"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Justification and Monocausalism

The cartoon above by John Dearstyne can be found in Michael Horton's Putting Amazing Back Into Grace (1991), and it represents the [popular] Reformed conception of justification. According to this conception of justification, God, on account of Christ, treats us as though we are righteous, even though in actuality we remain unrighteous. The "good news" according to this conception, is that because of Christ's work on the cross, we are going to heaven, in spite of our remaining unrighteous, if we trust in Christ's work to get us to heaven. (I discussed the problem with this position in greater detail here.)

The common question that arises is this: If Christ's work was sufficient, then what room is left for us to contribute anything to our final justification? The dilemma looks like this: Either part of our final justification is from ourselves, in which case Christ's work was not sufficient for our final justification, or Christ's work was sufficient for our final justification, in which case there is no room or space left for us to contribute to our final justification. Or again: Either all our righteousness is Christ's, in which case we contributed nothing, or our righteousness is some fraction of Christ's righteousness and our own righteousness (e.g. 50/50, or 70/30, etc.).

I want to point out here that this is a false dilemma, because it implicitly assumes the truth of monocausalism. (See my previous post titled "Monocausalism, Salvation and Reconciliation".) How so? Implicit within the dilemma is the notion that if our doing a good work is a righteous act, then the righteousness of that righteous act is not merely "our own" but also "our own and not Christ's". (Notice the monocaualism.) Or, putting it the other way around, since, given monocausalism, a righteous act done by us would be done "only by us and not also by Christ", then since all our righteousness comes from and through Christ, it follows that we cannot do a righteous act. Hence, one of the errors of Martin Luther condemned in the Papal Bull "Exsurge Domine" (June 15, 1520) is this: "In every good work the just man sins." John Calvin similarly claimed that "all human works, if judged according to their own worth, are nothing but filth [iniquinamenta] and defilement [sordes]." (Institutes 3.12.4)

Monocausalism is the philosophical assumption in play behind the treatment of our justification [initial and final] as a mere imputation, and not an infusion. It makes righteousness out to be a quantifiable entity, like a pie composed of, say, eight pieces. If n pieces of the pie were contributed by me, then God could only contribute (8-n) pieces. The more I contribute, the more it detracts from God's contribution, and hence the more I contribute, the more it detracts from God's glory and from my dependence on God for my salvation. That account is based on the mistaken notion that righteousness and glory are quantifiable entities, comparable to something like a pie, and that God's contribution and my contribution are made at the same ontological level. That is why from the point of view of the monocausalist there is no causal room for mutual contribution without competition [e.g. if the whole is 8, and my contribution is n, then God's contribution can be no more than (8-n)].

But righteousness and glory and love are not like that. They are, ultimately, divine attributes; they do not compete for space in God. God is not part love, part righteousness, part glory, etc. Similarly, when God gives love, He does not lose any love. When God gives glory, He does not lose glory. When God gives righteousness, He does not lose righteousness. Similarly, when we love, we do so because He first loved us. Our love is genuine, even though it has its ultimate source in God. To think of love as either only from us, or only from God, is to fail to understand the relation between the Creator and the creature, between first and second causes. It fails to conceive of or imagine the possibility of concurrence.

Everything we have, save sin, is from God. And yet God has given us real powers, real freedom and choice, so that our actions are truly our own. We are actual agents, not robots. For that reason, even though all our righteousness is from God through Christ, nevertheless that righteousness is also (by grace) truly ours, on the inside, by infusion. Our hearts are transformed; we are truly and actually made righteous. That's the good news! We (as real agents, not robots or zombies) actually love God and are made truly righteous, by the grace of God, through faith in Christ, and this grace, faith, righteousness and love are all His gifts to us. They are all 100% divine gift, and yet they are truly and actually ours.

Consider this paragraph from the sixth session of the Council of Trent:

Thus, neither is our own justice established as our own from ourselves, nor is the justice of God ignored or repudiated, for that justice which is called ours, because we are justified by its inherence in us, that same is [the justice] of God, because it is infused into us by God through the merit of Christ. (chapter 16)

Notice here that the justice (i.e. righteousness) of Christ is also actually and truly ours. It is truly Christ's, and truly ours, without contradiction and without confusion or admixture. It is not part Christ's and part ours. It is 100% Christ's, and 100% ours, just as Jesus Himself is 100% God and 100% human, without contradiction or confusion or admixture.

The "mere imputation" view depicted in the cartoon above does not truly *unite* Christ's righteousness to us. It treats Christ's righteousness as remaining extrinsic to us. (That's why the guy in the cartoon is hiding; he is using Christ as his fig leaf, rather than having, as St. Paul said, "Christ in you". Col 1:27). That is because given monocausalism, the only two alternatives for us to be righteous are: (1) for Christ Himself (and Christ alone) to act in us, taking over our will and making our choices for us and in that way turning us into puppets or "possessed" beings, having no genuine causal agency of our own, or (2) we act apart from Christ, in which case if our deeds were righteous then some sort of Pelagianism would be true. To avoid both of those possibilities, monocausalism must settle for "mere imputation", an extrinsic union wherein on account of Christ's righteousness, God the Father treats us as if we were righteous even though we are actually unrighteous, and the problem of our actual unrighteousness is not addressed until we die. (According to Reformed theology we do in theory grow in sanctification over the course of our life after we come to believe the gospel, but nevertheless, even up to and including the last moment of our life, we are still like the guy in the cartoon above: simul iustus et peccator (simultaneously justified and sinner); we are still unrighteous, and all our 'righteousness' is as worthless as filthy rags.

To understand the gospel as something by which we are made actually and truly righteous (and not merely declared to be righteous while remaining in fact unrighteous), we need to consider what exactly the fall did to man, and then in light of that, reflect on what it means to be saved. See my "Prolegomena to the gospel". But my purpose in this post is only to point out the philosophical assumption (of monocausalism) that is at work in the background of the more commonly known Reformed conception of justification, particularly in the claim that if we contribute to our final justification, then Christ's work was not sufficient, and *part* of our righteousness is then coming from [ourselves and not from Christ].

