josephus and Tacitus.

Tony-Allen on A Cathechumen's Tale offers a simple exegesis of the Nicene Creed.

Adam Couchman on the Set Apart in Christ blog wonders whether we will ever get past Augustine (I hope not! I happy to like Auggie!)

armsopenwide on the Arms Open Wide blog features a discussion of St. John Chrysosthom as a resource for helping parents of developmentally disabled children.

Roger Pearse on his self-named blog muses over whether Lampe's Patristic Lexicon could be made available online (pant-pant-pant- that's the sound of patristic scholars all over the English-speaking world). He discusses Gospel catenae with an introduction and posts on catenae on Matthew, Mark, Luke, John as well as Harnack's discussion of Gospel catenae. He notes an upcoming edition (hopefully) of St. Cyril of Alexandria's Contra Iulianum, muses on the reading of Crestianus vs Christianus in Tacitus, puzzles over a difficult Greek passage in Eusebius, notes a translation of Eusebius' Chronicle from Armenian,

frinls on the Cafe Church Leeds blog reflects on her community's early encounters with the Fathers (and Mothers).

suburban banshee on the Aliens in this World reflects insightfully on the relationship between women and the Church Fathers. (I particularly enjoyed voting Tertullian as the Father most likely to have a second career as a Bond villain).

Greg Boyd on his self-named blog analyses the influence of Hellenistic philosophy on the wording of the Chalcedonian Creed.

On the Bible Truth Online blog, St. Polycarp is contrasted favourably with St. Jerome.

David Brosnahan on the LDS Doctrine blog discusses the relationship of the early Church Fathers (unlike the later ones who the Church of Latter-Day Saints consider heretical) to the doctrine of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, focusing primarily on St. Justin Martyr's position on the Trinity (selectively, to be sure).

Hierothee on the Cosmos-Liturgy-Sex blog considers whether the Council of Nicaea should be considered as more relevant to modern Catholics than Vatican II.

Andrew on the Theology of Andrew blog muses on the similarities between Englightement Deism and the Church Fathers.

kepha on the fides quaerens intellectum critisizes the assumption that Protestants can't remain Protestant and read the Fathers.

logismon on the diakrisis logismon blog compares the Orthodoxy tradition in reading the Bible to a scientific tradition, while contrasting this approach to the Frankish (read Western) tradition.

Will Huysmann on the Banana Republican blog considers whether Origen should be considered a Church Father.

Deacon Jim on his self-named blog deals with criticism that the Fathers, especially St. John Chrysosthom was anti-Semitic.

Jim Davilla on the PaleoJudaica blog reports that Paula Fredrickson, in her new book, Augustine and the Jews, defends Augustine's view of the Jews.

Mike Aubrey on the en epheso blog discusses a textual problem in Mandates 3.3. As a side note, Mike would put many classicists to shame in his desire to learn more about how Greek works. And that is really saying something! Wow! My brain is pudding just looking at his titles.

Rick Brennan on ricoblog discusses 1st Clement's 'love' chapter.

Ben Myers on the Faith and Theology blog explains St. Augustine's doctrine of grace by means of a song by Iron Wine.

Tim Trautman on the Army of Martyrs blog discusse St. Cyprian on unity, follows up with a post on how St. Cyprian would react to the possibility of a divided Church (note much, I can tell you), continues with a discussion of St. Cyprian's attitude to Eucharistic sacrifice and St. Cyprian on unity and the body.

On this blog, I muse on St. Gregory Nazianzus' view on the task of theology.

The Marketplace: Book Reviews

Brendon on the Christian Books: Orthodoxy blog reviews a translation of Writings from St. Maximus by Robert Wilikin and Andrew Louth, published in the Popular Patristics series from St. Vladimir Press. He also reviews Norman Russell's book, The Doctrine of Deification in Greek Patristic Authors.

Tristen on Christian Books: Orthodoxy offers a review of Rodney Whitacre's A Patristic Reader.

Seamus MacDonald on the Compliant Subversity blog reposts his review of D.H. Williams' book, Evangelicals and Tradition.

Deanna on the Notlukewarm blog reviews Mike Aquilina's new book, Signs and Mysteries.

Philip Sumpter on the Narrative and Ontology blog reviews Nicene Christianity: The Future for a New Ecumenism, Christopher Seitz editor. He follows up with an analysis of articles which he didn't feature in his previous post.

Exhibition Place: Biographies of the Fathers

Christine on the A Catholic View blog introduces us to St. Leo the Great.

Sornchai on the Back to School books blog reprints the Amazon reviews of Michael Holmes' 3rd edition of the Apostolic Fathers.

The Rodeo: Patristic catenae

Tiber Jumper on the Crossed the Tiber blog offers a short catena on Mary.

The Foreign Exchange Tent: Translations

On this blog, I continue my series of translations from Sulpicius Severus' Life of St. Martin.

The Talmudic Tabernacle: Christianity and Judaism in the Ancient World

This is an experimental category, but given the influence of Judaism and the parallel developments of the Talmud and the Fathers (who might be considered a Christian Talmud, or so it seems to me some days). Yes, I'm aware I'm openning a whole new can of worms.

Weekend Fisher on the Heart, Mind, Soul and Strength blog discusses the Jewish concept of the resurrection in light of the Talmudic Feast of the Blessed and in the analogy of the seed.

Philip Sumpter on the Narrative and Ontology blog discusses the Mishna as revelation.

Kevin Edgecomb on the Biblicalia blog continues his notes on Jacob Neusner's The Theology of the Oral Torah with parts 11 and 12. Kevin has posted the previous parts of this series for readers conveniently.

The Apocryphal Aisle: Christian Apocrypha

Tony Chartrand-Burke on the Apocryphicity blog discusses the role of women in the Gospel of Thomas and continues his answers to responses on his "Heresy Hunting" paper.

April De Conick on The Forbidden Gospel blog reports on the Judas section at the SBL convention this month.

Well, that is it for the month. I hope you enjoyed these posts and I hope you have a quiet and worshipful Advent!


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Call for Submissions Patristics Carnival XVIII

Welcome to Patristic Carnival XVIII. This month, we're back here at hyperekperissou.