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Feast day of St. Augustine

Saint Augustin et sa Mere Monique
Ary Scheffer (1795-1858)

You ought to know what you have received, what you are going to receive, and what you ought to receive daily. That Bread which you see on the altar, consecrated by the word of God, is the Body of Christ. That chalice, or rather, what the chalice holds, consecrated by the word of God, is the Blood of Christ. Through those accidents the Lord wished to entrust to us His Body and the Blood which He poured out for the remission of sins. If you have received worthily, you are what you have received, for the Apostle says: 'The bread is one; we though many, are one body' (1 Cor. 10:17). Thus he explained the Sacrament of the Lord's table: 'The bread is one; we though many, are one body.' So, by bread you are instructed as to how you ought to cherish unity. Was that bread made of one grain of wheat? Were there not, rather, many grains? However, before they became bread, these grains were separate; they were joined together in water after a certain amount of crushing. (St. Augustine, Sermons, No. 227)

Peace through the Cross

Simone Martini (1333)

The Cross cannot possibly fail.
Do we not adore it?
It too is a cause of our salvation.
God with woman's permission joined divinity to flesh.
Men with God's permission joined this flesh to wood,
That this tree would bear as fruit life eternal.

Where does this divine flesh draw men to Himself?
Precisely where flesh and wood remain joined together,
Men and women with the divine Life,
Extending arms and feet.

I lay myself down, embracing this my tree,
Our tree, His tree,
In total self-gift -- for you for Him, from me from Him,
My dear brother, my dear sister,
That we may be truly one,
And make glad His sacred heart once wounded for our peace.

When His heart was pierced, so was hers,
For they were joined in love.
And for that same love,
So too does His Bride expose her side.
Here, on this tree,
This divine flesh draws men into one.

Did not this tree bear the Prince of Peace?
All those who seek peace, will find Him on this tree,
Extending arms and feet in union with our Lord.
He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth.
Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
So He did not open His mouth.

On this Cross the world was overcome.
On this Cross the world will be overcome.
On this Cross God joined to man triumphed.
On this Cross man joined to God triumphs.
Man joined to wood is man joined to God.
Do we not adore this wood?

Here is the burning bush that could not be consumed,
Around which the ground was sacred.
Why could it not be consumed?
Because Love alone, in giving Himself up for consumption
Cannot be consumed.
Love is the endless font of self-giving.
Wood attached to Love cannot be consumed,
Even while it blazes.
This Cross cannot possibly fail.

Come Cross of Christ, hallowed tree,
And curse made blessing.
Graciously allow us to follow Him.
Bear His Body as you did then.
That we with Him may overcome the world,
In union with His passion and death,
Drawing all men fully unto Himself,
Into His precious Body, His Bride
With the glorious and most perfect unity
Of the Blessed Trinity.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Giving lip-service to teaching authority

I intend to continue the series on the fathers on the Church. But I was prompted to write this after reading the ongoing discussion over at De Regnis Duobus.

To place one's own interpretation of Scripture above that of all the bishops in plenary council is performatively to deny that Christ established any enduring teaching office or teaching authority in the Church. For such a person, the only remaining 'teaching authority' possible is by definition that of "those who agree with me and my interpretation". And that is no authority at all, but only a self-deceiving pretense at being under authority, as St. Paul describes in 2 Timothy 4:3. Such a person may give lip-service to the notion of 'secondary' authority, but in principle his position is still individualistic, because the authority of the 'secondary authority' always remains subject to the individual's own approval and agreement.

Individualism always leads to fragmentation and disintegration (i.e. loss of unity), for agere sequitur esse, i.e. a thing acts according to what it is, and there is no being where there is no unity. But Christ set up His Church to endure (i.e. remain in being) until He returns, and therefore He did not leave it without an enduring teaching authority. And therefore it follows that the individual and his own interpretation of Scripture are subject to the teaching authority of the bishops in plenary council.

To accept the teaching authority of the Church for the determination of the canon of Scripture, while rejecting the teaching authority of the Church for the interpretation of Scripture, is a deep tension internal to all Protestant ecclesiologies. Either the determination of the canon is subject to each individual, or the determination of the interpretation of Scripture is subject to the teaching authority of the Church. Anything else is ad hoc.

The Protestant reply is to appeal to the perspicuity of Scripture, meaning that the nature of the gospel as recorded in Scripture is self-evident to any competent reader. So there doesn't need to be any "teaching authority", because any competent reader can determine for himself from Scripture what is the nature of the gospel. Any competent reader can therefore go against all the bishops in plenary council (or any other group of persons for that matter) when that reader determines for himself that what they are teaching is contrary to what is self-evident from Scripture concerning the gospel. But which is more self-evident from the available evidence: that the nature of the gospel is self-evident to any competent reader, or that over the course of Church history, many competent readers have deeply disagreed with each other about the nature of the gospel to the point of schism and even violence? The claim that the nature of the gospel is self-evident to any competent reader is a presupposition that is imported (by Protestants) to the interpretive process. It is not derived from Scripture. (Even the attempt to derive the notion of perspicuity from Scripture in a certain sense presupposes it.) It has its origin not in the fathers, but with the invention of the printing press and the surge of confidence in the power of human reason accompanying Renaissance humanism. It assumes that the nature of the gospel as recorded in Scripture is such that no competent reader will come to a determination about it that is contrary to one's own, all other things being equal. It assumes that the effort that was necessary for a Protestant to come to his present determination of the nature of the gospel is all the effort necessary for him to have understood fully and truly what is the nature of the gospel.

If this claim [i.e. that the nature of the gospel is self-evident to any competent reader] is false, then the person claiming to have derived it from Scripture is deeply mistaken, not only by importing a false presupposition to the interpretive process, but also in falsely deriving that false presupposition from Scripture. But the claim is not only a presupposition; it is also an empirical claim that is in principle falsifiable. So, if history has not falsified it, what would history have to look like in order to falsify it? How much more divided over the nature of the gospel would Christians have to be (and have been) before the perspicuity claim would be falsified?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

St. Hegesippus on the Church

Fragment of a manuscript of St. Hegesippus's Historiae

St. Hegesippus (c. AD 110 - c. 180), according to Eusebius, was from the east. He was most likely a Hellenistic Jew. He is quoted by Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History. First Eusebius says the following about St. Hegesippus.

Hegesippus in the five books of Memoirs which have come down to us has left a most complete record of his own views. In them he states that on a journey to Rome he met a great many bishops, and that he received the same doctrine from all. It is fitting to hear what he says after making some remarks about the epistle of Clement to the Corinthians.

St. Hegesippus had come to Rome apparently because of the rise of gnostic heresies. It is possible that he either wanted to determine what the church at Rome was teaching about these things, or that he was concerned that these things might influence the church at Rome. Notice that according to St. Hegesippus, during his travels to Rome he met a great many bishops and received the same doctrine from them all. This testifies that the faith that had been handed down by the Apostles had been preserved throughout Asia, Greece and Italy well into the latter part of the second century. Otherwise there would have been various accounts of the faith between the various bishops.