The guidelines remain the same as the Modest Proposal entry back in November, 2006 and my additions in August, 2007.

The last day of submission will be November 30 and the postings will be up by the week of December 6th. .

Remember you can offer submissions on the carnival site or the dedicated e-mail (


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Task of Theology

Over the last couple of weeks, I've been reading St. Gregory Nazianzus' Five Theological Orations in the handy St. Vladimir Edition (On God and Christ). It has been an interesting read, largely because St. Gregory is one of those authors I knew I should read, but which, honestly, intimidated me (like the remaining Cappadocians- St. Basil and St. Gregory of Nyssa). The Cappadocians are so philosophical and foundational in determining the doctrine of the Trinity that I wasn't entirely sure that I'd get it. I've read the five orations now and I have to say that I'm not entirely sure I got all of it. I know my way around philosophy and theology, but this is not easy reading to say the least. Good reading, just not easy.

What I want to write about today is the first theological oration in which St. Gregory outlines what it means to be a theologian. This sermon was intended as an introduction to a series of sermons dealing with the neo-Arian Eunomians, who deployed Greek philosophical logic and ideas to deconstruct the Nicene conception of the Trinity, especially denying the sameness or similiarity of the substance of the Father and the Son. Strictly speaking, the Eunomians were never particularly powerful, largely because they were loathed equally by the Nicenes and the homoiousians. Yet, their critique was dangerous because it was so clever. Whatever else Eunomius and his teacher, Aetius, were, they weren't stupid. That was rather the problem.

Gregory take the position that his opponents, the Eunomians, are rather too clever for their own good. That is, they were more interested in "setting or solving conundrums (Or. 27,2) than learning from 'true religion'. Like many Fathers, he doesn't mince words. He calls the Eunomians "mere verbal tricksters, grotesque and preposterous word-gamesters- their derisory antics invite derisive description."(Or. 27,2) or, in a kind of WWF (or whatever they're calling it these days) style wrestling reference "they are like promoters of wrestling bouts not like those conducted in accordance with the rules of the sport and lead to the victory of one of the antagonists, but the sort stage-managed to give the uncritical spectators visual sensations and compel their applause (Or. 27, 2). That's strong talk, of course, and I'm sure Gregory meant every word of it.

Of course, accusing one's opponents of being over-clever (and, by implication, under-wise) was and is a common rhetorical move in philosophical circles. The simple fact is that naked logic is an exceptional weapon in an intellectual dispute, so it is usually a good idea to have a shield to protect oneself with. Using one's opponents' own weapon-proficiency with logic- against them is not only useful, but economical because the more logic one's opponent flings around, the less wise he looks. Logic can be a double-edged sword in a dispute. Its almost mathematical character makes it almost impossible to refute, if one accepts the premises of the logical system. Yet, one can undercut the whole system in one fell swoop simply by denying that those premises match with reality. This is of course, St. Gregory's polemical point which he drives home quite hard.

Yet, as important as this polemic is, this isn't why I wanted to write about this sermon. What struck me is St. Gregory's definition of the true theologians in which he argues that theology "is not for all people, but only for those who have been tested and have found a sound footing in the study and, more importantly, have undergone or, at the very least, are undergoing the purification of body and soul. For one who is not pure to lay hold of pure things is dangerous, just as it is for weak eyes to look at the sun's brightness (Or. 27,3)

To us, in the educated pluralistic West, this might strike us as not only elitist, but paternalistic. Sure, one might argue, it is better for the marketplace of the ideas to decide the soundness of an idea, not some kind of spiritual censor who eliminates the views of those who are not in the privileged 'in-crowd'. St. Gregory, with his late Roman contempt for anything even faintly smacking of democracy, rejects this idea and stresses the mission of the theologians is not a democratic right, but a spiritual discipline to be practiced.

Herein, I think, is the problem with the explosion of popular theology. There is widespread interest in knowing the things of God, but very little in integrating that knowledge into our lives. Theology isn't just one subject to study among others, but rather is a contemplation of God, a spiritual exercise, if you like. The aim of theology isn't knowing God-after all, who could really know God and his ways- but, rather, learning God's ways and doing it. To do that, we need to listen to the voices of the dearly departed-the Fathers, to be sure, but, really, all those who followed them- and the tradition which they passed on to us as a running commentary of who God is and how we, in the Church, seen how He has worked in the world. In that sense, novelty isn't the point in theology, faithfulness is. That is why the Eastern Orthodox stress that theology isn't just intellectual endeavor, but it is also prayer. They, better than we do in the West, understand the two-fold nature of true theology- intellectual and spiritual- and encourage those called to the vocation of theology to pursue both.

I'm sure we've all run into people, whether online or off, who want to argue for the sake of arguing about God, but who have no interest in the nitty-gritty of living a spiritual life. St. Gregory seems to say both to those who like to argue this way and those of us who set themselves to oppose them that we have lost the point of theology. Theological discourse isn't a purely intellectual game, but rather it is a spiritual vocation. And, if it is a vocation, doesn't that call for rather more discernment about who has that call than passing a few exams and writing a few essays (not that these things are bad things). Or, for that matter, to hoist myself on my own petard, creating a blog and just talking into the ether about what comes into our heads.

So that is the challenge of St. Gregory in this sermon: to stop regarding theology as something to learn as a subject or to argue about as a way to score debating points off each other. We need to recover theology as a form of prayer and to discern who has the gifts needed to serve the Church in this way. The good news is that we are starting to recover this sense of theology and I hope that we see more efforts to practice real theological discourse. For our sake and for the Church's, I hope that we learn to discern the real thing from the false and to practice theology, as we practice every other Christian vocation, for God's sake.



Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Sulpicius Severus, Life of St. Martin 23

This is rather a delayed post. I had the translation done last week, but I had decided to delay the commentary until I had more time. That turned out to be a longer period than I thought. So, here is the next installment of the Life of St. Martin.


When a certain person named Clarus, a very noble youth, soon to be priest, but now blessed with a happy death, came to Martin with all the rest, he became distinguished to the utmost height of his faith and all the virtues. (2) When he set up a tent not far the bishop's monastery and many brothers were staying at his house, a youth named Anatolius came to him, while pretending humility and innocence in his monastic profession, lived for some time in community with the rest. (3) Then, as time went on, he used to say that he was used to speaking to angels. When nobody believed him, he compelled many to believe him through signs. Later, he went to the point that he proclaimed that angels rushed between him and God and that he was wishing to be considered one of the prophets. (4) Nevertheless, Clarus could in no way be compelled to believe in him. Anatolius threatened him with the anger of God and present calamities because Clarus did not believe in one of the saints. (5) Later, it is reported he broke out with this speech "Behold, the Lord will give me shining-white clothing this night. Being clad in this clothing, I will be taken up in your midst. That will be a sign to you that the power of God is in me, who shall be given the clothing of God. (6) Then, the expectation of all in this declaration was great. In almost the middle of the night, the whole monastery in that place seemed to be disturbed by the clamour of people leaping on the ground. You would perceive that the cell in which that same youth was staying shone with many lights and the clamour of those rushing about in it and a certain murmuring of many voices was heard. (7) Then, when it became silent, the youth came out and called to one of the brethren, Sabatius by name, and showed him his tunic which he was wearing. Sabatius, astonished, called the rest together. Clarus even ran to there. All of them carefully examined the clothing with light applied to it. It was extremely soft, with outstanding whiteness, shining with purple and, nevertheless, it was not possible to be known what type of material it was. When it was handled by curious eyes or fingers, it seemed to be nothing else but clothing. Meanwhile Clarus told all the brothers to apply themselves in prayer so that the Lord would show more clearly what the clothing was. (9) Thus, the rest of the night was spent in hymns and psalms. When the day grew light, Clarus wished to take the youth, held by his right hand, to Martin, knowing well that Martin could not be deceived by diabolic arts. (10) Then, the wretch began to resist and shout. He said that he was told not to show himself to Martin. When they compelled him to go unwillingly, the clothing disappeared in the hands of those dragging him. Therefore, who would doubt that such was the power of Martin that the devil was not able to pretend any longer or hide his own deception when it must be brought to the eyes of Martin.


This passage has several interesting features to it. First, for two-thirds of the story, this isn't really about St. Martin. Really, for that first two-thirds, the focus is on the conflict between Clarus, the young, but spiritual disciple of St. Martin and Anatolius, a rival Christian teacher. Clarus doesn't have any position at the time of the story to base his authority other than his loyalty to God and his spiritual discernment which prevents him from being convinced or compelled to abandon his faith in Christ in favour of Anatolius' wish to take on the spiritual leadership in the community loosely associated with St. Martin. Really, it isn't until the very end, when Clarus thinks to solve the problem of the white clothing-- a problem which he himself could not solve, even if he had the right impulse to pray about it. It is ultimately Satan's reluctance to get into a contest with St. Martin which causes the hoax to be revealed and Anatolius to be revealed as demonically inspired.

To be sure, this incident is intended to highlight St. Martin's spiritual power which was so great that even Satan got the idea not to go up against him openly. Rather it is through stealth and a pretend monk that Satan tries to corrupt the community of St. Martin. Clarus' efforts to prevent are only successful when he gets ready to call out the big guns: St. Martin himself. This is, of course, a feature of hagiographies stories and a feature of Jesus' own experience with Satan. Here Satan tempts and displays power, but he withdraws hastily when He encounters a holy man because he knows he's outmatched.

Second, this story also demands some effort to unpack what was going on with Anatolius. One way we can look at him is to dismiss him as a deluded lunatic. That is, his claims to speak to angels and, eventually, to be a messenger from God would probably land him up in a psych ward today, not necessarily a monastery. Mind you, deluded lunatics don't necessarily produce unusually white mystery cloth as a rule, so that little detail would seem to argue against this interpretation. This is, of course, why Clarus and the other monks were so freaked out by Anatolius. He was able to manifest signs and material items to back up his story which is something that a complete fraud or a madman has a problem coming up with. Severus explains these signs as being the result of collaboration with Satan. Given that Satan has power, if inferior to God's, he could help manifest signs and get a hold of odd fabrics to confuse the monks of St. Martin's monastery.

Another way to look at Anatolius is to see him as some kind of misunderstood proto-charismatic. That is, his claims to hear angels and to spiritual authority based on these manifestations might be seen, at least in Anatolius' eyes, as charisms--gifts of the Holy Spirit. One of the results of these gifts is that Anatolius might come to that these experiences give him spiritual authority over others. That would explain his threats to Clarus. Anatolius is believing his own press and bases his authority on it.

Furthermore, if we accept Anatolius as a proto-charismatic, we have to admit that there was precedent. Montanism, for instance, stressed prophecy and gifts of the Spirit in such a way that the new dispensation of Montanus overrode the old one of the New Testament writers. Was Anatolius a proto-Montanus? Perhaps. The problem is, of course, that we can't really know how much he was a lunatic and how much a sane, if pushy charismatic.

This is a bit of a moot point, of course. Clearly, Severus regarded Anatolius as a dupe of Satan, whose professions of innocence and humility were merely a cover for a snare sprung on St. Martin's monks, designed to seduce them away from God. We moderns are squeamish about the idea of a Satan, who intervenes in human life to twist it away from God. We come by that squeamishness honestly because the figure of Satan in popular culture has become so ridiculous that it is difficult to take him seriously as a real force in the world. We have a tendency to relegate him to horror flicks or low comedy in such a way that his opposition isn't so much against God, but against us. And since he is against us, we all know who will win. That's right us. In many ways, I wonder if the secularization of the image of Satan isn't also a domesticization of him into something which we can handle, if we need to.

Yet, in Severus, Satan is a cunning opponent who threatens to win out against most mortals. Only a superlatively holy man could possibly be close enough to God to drive away Satan. Our archetype for this holy man is, of course, Jesus, so it is hardly surprising that it is Christ who gives us our example of Satan's ultimate weakness when measured against God. While the unveiling of Anatolius is a triumph of St. Martin, it is, more importantly, a triumph of God over evil. That, of course, explains what the story is doing in this Life of St. Martin.