Eusebius then quotes from St. Hegisippus:

And the church of Corinth continued in the true faith until Primus was bishop in Corinth. I conversed with them on my way to Rome, and abode with the Corinthians many days, during which we were mutually refreshed in the true doctrine. And when I had come to Rome I remained there until Anicetus, whose deacon was Eleutherus. And Anicetus was succeeded by Soter, and he by Eleutherus. In every succession, and in every city that is held which is preached by the law and the prophets and the Lord.

St. Hegesippus describes his visit with the Corinthian church in a way that indicates that the problems with Primus were already in the past. He was able to be mutually refreshed with them in "the true doctrine". St. Anicetus became bishop of Rome around AD 155, so St. Hegesippus stayed in Rome from around that time until the time that St. Eleutherus became bishop of Rome. But the fact that he is writing about St. Eleutherus as bishop of the church at Rome shows that he was writing this no earlier than AD 175, because St. Eleutherus was the bishop of Rome from AD 175 - 189. St. Hegesippus is reporting (writing no earlier than AD 175) that what is believed in every city is what is "preached by the law and the prophets and the Lord". But St. Hegesippus tells us the following about the rise of the gnostic false teachers:

And after James the Just had suffered martyrdom, as the Lord had also on the same account, Symeon, the son of the Lord's uncle, Clopas, was appointed the next bishop. All proposed him as second bishop because he was a cousin of the Lord. Therefore, they called the Church a virgin, for it was not yet corrupted by vain discourses. But Thebuthis, because he was not made bishop, began to corrupt it. He also was sprung from the seven sects among the people, like Simon, from whom came the Simonians, and Cleobius, from whom came the Cleobians, and Dositheus, from whom came the Dositheans, and Gorthæus, from whom came the Goratheni, and Masbotheus, from whom came the Masbothæans. From them sprang the Menandrianists, and Marcionists, and Carpocratians, and Valentinians, and Basilidians, and Saturnilians. Each introduced privately and separately his own peculiar opinion. From them came false Christs, false prophets, false apostles, who divided the unity of the Church by corrupt doctrines uttered against God and against his Christ.(E.H. 4.22.4)

What exactly does St. Hegesippus mean when he says that the Church began to be corrupted? He means that certain false teachers began to make their way into the Church, and lead some people astray, and cause divisions. But he does not mean that the Church as a whole fell away. He is speaking as someone who has retained the "true faith", and has found the true faith present in every church where he has traveled. So this corruption about which he is speaking was apparently caused by sects arising almost parasitically in certain particular churches. The Church had to struggle against these various false teachers in a more pronounced way, because the Apostles had passed away, and even those persons who had known the Apostles were, after St. Polycarp's martyrdom, also gone.

So St. Hegesippus indicates to us that while there was a rise of false teachers, there was at the same time a struggle on the part of the Church to preserve orthodoxy, which it did. St. Hegesippus is testifying to the continuation of orthodoxy throughout the Catholic Church well into the latter part of the second century. He gives us testimonial evidence of a continuum of orthodoxy, with lapses here and there by individual bishops and presbyters, but an overall uniformity in the faith into the latter part of the second century.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Shepherd of Hermas on the Church

"The Shepherd" is an important early second century work by a writer known as Hermas. He is said to have been a brother of St. Pius I who was the bishop of the church at Rome from 140 to 155 AD.

The work is divided into three books. The first book is composed of five visions. The second book of twelve commandments. And the third book is composed of ten similitudes. The parts that say something about the Church are found in books one and three.

In the first book Hermas says that God "by His own wisdom and providence has created His holy Church, which He has blessed" (1.1.3) Further on he writes that he was told in a vision, "You will tell, therefore, those who preside over the Church, to direct their ways in righteousness, that they may receive in full the promises with great glory." (1.2.2)

But in this vision he provides a metaphorical vision of the Church:

Now a revelation was given to me, my brethren, while I slept, by a young man of comely appearance, who said to me, Who do you think that old woman is from whom you received the book? And I said, The Sibyl. You are in a mistake, says he; it is not the Sibyl. Who is it then? say I. And he said, It is the Church. And I said to him, Why then is she an old woman? Because, said he, she was created first of all. On this account is she old. And for her sake was the world made. After that I saw a vision in my house, and that old woman came and asked me, if I had yet given the book to the presbyters. And I said that I had not. And then she said, You have done well, for I have some words to add. But when I finish all the words, all the elect will then become acquainted with them through you. You will write therefore two books, and you will send the one to Clemens and the other to Grapte. And Clemens will send his to foreign countries, for permission has been granted to him to do so. And Grapte will admonish the widows and the orphans. But you will read the words in this city, along with the presbyters who preside over the Church. (1.2.4)
Notice that the Church is old, because it was created by God first. In what sense? Presumably, the Church, as the "household of faith" is God's purpose in creating angels and men. The end is present in the beginning, so to speak. See also that Hermas refers to "Clemens" as one who sends his book to foreign countries. This may be a reference to St. Clement, bishop of Rome (91 - 100 AD). We know that he sent out a letter to the church at Corinth; I already discussed that letter here.

In the third vision, Hermas provides a different metaphorical vision of the Church:

The tower which you see building is myself, the Church, who have appeared to you now and on the former occasion. Ask, then, whatever you like in regard to the tower, and I will reveal it to you, that you may rejoice with the saints. I said unto her, Lady, since you have vouchsafed to reveal all to me this once, reveal it. She said to me, Whatsoever ought to be revealed, will be revealed; only let your heart be with God, and doubt not whatsoever you shall see. I asked her, Why was the tower built upon the waters, O Lady? She answered, I told you before, and you still inquire carefully: therefore inquiring you shall find the truth. Hear then why the tower is built upon the waters. It is because your life has been, and will be, saved through water. (1.3.3)
Here the Church is depicted as a tower built on water, to show that we enter the Church through baptism, by which our life is saved. Then Hermas discusses the various stones in the tower.

Hear now with regard to the stones which are in the building. Those square white stones which fitted exactly into each other, are apostles, bishops, teachers, and deacons, who have lived in godly purity, and have acted as bishops and teachers and deacons chastely and reverently to the elect of God. Some of them have fallen asleep, and some still remain alive. And they have always agreed with each other, and been at peace among themselves, and listened to each other. On account of this, they join exactly into the building of the tower. (1.3.5)
Here we have a description of apostles, bishops, teachers and deacons. Apostle seems to be title limited to the first generation of persons, for the other three are also functions that apostles performed. But bishop, teacher and deacon are offices that continue, while that of apostle does not. The term 'teacher' here seems to be used to refer to the activity of the office described elsewhere (e.g. in St. Ignatius) as [mere] presbyter, though that is not definitive.