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Patristic Carnival XVII is up

Weekend Fisher has Patristics Carnival XVII up over at Heart, Mind, Soul and Strength. It looks good and, if I ever dig out of the mountain of marking I'm working on, it looks like I'll have some interesting articles to read.

Thanks very much to Weekend Fisher for her hard work on this month's carnival! Stay tuned for Patristics Carnival XVIII.

If you'd like to host a Patristics Carnival, please get in touch with me!



Saturday, October 25, 2008

Why Heresy Matters.

A few weeks back, as I reflected on the comments for my entry on Hunting Heresy in the Fathers, I realized that I was opening myself up to the criticism that I was denigrating the importance of heresy by critisizing those who were trying to identify heresy where they find it. I don't think I was, but I wondered if I needed to do a companion piece on why it was important that we identify and, if necessary, confront heresy.

Heresy hunting has, of course, a bit of a bad name. Many people tend to remember heresy trials throughout history and the frequently grim executions which resulted from these proceedings. This kind of thing is exactly the kind of thing that anti-religious people like to mention when they're trying to argue why religion has been the author of oppression and violence over the ages. Nor are they entirely wrong because I honestly think that these trials were un-Christian, although I really wish that these critics would remember that the executions were the state's job and, while the Church can and should be critisized for colluding in the trials and for endorsing the use of violence, the state bears a responsibility in this oppression and violence which is only rarely acknowledged.

What is more, there has been something of a linguistic shift in the last few decades in the use of the word heresy. There was a time, not so long ago, that calling someone a heretic was fightin' words. It was, at any rate, an insult. Yet, these days, a lot of people call themselves heretics because they see this as evidence of the independence of their minds. Orthodoxy is seen as too narrow and oppressive, so heresy is fresh and pleasantly unique. In that sense, heresy is an exciting eccentricity, nothing more.

So, all this begs the question of why we should bother with heresy in this day and age. Either we risk being seen as a cold-hearted oppressor or as a narrow-minded kill-joy. So, why should we as Christians care about heresy? Surely, this isn't about keeping a clipboard with all the things we need to believe to check off as we listen to each other?

At the end of the day, dealing with heresy is about how our beliefs affect how we relate to God. This is something that the Fathers themselves realized. We all know that St. Athanasius critisized Arianism based on its soteriological implications: the effect of making the Word/Son a creature is that it removes our mediator with God and the benefits of the resurrection (especially with the doctrine of recapitulation which is so characteristic of eastern theology of the period). St. Augustine critisized Pelagianism because of its tendency towards perfectionism. St. Irenaeus critisized Gnosticism because of its spiritual elitism and dualism. The Fathers didn't stand around with a clipboard to tick off the spiritual faux pas of their followers, but they were ardently concerned with the spiritual health of those under their spiritual care. If heresy is a distortion, a disease affecting our perception of God, surely we should diagnose the problem and try to treat it.

Heresy distorts our image of God and that is the source of this problem which heresy engenders. I know, in my own life, that my affinity to Deism- the 18th century heresy that God created the world, but no longer directly intervenes in His Creation- was a stumbling block for a very long. At the root of my sympathy to this heresy was a tendency to see God as remote to my life and a willingness that this remoteness continue. By God's grace, I learned about a God who was involved in the world and was actively redeeming it from the mess that we've made of it. I learned about a God who cares about me and who actively redeems my life from the various mistakes that I've made in my life. From this perspective, Deism strikes me as being a barrier to a stronger relationship with God.

That is, of course, a very personal example, but I think it is no less valid because of that. Part of the Christian life is to seek closeness to God, so anything which prevents that is something we need to deal with- lovingly and gently, but firmly. Ignoring it would be spiritually harmful which would be inimical to Christian discipleship.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Patristic Carnival XVII- Call for Submissions

Welcome to Patristic Carnival XVII. This month, the carnival is at Heart, Mind, Soul and Strength this month.

The guidelines remain the same as the Modest Proposal entry back in November, 2006 and my additions in August, 2007.

The last day of submission will be October 30 and the postings will be up by the week of November 6th. .

Remember you can offer submissions on the carnival site or the dedicated e-mail (


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Mike Aquilina, Signs and Mysteries. Revealing Ancient Christian Symbols

This is Mike Aquilina's, author of several popular patristics books like The Way of the Fathers, The Fathers of the Church and The Mass of the Early Church. , most recent offering and it is an excellent one. He is also the author of The Way of the Fathers blog- the sine qua non of patristic blogs. In Signs and Mysteries. Revealing Ancient Christian Symbols, Aquilina combines his interest in the Fathers with his fascination- demonstrated on his blog- with early Christian material culture. The combination in this book produces a unique resource and one which I would heartily recommend anyone, Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant, purchase for their own libraries.

The format of the book focuses on chapters dealing with the images themselves; twenty-five all told in addition to one background chapter. Each chapter works out the origin of each image, considers the Scriptural connection, highlights what the symbol means in a Christian context, discusses notable artifacts employing the symbol and cites patristic and modern writers who explain the symbol. Just as importantly, Aquilina's superb illustrator, Marie Ravotti, has provided illustrations of many of these notable artifacts so that the reader can see as well as read about the symbols as they were employed in the early Church. The combination of text and image gives us an excellent resource for unlocking the common stock of Christian symbols which is the inheritance of all Christians.

Aquilina's writing is, as usual, lucid and easy to read. This is a hallmark of Aquilina's books which combine an easy-to-read style with careful thought and testing of the evidence. Aquilina rarely goes past the evidence and is careful, in this book, to note when an image could be ambiguous (used by more than just Christians) so that the reader will not make the elementary error of mis-identifying the use of, say, the ankh in a non-Christian context. Or we hope. Experts have made such errors as well.