In the third book we find other references to the Church:

Listen, he said: they whose branches were found withered and moth-eaten are the apostates and traitors of the Church, who have blasphemed the Lord in their sins, and have, moreover, been ashamed of the name of the Lord by which they were called. (3.8.6)
If the Church were "the number of the [decretally] elect", they could not be "traitors of the Church". The very idea of "traitors of the Church" shows that Hermas is using a concept of the Church as the visible Church. He continues:

In this way, then, will the Church of God be purified. For as you saw the stones rejected from the tower, and delivered to the evil spirits, and cast out thence, so [they also shall be cast out, and] there shall be one body of the purified; as the tower also became, as it were, of one stone after its purification. In like manner also shall it be with the Church of God, after it has been purified, and has rejected the wicked, and the hypocrites, and the blasphemers, and the waverers, and those who commit wickedness of different kinds. After these have been cast away, the Church of God shall be one body, of one mind, of one understanding, of one faith, of one love. And then the Son of God will be exceeding glad, and shall rejoice over them, because He has received His people pure. (3.9.18)
This passage seems to be speaking of the purification of the Church that must take place at the Judgment and perhaps also in the end times. The point to note here is that clearly for Hermas, at the time he is writing, the Church contains tares along with the wheat. When he says "Church", what he is talking about is the visible Church. Toward the end of this third book Hermas writes:

And from the tenth mountain, where were trees which overshadowed certain sheep, they who believed were the following: bishops given to hospitality, who always gladly received into their houses the servants of God, without dissimulation. And the bishops never failed to protect, by their service, the widows, and those who were in want, and always maintained a holy conversation. All these, accordingly, shall be protected by the Lord for ever. (3.9.27)
Here we see him describe good bishops of the Church, those given to hospitality and care for widows, and preserving holiness in their conversation.

Overall, while Hermas does not provide us with a substantive or complete ecclesiology, he shows a conceptual continuity with what was said before him with regard to his understanding of the universal nature of Church, as well as its present mixed composition (e.g. sinners and saints). He clearly recognizes an hierarchical authority structure in the Church. And shows (implicitly) an awareness of apostolic succession in his description of the continuity between the apostles on the one hand and the bishops, teachers, and deacons who continue the apostles's work.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Church and the Second Century Gnostics

Marcion displaying his canon

We saw already in our discussion of St. Polycarp how the Apostle John, around the age of ninety (between 97 and 101 AD), had fled from the bath-house in Ephesus when he learned that Cerinthus was inside it, saying, "Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within." (Adv haer. 3.3.4) We have also seen St. Polycarp's opposition to Marcion, when in about the year 154 AD they happened to meet in Rome. Marcion asked St. Polycarp, "Do you know me?" (Notice that Marcion's focus is on himself, and his own fame.) St. Polycarp, not one to mince words at the age of eighty-five, and not having attended Dale Carnegie, replied, "I do know you, the first-born of Satan."

Who were these persons: Cerinthus, Marcion, Valentinus, Cerdo, etc.? They were gnostics who were trying to infiltrate the Church. We know little about Cerinthus. He was a contemporary of the Apostle John, and was said to have come to Ephesus from Egypt, and if not a Jew then at least circumcised. Cerdo and Valentinus arrived in Rome during the time that St. Hyginus was bishop of Rome (136 - 140 AD). Marcion arrived in Rome around 140 AD. Valentinus was from Egypt. Cerdo was from Syria. Marcion was from Pontus. Why did they come to Rome? Because they understood (as Simon the Sorcerer had understood) that this was the place most efficiently to spread their beliefs. All three of these who came to Rome sought to become the bishop of Rome, in order to take control of the Church.

Cerdo at one point confessed his errors to the church at Rome, and was readmitted into the Church. But, at some point later (we don't know when) he was excommunicated by the church at Rome.

We know more about the case of Marcion. Marcion's father was a bishop of Sinope in Pontus. Marcion was born around 110 AD, and was made a bishop (but not the diocesan bishop) in his home town. He was eventually expelled from his own church by his father, when he committed a grave sin with a virgin. He traveled to Rome, arriving sometime around 140 AD, probably to attempt to ascend to the bishop's seat when St. Hyginus vacated it. In 140 AD, however, St. Pius I (said to be the brother of Hermas who wrote "Shepherd of Hermas") was elected to take St. Hyginus's place as bishop of the church at Rome; he served as bishop until about 155 AD. In 144 AD Marcion was excommunicated from the church at Rome by St. Pius I. Marcion then started his own 'church', with its own bishops, priests, and deacons. This 'church' spread far and wide and endured, apparently, even into the Middle Ages. (cf. C.E. 'Marcionites') Marcion died around 160 AD. St. Justin Martyr, who died around 165 AD, refers in at least one place to Marcion as still living. Tertullian's work "Against Marcion" explains and refutes Marcion's teachings.

When it was time to elect a successor to St. Pius I (about 155 AD), it seems that Valentinus tried to win this election. Tertullian tells us this:

[BOQ] Valentinus had expected to become a bishop, because he was an able man both in genius and eloquence. Being indignant, however, that another obtained the dignity by reason of a claim which confessorship had given him, he broke with the church of the true faith. Just like those (restless) spirits which, when roused by ambition, are usually inflamed with the desire of revenge, he applied himself with all his might to exterminate the truth; and finding the clue of a certain old opinion, he marked out a path for himself with the subtlety of a serpent.[EOQ] (Against the Valentinians, 4)

Valentinus failed to attain the episcopal chair at Rome, and instead St. Anicetus was selected as bishop of Rome. It seems that about this time Valentinus was excommunicated by the church at Rome, whereupon he went to Cyprus and died around 160-161.