Aquilina's main aim in this book was to create a symbology- a kind of key to the 'language' of Christian symbols and how they connect to our faith. This is a crucial task in our post-Christian environment in North America, where knowledge of the Bible and Christian symbols is minimal even among many believers, so many Christians wouldn't know a Christian symbol or what it means if it came out and bit them. Yet, we find ourselves in the West in the very peculiar position of being surrounded by Christian symbolism which has been disconnected from its original context and is in danger of being reduced to a kind of post-modern chaos of images and art. If we Christians want to reclaim our tradition, we have to learn again the symbolic 'language' of our art and literature. We need to remember that our Christian faith hasn't emerged fully formed out of God's forehead, but rather is the result of centuries of reflection, written and non-written, on the truth of our faith. Signs and Mysteries is an excellent resource in unpacking the meaning of this reflection.

This concern with symbology also warms my heart because it connects with my own theological sensibilities. One of the major influence on my theological thinking was a book I read several years ago: George Lindbeck's, The Nature of Doctrine. In that book, Lindbeck emphasizes the importance of doctrine as a 'grammar of faith'. That is, he argues that doctrine helps us speak about our faith intelligibly and meaningfully because it provides for us the 'language' of how to speak about God. Aquilina's book helps us with that grammar and connects it to the visual realm as well as the written. This is what makes it such a useful resource.

I heartily recommend this book for anyone interested in deepening their understanding of the 'language' of our faith. The language, I grant, has a Roman Catholic lilt to it, but not in such a way as to make it unintelligible to the Eastern Orthodox or Protestant reader. In fact, I plan to purchase a copy for the church library at the Anglican church I attend. It is too valuable a resource not to spread around a bit.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Patristics Carnival XVI- September, 2008

Well, it's finally done. Patristics Carnival XVI! Enjoy!

Front Gate: Introductions to the Fathers

Nothing this month

The Midway: Articles on the Fathers

malcolmxyz on the From The Outside In blog reflects on St. Ephraim, ecumenism and 'evil-doers' in an interesting application of a patristic author to a contemporary problem.

Weekend Fisher on the Heart, Mind, Soul and Strength blog discusses anniversary offerings for the dead in Augustine's Confessions.

indignus on the Scriptorium blog reviews the various web and live response to Nancy Pelosi's comments on abortion and the Fathers.

matthew on Matthew's Random Rantings looks back at the stages of his encounter with patristic authors over the last few years.

Sam Harrelson on his self-named blog speculates about what would have happened if Constantine had converted to Judaism rather than Christianity. He also reflects on the impact that the persecutions had on Christian identity.

VoxClamantis on the Fish Eater's Forum posts an interesting analysis of St. Augustine's complex attitude to women, written by Maureen McCew. I don't usually include re-postings of articles, but this one is definately worth reading!

Joseph Walker on the felix hominum blog reflects on St. Cyprian's Unity of the Church, with an eye to the Anglican ecclesial 'Time of Troubles' in several parts- Intro, part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6 and part 7. The series actually started in late August and I missed it, but this is a must-read not only for Anglicans, but for all those who love the Church.

Damon on the How2BecomeChristian blog reviews the Mormon (mis-)use of the patristic concept of deification.

Paul Cat on the Alive and Young blog posts an activity connecting Scripture and the Nicene Creed for his Grade 8 Religion class.

Alex on the Your Own Personal Jesus blog reflects on St. Athanasius's On the Incarnation from an evangelical standpoint.

Eric Sowell on the Archaic Christianity blog reacts to some of the offerings from the last Patristic Carnival (XV) dealing with the canon, reflects on reading John's Protoevangelon in Greek, considers anti-Marcionite prefaces to Latin Bibles,

northwestsemitic on The Reformed Reader blog considers whether the Fathers are relevant to contemporary Biblical Studies in the view of Gerald Bray's book, Out of Egypt.

Ron Corson on the Adventist Media Response and Conversation blog reflects on Origen's theological legacy from an Adventist point of view.

Macrina on the Vow of Conversation blog reports on a conference dealing with St. Cyprian recently held in Amsterdam.

R. Scott Clark on the Heidleblog considers whether there was an apostolic hermeneutic of Scripture and whether we can imitate it. And I like the name of the blog.

Edward Moore on the Musings of a Christian Platonist blog considers patristic discussions about the Creator from a Platonist perspective.

Eastcoastdweller on the In Search of Isis blog meditates on the Didache and Martyrdom of Polycarp, with some reservations.

Father Ernesto Obregón on the OrthoCuban blog considers Scripture, Tradition and the Ecumenical Councils.

TurretinFan on the Thoughts of Francis Turretin considers the suppressed 'patristic' texts at Nicaea II.

Albert M. on the Labarum blog considers Nicaea II and the suppression of iconclast texts in response to the preceding blog entry.

John Uebersax on the Catholic Gnosis blog considers patristic psychology and its possible applications to how to quit smoking.

Peter Head on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog takes notes on the Shepherd of Hermas

David Waltz on the Articuli Fidei blog considers soteriology in the Fathers.

Scott Bosse on The Pope Podcast blog outlines the life of Pope Victor I.

Roger Pearse on his self-named blog considers claims that 1000 Christian Arabic manuscripts were destroyed in World War II.

Mike Aquilina on The Way of the Fathers blog muses on rock music's patristic expert, Dion and discusses the authenticity of recent discovered Augustine sermons.

Philip Sumpter on the Narrative and Ontology blog discusses the patristic contribution of Andrew Louth, considered canon and the 'history of religion' and analyzed allegory and the problem of 'history'.

Tim Trautman on the Army of the Martyrs blog discusses apostolic succession and authority, considers Augustine's views on sacrifice and the martyrs and argues that heretical doctrines don't develop.

Polycarp on The Church of Jesus Christ blog discusses Justin Martyr (amongst others) and the scandal of factionalism in today's churches, considers Vincent of Lerins and why the Church determines interpretation of Scripture (from a Protestant slant), discusses why the Church is apostolic in three parts (part 1, part 2, part 3), discusses my posting on heresy hunting in the Fathers.

On this blog, I discuss the practice of hunting for heresies in the Church Fathers.

The Marketplace: Book Reviews

Nick Norelli on The Rightly Dividing the Truth blog provides an extensive review of John Anthony McGuckin's, The Westminster Handbook to Patristic Theology

Kevin Edgecomb on the biblicalia blog reviews Mike Aquilina's new book, Signs and Mysteries. Revealing Ancient Christian Symbols. I still owe my review, forthcoming in the next month.