What did the gnostics teach? Among other things, they taught that Christ did not have a real body, and did not suffer. (They were, in this respect, docetic.) We can already see in the epistles of St. John the direct rejection of gnosticism. (1 John 4:2; 2 John 1:7) Cerinthus's Christology was as follows:

[BOQ] Cerinthus distinguished between Jesus and Christ. Jesus was mere man, though eminent in holiness. He suffered and died and was raised from the dead, or, as some say Cerinthus taught, He will be raised from the dead at the Last Day and all men will rise with Him. At the moment of baptism, Christ or the Holy Ghost was sent by the Highest God, and dwelt in Jesus teaching Him, what not even the angels knew, the Unknown God. This union between Jesus and Christ continues till the Passion, when Jesus suffers alone and Christ returns to heaven.[EOQ] ('Cerinthus' in the Catholic Encylopedia)

Gnosticism separates matter and spirit, human and divine. In this way, it denies the *incarnation*. That is significant for multiple reasons, about which I have written in "The Gnostic Roots of Heresy". We saw already in St. Ignatius (Ep. ad. Smyrnaeans, 7) that the docetists abstained from (or only minimally received) the Eucharist, precisely because for them, as docetists, the Eucharist could not truly be the Body and Blood of Christ. But here I want to point out one very important *ecclesial* implication of gnosticism.

One Ecclesial Implication

If Christ did not have an actual material body, then the Church per se, i.e. the Body of Christ, cannot be visible. If the gnostics were right, then the Church per se is only spiritual and invisible, and that visible thing that is falsely called the Church is merely an earthly, human-made political body, just as the physical body of Jesus the son of Mary was (according to the gnostics who admitted that there was a human Jesus) *merely* human. The dualism implicit in the gnostic denial of the true incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ has as an implication a two-fold denial: it denies the divine character of the one visible Church, and it denies the visible character of the [one and very same] divine Church. Without the hypostatic union of the human and the divine, there is no visible divine body, and thus no visible divine Mystical Body, i.e. no visible Church. And if there is no visible Church, then there is no Church discipline. Marcion can start his own 'church', and make his own canon. If there is no visible Church, then the true knowledge is known 'spiritually', not by means of matter or a physical succession of bishops, not through the visible Church. If there is no visible Church, then how do we know which books are inspired? Spiritually, by a burning in our bosom, an internal witness with our spirit. If there is no visible Church, then how do we know who has the true interpretation of these books? Again, by an internal spiritual witness that this is their true and self-evident meaning. How do we know that we have salvation? Again, by an internal spiritual witness. The ecclesial implication of gnosticism's denial of the hypostatic union is the individualism of some form of Montanism.

To take on flesh in a true union (not just in appearance or in an extrinsic manner) is to bind oneself to the particular, to the here and now, in space and time. But the particular is known in a different way than is that which is spiritual, invisible, and universal. What is entirely spiritual cannot be known by the senses. It must be known apart from the senses. Hence gnosticism entails that Christ is known internally in the subjectivity of one's own heart, not through matter, and thus not through one's senses, and definitely not through a material and temporal succession of sweaty, smelly, sinful men. But the incarnation entails something altogether different. Because of the incarnation, Christ is known to us through His material body, through His physical acts in particular places and times. "He who has seen Me has seen the Father." (St. John 14:9) We come to God through His Body and Blood, not bypassing them. (St. John 6) Since Christ is embodied and visible in His particularity in space and time, so too the Church, as His Body, is visible in its particularity in space and time. As we come to Christ through union with that *matter* which flowed from the side of His physical body on the cross, so likewise we come to Christ through sacramental union with that same matter that pours forth daily from the side of His Body, the Church, in the Eucharist. The Church per se must be particular and visible in space and time because it is the Body of Christ, and because in taking on a body in His incarnation Christ was truly and permanently united with matter in all its particularity and visibility.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Didache on the Church

Selection from the Didache
H/T Taylor Marshall

The Didache is an important early Christian document. Its title means '[The] Teaching', though its full title is "The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles". It was held by some early fathers to be close to canonical. The date of its composition is not easy to determine. It has been dated anywhere from 70 AD up to 160 AD. What it says about apostles and prophets and fasting (viz-a-viz the Jews) indicates that it is probably a late first century - early second century composition.

What does the Didache teach us about the early conception of the Church? In chapter 9 we read:

[BOQ] Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Your kingdom; for Yours is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever. But let no one eat or drink of your Thanksgiving (Eucharist), but they who have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, Give not that which is holy to the dogs.[EOQ]

Here we see a conception of the Church as universal (i.e. catholic). Christ has one Church that is being gathered together from the ends of the earth into His kingdom. In chapter 10 we see a similar conception of the Church:

[BOQ] Remember, Lord, Your Church, to deliver it from all evil and to make it perfect in Your love, and gather it from the four winds, sanctified for Your kingdom which You have prepared for it [EOQ]

The "Church" here needs to be delivered from evil and made perfect. So it cannot merely refer to those who are perfect. The Church is being sanctified, and being gathered together from the four winds. This idea of "gathering" implies a unification. The Church is not a mere collection, a disunited plurality. The Church is a unity into which men from the ends of the earth are being gathered and united.

In chapter 11 we find the following:

[BOQ] Whosoever, therefore, comes and teaches you all these things that have been said before, receive him. But if the teacher himself turn and teach another doctrine to the destruction of this, hear him not; but if he teach so as to increase righteousness and the knowledge of the Lord, receive him as the Lord. But concerning the apostles and prophets, according to the decree of the Gospel, thus do. Let every apostle that comes to you be received as the Lord. But he shall not remain except one day; but if there be need, also the next; but if he remain three days, he is a false prophet. And when the apostle goes away, let him take nothing but bread until he lodges; but if he ask money, he is a false prophet. And every prophet that speaks in the Spirit you shall neither try nor judge; for every sin shall be forgiven, but this sin shall not be forgiven. But not every one that speaks in the Spirit is a prophet; but only if he hold the ways of the Lord. Therefore from their ways shall the false prophet and the prophet be known. And every prophet who orders a meal in the Spirit eats not from it, except indeed he be a false prophet; and every prophet who teaches the truth, if he do not what he teaches, is a false prophet. And every prophet, proved true, working unto the mystery of the Church in the world, yet not teaching others to do what he himself does, shall not be judged among you, for with God he has his judgment; for so did also the ancient prophets. But whoever says in the Spirit, Give me money, or something else, you shall not listen to him; but if he says to you to give for others' sake who are in need, let no one judge him.[EOQ]

We see here something important about testing itinerant teachers. They have to teach in agreement with what came before. Similarly, those who claim to be prophets but do not live in the way of the Lord, are false prophets. But those true prophets who are "working unto the mystery of the Church in the world" are not to be judged. The meaning of the phrase "mystery of the Church in the world" is not entirely clear. But the Church is here treated as a mystery, i.e. a sacrament that is in the world. The idea of a mystery or a sacrament, in this context, is that there is more to it than meets the eye. There is more there than we can see. Implicit in this sacramental conception of the Church is thus the idea that the Church has both a visible and an invisible aspect, as Christ Himself had both a visible and an invisible aspect. He was mysterious in the sense that there was much more to Him (that's quite the understatement) than met the eye. The Church imitates Christ in this very manner. Her saints are quiet, hidden, and mostly unknown. They are, in that respect, like Jesus Himself, for Isaiah tells us, "He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised, and we did not esteem Him." (Isaiah 53:2-3) The Church, which is the Body of Christ, imitates Christ in this very way. The Church is so human that you can just walk right past it, not even recognizing it for what it is. This is the mystery of the Church in the world.