Jeff Miller on the Curt Jester blog reviews Mike Aquilina's new book, Signs and Mysteries.

Eric Sowell reviews Bart Ehrman's Lost Christianities.

On this blog, I review Mark Husband's and Jeffrey Greenman's collection of papers from the Wheaton Theology Conference in 2007, Ancient Faith for the Church's Future

Exhibition Place: Biographies of the Fathers

Stu on the What Matters to Me blog discusses the martyrdom of St. Polycarp.

Father Check on the Seek His Face blog discusses St. Jerome on the occasion of his memorial.

The Rodeo: Patristic catenae

Polycarp on The Church of Jesus Christ blog features a refreshing patristic catena on modesty. It isn't just for women anymore.

mattymojo on the Uncle Matt's Discoveries offers a patristic catena on reincarnation, representing both pro and con sides.

The Foreign Exchange Tent: Translations

On this blog, I translate another installment of Sulpicius Severus' Life of St. Martin.

The Apocryphal Aisle: Christian Apocrypha

Nothing this month.

Well, that's about it for this month. Look for Patristics Carnival XVI over at Heart, Mind, Soul and Strength!


Friday, September 26, 2008

Hunting Heresies in the Fathers

I don't normally rant much. I argue. I consider. I think out loud, but, really, I'm not so much of a ranting type of blogger. Perhaps my blog would attract a greater audience if I did, but that isn't necessarily the kind of audience that I want to attract. But, still, once in a while, we all rant, so I'm going to use some of my ranting quota up today.

What I'm going to rant about is the tendency that some theologically trained people have to play 'hunt the heresy' when they're reading a Church Father. That is, they look for, they hunt for some indication that x or y Church Father isn't really orthodox as we think, but really expresses a heretical view which would later be condemned. The earlier the Father, the easier this is, of course, because the earlier Fathers didn't know about the increasingly defined boundaries of orthodox doctrines like the Trinity or complicated theological issues like it, so their more fuzzy expressions on these issues open them up to condemnation post facto.

So, we see Justin Martyr accused of ditheism and/or subordinationism. Or, we see Gregory Nazianzus accused of proto-Nestorianism. And so on, and so on, and so on.

This isn't to say that the Fathers didn't make doctrinal mistakes. To take two extreme examples, we still read Tertullian and Origen, even though we know that some of their ideas weren't exactly within orthodox bounds in their day, much less our own. Tertullian's extreme temperament led him to rigid views about asceticism and prophecy which drove him from the orthodox church. Origen's passion for Platonism (I note, a passion second only to his passion for the Bible) led him to accept certain Platonic positions he would have been better to have avoided. I don't think there is any Father I've read that there hasn't been moments when I've shaken head at something which wasn't quite on. That is inevitable in anybody we read. We don't agree with everything that anyone reads. As a blogger, I wouldn't expect everyone who reads me will agree with everything I've ever said.


Holy anachronism, Batman! If we look at the development of doctrine, we can see a process of greater explanation and clarification over time as the Church dealt with challenges and questions from outside and inside the Church. That was inevitable and good because it means that the tradition was (and is) dynamic; responding to problems by explaining further. Doctrine didn't fall from the skies or sprang out of the apostle's foreheads fully formed. It developed in response to problems posed the Church over time.

If we understand this development of doctrine, how could we note expect earlier Fathers to express themselves on a given doctrine in a less clear way than later Fathers, who recognized different challenges than their predecessors? We can't, of course. The Church Fathers were quite bright, but they weren't soothsayers who could look into their ecclesiological crystal balls and discover what the future Church would define as heretical. It is anachronistic to expect the same precision in a Justin Martyr as we find in an Athanasius or Cyril of Alexandria. This seems to be a straightforward historical insight, but, apparently, there are a fair number of people who don't get this.

So, why do we keep these heresy hunts going? One (largely innocent) reason is that some writers are playing 'Name that Heresy' as a way of showing their theological knowledge. One can show their erudition by being able to label a heresy by its true name. Given the huge number of heresies out there (particularly the Trinitarian ones), it is often a considerable achievement to name the right one, much less discover it in a previously unexpected place. Of course, this kind of heresy hunt is something of an intellectual pissing contest, since it really is intended to show off the extent of one's theological knowledge against all challenges. That is, admittedly, vanity, but, perhaps, we can comfort ourselves that these contests don't mean that the contestants are attacking a particular Father per se or even orthodoxy, but are merely showing off. Its not good, but it need not be subversive.

A second less innocent motive is heresy hunting in the context of inter-denominational apologetics and polemics. In this kind of heresy hunt, we see writers (often, but not always Protestant) search the Fathers in order to find something wrong in what they are saying. What they are doing in reading the Fathers isn't reading them to understand them or to take insight from them, but rather they are reading them the way that a lawyer reads a hostile brief--they are looking for dirt and evidence to beat the other side with. There is an implicit violence in some apologetics and polemics because the desire isn't always to debate and persuade, but to intellectually beat the opposition into submission. Either we manage to silence them by repeated out-of-context quotations across the head or we make it very clear that they are just too stupid to know when they've been whupped. The net result, however, is rather different because we usually wind up with both sides beating their intellectual chests and declaring themselves the victors, while more neutral observers scratch their heads at all the fuss.

What bothers me about this particular use of the Fathers or even this style of apologetics is not only that it is entirely pointless, but it actually is spiritually damaging. When the Bible warns us about vain arguing and enjoins us to build each up in faith, it didn't mean intellectually cudgel each other until our voices are raw and nerves jangled by the anger and the heat (not light) generated. If we do this, we miss what the Fathers can teach us and the good things they say because we are always looking for the negative and the useful, not for the positive and beneficial things we can learn from these great teachers. This is a breakdown of charity, more than anything else, and the fact that we are talking about charity to long dead writers, doesn't change the fact that that is how we are called to act towards other Christians, live or dead.

A last reason to hunt heresies is much more insidious and damaging. This heresy hunt seeks to prove the Fathers, those bastions of orthodoxy, were, in fact, crypto-heretics (by the standards of previously chosen definition of rigid (usually modernist) orthodoxy, we can challenge the claim that orthodoxy ever really existed. Instead, we can present is as a later construct, used against alternative Christianities by later, oppressive churchman, whose real interest were institutional and venal.

This is a much more worrying motivation for this game than the previous one. The first motivation for 'the Name that Heresy' game is vain, but not necessarily malicious. The second is perhaps malicious (against another group of Christians), but isn't intended to undermine Christian claims about Jesus. In this third type of heresy hunt, there is an agenda here that I think we, as Christians need to challenge. The logic of this position is to deny the existence of an apostolic and orthodox faith and discredit orthodox Christian beliefs. The spiritual damage done by this position, I don't think, needs to be explained.

Now, to be rational again, I'm not saying that we don't identify heresy when we see it. We are called to speak truthfully to each other, so if we see each other moving in a spiritually damaging direction, we are supposed to try to point them out. If we accept that heresy is spiritually damaging, we need to discern it and to point it out in love, but firmly. That is perhaps why I can get worked up to write a rant on this issue. Heresy is rather too serious a spiritual issue to trifle with and it bothers me when we throw around accusations vainly, uncharitably and tendentiously.

So, what I'm saying is that, while you read the Fathers, read with discernment by all means, but remember history and remember charity. If a Father expresses himself in a fuzzy way, assume the most orthodox construction you can. If he is in error, chalk it up to human frailty and move on. For that matter, perhaps we should do likewise with each other as well. Assume orthodoxy as much as you can, point out error and move on.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Book Review: Mark Husbands and Jeffrey P. Greenman, eds. Ancient Faith for the Church's Future

I've been wanting to read this book for a few months- ever since I learned about the 2007 Wheaton Theological Conference at which the papers included in this volume were presented. Patristics geek that I am, I would dearly have loved to have been at this conference. That wouldn't have worked with either work or my finances, but a guy can dream. After all, a gathering of the leaders of the evangelical ressourcement doesn't happen every day.

However, short of actually being there, these papers are a good substitute. They are divided into four parts- a general section about the ressourcement itself and its limitations, a section on patristic exegesis, one on recovering the social practices of the early Church and one on the theology of the early Church. As an epilogue, there is a paper by Jason Byassee on the Emergent Church's connection to ancient Christianity. It is, of course, difficult to discuss all these articles on an one-by one basis. Besides, you really should read them because they are all, in their own ways, excellent. So, what I propose to do is to highlight each section and how the articles contribute to the discussion.

In the first section, Evangelical Ressourcement: Retrieving the Past with Integrity, deals with the more general issues around evangelicals and the Fathers. The articles by Christopher Hall and D.H. Williams both consider this ressourcement- its promise and its dangers. There is, of course, plenty of both. The evangelical ressourcement has given evangelical theologians more resources to understand our faith and to return to a way of taking the Bible seriously without getting wrapped up in the modernist dilemmas of propositionalism and academicization of theological discourse. Yet, we have to be careful not to make an idol out of the Fathers either. The Fathers have their flaws and we have to be aware of them as we seek to learn from them. Brian Daley gives an insight into the Roman Catholic experience of ressourcement in the middle part of the last century.

The second section, Reading Scripture: The Setting and Promise of Patristic Exegesis, deals with how the Fathers read the Bible. In many ways, patristic exegesis is the entry point for most evangelicals into reading the Fathers. Given the importance of the Bible among evangelicals and a recognition that privatized and individualized readings of the Bible may not serve evangelicals in this post-modern world, a look back at how the Fathers read the Bible is a natural evangelical starting-point. Michael Graves' article deals with the argument that the Fathers merely employed pagan literary methods to the Bible and, hence, can be dismissed as using non-Christian methodologies. Graves acknowledges that these methods were used, but argues that their fusion with Christian theological readings makes patristic exegesis a uniquely Christian endeavor. Peter Leithart seeks to defend the four senses of Scripture popularized by readers of Augustine as a powerful exegetical and pastoral tool to interpret Scriptural stories such as David and Goliath. Nicholas Perrin presents a fascinating discussion of how Irenaeus' criticism of the Gnostic theology bears a striking resembled to Lyotard's criticism of the modernist conception of knowledge.

The third section, The Social Practices of the Early Church: Missional Witness, deals with translating the practices of the early Church into the life of modern Church. Christine Pohl's article on hospitality emerged out Pohl's interest in community and how the early Church practiced it. One of the strengths of the early Church was its understanding of how important hospitality was, so Pohl's article remains relevant for our practice at a time in which many churches are trying to recover this important Christian practice. George Kalantzis examines the issue of the poor in St. John Chyrsostom's Lazarus homilies. What I found striking, as a classicist, is Kalantzis' emphasis that John's sermons argued for an abandonment of the quid pro quo relationship of ancient patronage in which the poor were excluded from help because they could do nothing in return to a relationship in which the poor are helped without questioning fitness or what we can gain by it. This is, of course, very Scriptural, but the challenge to the practice of patronage which was a fundamental social structure in the classical world is a striking one. Alan Kreider's discussion of evangelism in the early Church turns on the question of how it managed to grow when, far from holding seeker services and accommodating to the culture, the church had five year long catechuminates and closed services. Kreider concludes that it was the perception of the lives of the early Christians which encouraged this astonishing growth of the Church. The logical lesson we can take from this argument is that, if our lives matched what we taught in the Gospels the same would happen. I think there is much to that, although I think we have to keep in tension that there were many who saw Christians very differently than its admirers and who were prefectly willing to slander it. By itself, our conduct does, hopefully, attract people to us, but we also have to recognize that we will face slander and mis-representation just as the early church did.

The last section, Theology of the Early Church: Worship, Christology and Politics, is rather a mixed bag. John Witlivit's paper on formal prayers in the Early Church unpacks ancient prayers as a theological resource. Paul Kim's discussion of St. Cyril of Alexandria's Christology and the concept of the apatheia of God challenges the recent stress on the ability of God to suffer. I have to admit that I was skeptical when I saw this in the table of contents. I have tended to think that a lot of the theological infighting in the fourth and fifth century would have been avoided if some early Christian writers hadn't gotten so hung up on a Platonic philosophical concept like the apatheia of God. Kim's article made me reconsider that rather lazy assumption. I'm still not sure what to do with the concept, but I can see that that concern wasn't all futile theologizing. D. Stephen Long's article on the theological politics of St. Augustine challenges the view that Augustine endorsed a view of politics that abstracted it from Christian ethical and theological criticism.