In chapter 15 we read the following:

[BOQ] Appoint, therefore, for yourselves, bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, men meek, and not lovers of money, (1 Timothy 3:4) and truthful and proved; for they also render to you the service of prophets and teachers. Despise them not therefore, for they are your honoured ones, together with the prophets and teachers. And reprove one another, not in anger, but in peace, as you have it in the Gospel; Matthew 18:15-17 but to every one that acts amiss against another, let no one speak, nor let him hear anything from you until he repent. But your prayers and alms and all your deeds so do, as you have it in the Gospel of our Lord.[EOQ]

Here the believers are told to appoint for themselves "bishops and deacons" who are "worthy of the Lord". These men will render to the laity the service corresponding to that of the "prophets and teachers". This, we may suppose, was at the time when the apostolic era was coming to a close, and there would no longer be traveling apostles, prophets, and teachers to feed the infant churches. So the people would need to select from themselves those who were to be bishops and deacons to oversee their churches. Some have interpreted the first line here "Appoint, therefore, for yourselves bishops and deacons" to mean that the Didache is endorsing congregationalism. But if we read the Didache in the context of the other early Church fathers, we see that this isn't a congregationalism in which ordination is conferred by the laity. Rather, the laity were to select worthy men from among themselves, and put them forward as candidates for ordination by the apostles.

To read the Didache in its entirety, go here.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

St. Polycarp on the Church

The Martyrdom of St. Polycarp
From the Church of St. Polycarp, in Smyrna (modern day Izmir, Turkey)

St. Polycarp (AD c. 69 - c. 155) was the bishop of the church at Smyrna. He was a friend and contemporary of St. Ignatius (AD c. 30 - c. 107). He was also an auditor (i.e. hearer) of the Apostle John. We have St. Ignatius's letter to St. Polycarp. We also have St. Polycarp's letter to the Philippians, which appears to have been written around AD 107.

St. Irenaeus (AD c. 130 – c. 200), had been a disciple of St. Polycarp in Smyrna. In his letter to Florinus (who had fallen into heresy), St. Irenaeus writes the following:

For I distinctly remember the incidents of that time better than events of recent occurrence ... I can describe the very place in which the Blessed Polycarp used to sit when he discoursed ... his personal appearance ... and how he would describe his intercourse with John and with the rest who had seen the Lord, and how he would relate their words ... I can testify in the sight of God, that if the blessed and apostolic elder had heard anything of this kind, he would have cried out, and stopped his ears, and said after his wont, 'O good God, for what times hast thou kept me that I should endure such things?' ... This can be shown from the letters which he wrote to the neighbouring Churches for their confirmation...

We also have a letter from St. Irenaeus to St. Victor, who was the bishop of the Church at Rome from AD 189 - 199. In this letter St. Irenaeus describes the visit that St. Polycarp made to Rome at the very end of his life (probably in the summer of AD 154) to talk with St. Anicetus, bishop of Rome, regarding the differences between the Asiatics and the Romans in their determination of the date for the celebration of Easter.

St. Irenaeus also refers to St. Polycarp in Ad haer 3.3.4, where he writes:

But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried [on earth] a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom, departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time,— a man who was of much greater weight, and a more steadfast witness of truth, than Valentinus, and Marcion, and the rest of the heretics. He it was who, coming to Rome in the time of Anicetus caused many to turn away from the aforesaid heretics to the Church of God, proclaiming that he had received this one and sole truth from the apostles — that, namely, which is handed down by the Church. There are also those who heard from him that John, the disciple of the Lord, going to bathe at Ephesus, and perceiving Cerinthus within, rushed out of the bath-house without bathing, exclaiming, Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within. And Polycarp himself replied to Marcion, who met him on one occasion, and said, Do you know me? I do know you, the first-born of Satan. Such was the horror which the apostles and their disciples had against holding even verbal communication with any corrupters of the truth; as Paul also says, A man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sins, being condemned of himself. (Titus 3:10) There is also a very powerful Epistle of Polycarp written to the Philippians, from which those who choose to do so, and are anxious about their salvation, can learn the character of his faith, and the preaching of the truth. Then, again, the Church in Ephesus, founded by Paul, and having John remaining among them permanently until the times of Trajan, is a true witness of the tradition of the apostles.

The most glorious and inspiring part of the tradition that we have regarding St. Polycarp is the account of his martyrdom, which took place in AD 155 or 156, when he was 86 years old. On trial before the proconsul, St. Polycarp says, "Eighty-six years have I served Him and He has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King Who has saved me?" The account of his martyrdom was written by Smyrnaean Christians who were eyewitnesses of the event.

What does St. Polycarp tell us about the Church? His very life tells us first that a faithful disciple of the Apostle John was active in the Church until the year AD 155. If St. Polycarp reacted so strongly to the heresy of Florinus, saying that if the Apostle John had heard what Florinus was saying, he [John] would have cried out and stopped his ears, then St. Polycarp would likewise have refused to be the bishop of Smyrna, if that is not what the Apostles had ordered and prescribed. And yet we know that he was the bishop of Smyrna, appointed to that office by the Apostle John, according to St. Irenaeus. Those who claim that the Church was corrupted in doctrine and ecclesiology by the early second century have some responsibility to explain why persons of the character and virtue of the likes of St. Polycarp would raise no protest to these alleged corruptions.

St. Polycarp opens his letter to the Philippians with the following line: "Polycarp, and the presbyters with him, to the Church of God sojourning at Philippi ...". He writes as a bishop in union with his presbyters. In chapter five of his letter he speaks of the duties of deacons. Then he writes to the laity, "Wherefore, it is needful to abstain from all these things, being subject to the presbyters and deacons, as unto God and Christ." In chapter six he describes the way presbyters should behave:

And let the presbyters be compassionate and merciful to all, bringing back those that wander, visiting all the sick, and not neglecting the widow, the orphan, or the poor, but always providing for that which is becoming in the sight of God and man; (Romans 12:17; 2 Corinthians 8:31) abstaining from all wrath, respect of persons, and unjust judgment; keeping far off from all covetousness, not quickly crediting [an evil report] against any one, not severe in judgment, as knowing that we are all under a debt of sin.