Concluding this volume, Jason Byassee offers a valuable critique of the Emergent Church movement which has been one of the forces behind the evangelical ressourcement. Byassee takes the Emergent Church seriously, but, I think rightly, takes it to task for its theological fuzziness.

For those who are interested in the evangelical ressourcement, this set of papers reveal the depth of the evangelical engagement with the Fathers and the promise of this return to the sources of Christian thinking about Scripture.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Patristic Carnival XVI- Call for Submissions

Welcome to Patristic Carnival XVI. This month, the carnival is back here at hyperekperissou this month.

The guidelines remain the same as Modest Proposal entry back in November, 2006 and my additions in August, 2007.

The last day of submission will be September 30 and the postings will be up by the week of October 5th. .

Remember you can offer submissions on the carnival site or the dedicated e-mail (


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sulpicius Severus, Life of St. Martin 22


(1)Frequently, the devil, while he was trying to deceive the saint with a thousand stratagems to harm him, used to attack him in plain view in very different appearances. Sometimes, he used to appear transformed into the appearance of Jove; many times as Mercury; often even in the appearance of Venus and Minerva. Against them, Martin, although terrified, used to protect himself with the sign of the cross and the help of prayer. (2) Many conversations were over-heard in which a crowd of demons scolded the saint with their insistent voices, but knowing that all these things were false and useless, the saint wasn't moved by their opposition. (3) Some of the brothers even bear witness that they heard a demon cursing Martin with insistent words (asking) why he had received back some of the brothers inside the monastery, who had abandoned their baptismal vows through different errors, after they had repented. He set out the crimes of each of them. (4) Martin, contending with the devil, answered back constantly that the old sins were cleansed by the conversion to a better life and that, through the mercy of the Lord, those who ceased sinning were absolved of their sins. Against the devil who said that criminals had not right to grace and that there could be no clemency from the Lord for those who lapse even once, Martin is reported to have shouted out these words: (5) "If you, miserable one, would cease from the pursuit of men and repent of your deeds either now or when the day of judgement is near, I am truly confident in the Lord Jesus Christ, (and) I would promise His mercy." O what a holy boldness in his dutifulness for the Lord, in which although he was not able to take on the authority, he showed his feelings. (6) Since this conversation about the devil and his schemes arose, it did not seem beside the point, albeit not concerning Martin directly, to report what was done because there is some portion of virtue in Martin and a worthy deed was entrusted rightly to the miracle of memory as a cautionary example, if some such thing should happen somewhere a second time.


In many ways, this section represents a high point of St. Martin's dealings with the devil as well as a striking section on St. Martin's attitude about repentance and conversion. This is spiritual warfare in its truest sense: St. Martin is contending directly and openly against the devil himself, after the conventional distracting deceptions. This is, of course, intended to imitate Jesus' own matching of wits against the devil after his baptism, but this contest has a rather different feeling and one that I think should be seen in the context of St. Martin's reputation for gentle remedies for sin as opposed to overly rigourous ones. The tone of grace is strong in this passage which is among the more comforting in this Life.

What I find particularly interesting in St. Martin's confrontation with the devil is that the devil's argument is exactly that of rigourist Christians from the previous centuries. We know that, as early as the Shepherd of Hermas (2nd century) that there were Christians who believed that any lapse after baptism was unforgivable. This impulse is behind the ecclesiological heresies like Novatianists and Donatists applied the logic implied in this position in the aftermath of persecutions to exclude those who did not accept martyrdom, but either sought to avoid it by flight or deceit or openly apostatized even when under torture or the threat of death. There was a long and venerable history of the kind of ethical position proposed by the devil.

What's more, we can see how such a position would be useful for the devil. If we preclude the possibility of repentance and mercy, any mistake or sin would be enough to convince the believer that they are God-forsaken, so why would one bother with returning to God and the Christian life, if you were damned anyways. There is a kind of black and white extremism implied by this position that is convenient in a world where even the saints must learn to set aside their sins and learn to imitate Jesus. If the Church is a school for sinners (an image popular among the Fathers), we are seeing an application of a zero tolerance policy towards sins whose consequences would be to empty the church, not fill it.

Yet, St. Martin's response isn't to go to the opposite extreme. Yes, he definitely defends the power of God's mercy and his grace to heal the sinner and bring him back to God. That is a necessary defence, given Scripture and the emphasis on God's grace and on his mercy which is found there. He, even, shockingly extends that grace to the devil himself, if the devil were to open himself up to it by asking for it. That is always shocking and scandalous to a world which seeks vengeance for wrongs, but it is the logic of grace in a Christian context. We often prefer to see the evil suffer and the good prosper. And we're often annoyed when the evil escape their suffering at the last second. Yet, so many of Jesus' parables and teachings emphasize that God's forgiveness is extended to all, if they ask for it.

Yet, Martin doesn't make the modern Christian error of assuming that, if God forgives everything, that we don't need to do anything else. Notice that Martin emphasizes the importance of repentance and of acknowledging that one has acted wrongly in God's eyes and turning for that wrong. For St. Martin, it is the conversion of his wayward brethren and that they ceased sinning that opens up God's mercy and saved them from God's wrath. Similarly, even for the devil, it is turning from his sins and ceasing his pursuit and perversion of humanity that opens up for him (even him!) God's mercy.

That is, of course, the rub, isn't it? Our own pride tends to rebel against admitting our wrongs, so it is often easier to believe that other people are the reason why we behave the way we do. Or that what we did wasn't really wrong. St. Martin's answer to the devil is the answer of orthodox Christianity: God's mercy and grace is for everyone, but we have to admit that we are sick before we submit ourselves to treatment and are healed. There is hope in that belief, but a hope that we have to be willing to accept before we can experience the benefits of it.