St. Polycarp then speaks in chapter eleven about a man named Valens who was once a presbyter in the church at Philippi, but who has in some sense fallen, apparently because of sin. He writes:

I am greatly grieved for Valens, who was once a presbyter among you, because he so little understands the place that was given him [in the Church]. I exhort you, therefore, that you abstain from covetousness, and that you be chaste and truthful.... I am deeply grieved, therefore, brethren, for him (Valens) and his wife; to whom may the Lord grant true repentance! And be then moderate in regard to this matter, and do not count such as enemies, 2 Thessalonians 3:15 but call them back as suffering and straying members, that you may save your whole body. For by so acting you shall edify yourselves.

We see here that this presbyter was married, and also that through his sin he had in some sense been removed from his office.

The account of the martyrdom of St. Polycarp, written by eyewitnesses of this event, opens with an explicit reference to the "Catholic Church":

The Church of God which sojourns at Smyrna, to the Church of God sojourning in Philomelium, and to all the congregations of the Holy and Catholic Church in every place: Mercy, peace, and love from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, be multiplied.

Each particular Church is conceived as part of the "Holy and Catholic Church". The Holy and Catholic Church is made up of congregations in all the various cities. This of course would not include the 'congregations' of the heretics (e.g. Marcionites, gnostics, Valentinians, etc.) This conception of the Catholic Church can be seen again in chapter eight of the account of St. Polycarp's martyrdom:

Now, as soon as he had ceased praying, having made mention of all that had at any time come in contact with him, both small and great, illustrious and obscure, as well as the whole Catholic Church throughout the world ....

And again in chapter sixteen:

And on his doing this, there came forth a dove, and a great quantity of blood, so that the fire was extinguished; and all the people wondered that there should be such a difference between the unbelievers and the elect, of whom this most admirable Polycarp was one, having in our own times been an apostolic and prophetic teacher, and bishop of the Catholic Church which is in Smyrna.

In chapter nineteen, Jesus Christ is described as the Shepherd of the Catholic Church:

For, having through patience overcome the unjust governor, and thus acquired the crown of immortality, he now, with the apostles and all the righteous [in heaven], rejoicingly glorifies God, even the Father, and blesses our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of our souls, the Governor of our bodies, and the Shepherd of the Catholic Church throughout the world.

Here we see the conception that the Catholic Church throughout the world needs and has a Shepherd, in Jesus Christ. This Catholic Church is not provincial; it is the one Church that Christ founded, and which extends to the ends of the world. It is this one Church to which all followers of Christ (as His sheep) should seek to be joined.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Episcopal Seat in the first century Church in Jerusalem

St. James the Righteous

The historian and bishop Eusebius (249 - 340 AD) quotes St. Clement of Alexandria (d. 215) concerning St. James the Righteous, one of the Twelve Apostles. Eusebius quotes St. Clement as having written the following:

"Peter, James and John, after the Ascension of the Savior, did not strive after honor, because the Savior had specially honored them, but chose James the Righteous as Bishop of Jerusalem." (E.H. 2.1)

This is the James about whom St. Paul writes in Galatians 1:19. He is the author of the book of James in the New Testament. And his position as bishop of Jerusalem explains his prominence in Luke's account of the Jerusalem Council (c. 49-50 AD) in Acts 15. St. Clement of Alexandria relates that this James was "thrown down from a parapet and beaten to death with a fuller's club". (E.H. 2.1) Eusebius provides a fuller account (E.H. 2.23) of the martyrdom of this James by drawing from Hegesippus (c. 110-180 AD), whom Eusebius tells us "belonged to the first generation after the apostles". This is where we learn that St. James's "knees grew hard like a camel's from his continually bending them in worship of God and beseeching forgiveness for the people."

According to Eusebius, St. James the Righteous had been "the first after our Saviour's Ascension to be raised to the bishop's throne there [in Jerusalem]". (E.H. 3.5)

Eusebius then tells us the following:

[BOQ] After the martyrdom of James and the conquest of Jerusalem which immediately followed, there is a firm tradition that those of the apostles and disciples of the Lord that were still living came together from all directions with those who, humanly speaking, were kinsmen of the Lord (for the majority of them also were still alive) to take counsel as to who was worthy to succeed James. They all with one consent pronounced Symeon, the son of Clopas, of whom the Gospel also makes mention; to be worthy of the episcopal throne of that see. He was a cousin, as they say, of the Saviour. For Hegesippus records that Clopas was a brother of Joseph.[EOQ] (E.H. 3.11)

Eusebius again draws from Hegesippus to recount the martyrdom of Symeon under the emperor Trajan in the year 106 or 107 AD. (cf. E.H. 3.32) Apparently Symeon, as an old man, was tortured for days and then crucified. According to Eusebius, "When Symeon had found fulfilment in the manner described, his successor on the throne of the Jerusalem bishopric was a Jew named Justus, one of the vast number of the circumcision who by then believed in Christ." (E.H. 3.35)

Monday, August 18, 2008

St. Ignatius of Antioch on the Church

In this post I want to consider what St. Ignatius of Antioch reveals to us about the Church. But first let us review briefly what we know about St. Ignatius of Antioch. According to the tradition, St. Ignatius was the second bishop of Antioch (from 70-107 AD) after Evodius, about whom little is known. Evodius, apparently, was appointed by the Apostle Peter, who seems to have gone to Antioch immediately after being released from jail by the angel, according to the account in Acts 12. St. Ignatius is thought to have been an auditor (i.e. hearer) of the Apostle John (who died around 100 AD). St. John Chrysostom (c. 347 - 407 AD), who was raised in Antioch, taught that St. Ignatius had been ordained at the hands of Apostles, including St. Peter.

In Trajan's ninth year (107 AD) St. Ignatius was sent to Rome, where he was martyred in the amphitheatre by wild beasts. The account of his martyrdom is claimed to have been written by eyewitnesses [Philo, a deacon of Tarsus, and Rheus Agathopus, a Syrian who had accompanied St. Ignatius from Antioch to Rome -- see chapter 11 of St. Ignatius's epistle to the Philadelphians].

On his way to Rome St. Ignatius composed seven epistles (letters), five which were addressed to churches of various cities along the way, one to the church at Rome, and one composed to St. Polycarp (c. 69 - 155 AD), the bishop of Smyrna. Eusebius devotes a whole chapter to St. Ignatius (H.E. 3.36). St. Polycarp knew St. Ignatius (they had met face to face) and wrote about St. Ignatius's epistles in his [St. Polycarp's] letter to the Philippians. Smyrna was the first place that St. Ignatius stopped on his way from Antioch to Rome. There he wrote his letters to the churches at Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles and Rome. Then, when St. Ignatius arrived at Troas, he wrote his letter to the church at Philadelphia, his letter to the church at Smyrna, and his letter to St. Polycarp.

Let us consider each of these seven letters, in each case examining what St. Ignatius says about the Church, and especially the structure and ground for the leadership of the Church. Again, I would ask that if you wish to comment on this post, please first read through St. Ignatius's seven epistles, prayerfully and carefully. The goal is to approach St. Ignatius in the open and humble stance of listening and learning from him, so as to understand what he thinks about the Church.

In his epistle to the Ephesians, St. Ignatius refers to Onesimus as the bishop of the Ephesians (c. 1). Then Ignatius says, "It is therefore befitting that you should in every way glorify Jesus Christ who has glorified you, that by a unanimous obedience you may be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment, and may all speak the same thing concerning the same thing," [1 Corinthians 1:10] and that, being subject to the bishop and the presbytery, you may in all respects be sanctified." (c. 2) Notice here that St. Ignatius enjoins the Christian faithful in Ephesus to be subject to their bishop and the presbytery, as the means by which they may all be in "unanimous obedience".

St. Ignatius explicitly denies issuing orders to the Ephesians as if he is some "great person". He points out that he can learn from them, and that he is exhorting them on account of love. He then speaks of bishops being already established all over the world. He says, "For even Jesus Christ, our inseparable life, is the [manifested] will of the Father; as also bishops, settled everywhere to the utmost bounds [of the earth], are so by the will of Jesus Christ." (c. 3)

Then he goes on in chapter 4, to say the following: "Wherefore it is fitting that you should run together in accordance with the will of your bishop, which thing also you do. For your justly renowned presbytery, worthy of God, is fitted as exactly to the bishop as the strings are to the harp. Therefore in your concord and harmonious love, Jesus Christ is sung. And man by man, become a choir, that being harmonious in love, and taking up the song of God in unison, you may with one voice sing to the Father through Jesus Christ, so that He may both hear you, and perceive by your works that you are indeed the members of His Son. It is profitable, therefore, that you should live in an unblameable unity, that thus you may always enjoy communion with God."

Notice that unity and harmony are, for St. Ignatius, made possible by hierarchical order. St. Ignatius is not teaching that unity takes place by a 'flattening' of authority to some form of egalitarianism. Rather, for St. Ignatius, it is precisely in the harmony of each person acting in accordance with his appointed office that true harmony is made possible.

Then in chapter 5 he writes, "For if I in this brief space of time, have enjoyed such fellowship with your bishop — I mean not of a mere human, but of a spiritual nature—how much more do I reckon you happy who are so joined to him as the Church is to Jesus Christ, and as Jesus Christ is to the Father, that so all things may agree in unity!"

Here St. Ignatius again shows how being united to our divinely appointed ecclesial authority is analogous to the union of the Church with Jesus, and the union of Jesus to the Father. Just as the gospel has come to us in an hierarchical fashion (from the Father, to the Son, from the Son to the Apostles, from the Apostles to the bishops), so likewise our union with the Father is through an harmonious hierarchy, with the bishop, and through union with him to the Apostles, and through union with them to Jesus Christ, and through union with Him to God the Father.

At the end of that same chapter St. Ignatius writes, "Let us be careful, then, not to set ourselves in opposition to the bishop, in order that we may be subject to God." The hierarchical nature of our union with God makes union with the bishop essential, and makes separation from our bishop a separation from the divinely appointed means by which we are united to God.

Then in chapter 6 St. Ignatius writes, "Now the more any one sees the bishop keeping silence, the more ought he to revere him. For we ought to receive every one whom the Master of the house sends to be over His household, (Matt 24:25) as we would do Him that sent him. It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord Himself. And indeed Onesimus himself greatly commends your good order in God, that you all live according to the truth, and that no sect has any dwelling-place among you. Nor, indeed, do ye hearken to any one rather than to Jesus Christ speaking in truth."

Notice the relation between following the bishop, preserving unity and avoiding any sect. For St. Ignatius, we receive and follow the bishop because He is sent by Jesus.

St. Ignatius commends the Ephesians for not heeding false teachers. (c. 9) Then in chapter 13 he writes, "For when you assemble frequently in the same place, the powers of Satan are destroyed, and the destruction at which he aims is prevented by the unity of your faith. Nothing is more precious than peace, by which all war, both in heaven and earth, is brought to an end."

He points out that Satan is seeking to bring destruction and division. This is overcome through the "unity of our faith". Especially in the last sentence there he reveals that peace is not the cessation of war. Rather, peace and unity is that by which war is overcome. To bring peace we must ourselves enter the peace and unity of God. We cannot make peace or unity out of division and strife. We must find the existing peace and unity established by Christ Jesus, and enter into it. This principle applies also to sects and schism between Christians. We cannot make unity out of division, without being united to an existing unity.

Then in chapter 20 St. Ignatius writes, "so that ye obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undivided mind, breaking one and the same bread, which is the medicine of immortality, and the antidote to prevent us from dying, but [which causes] that we should live for ever in Jesus Christ."

Here too St. Ignatius urges the Ephesian Christians to obey their bishop and the presbytery with an undivided mind, so that they can share together the Eucharist. We may be reminded of what St. Paul wrote: "Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread." (1 Corinthians 10:17) We can see here in chapter 20 of St. Ignatius's letter that for St. Ignatius, this sacrament by which we are made one is deeply connected to our being joined together to our rightful shepherds. If we depart from the bishop, we no longer share in the one Bread, and thus are in some respect separated from the one Body.

In his epistle to the Magnesians, chapter 2, Ignatius writes, "Since, then, I have had the privilege of seeing you, through Damas your most worthy bishop, and through your worthy presbyters Bassus and Apollonius, and through my fellow-servant the deacon Sotio, whose friendship may I ever enjoy, inasmuch as he is subject to the bishop as to the grace of God, and to the presbytery as to the law of Jesus Christ, [I now write to you]."

Notice that the deacon is subject to the bishop (as by analogy to God the Father) and also to the presbytery (as by analogy to Jesus Christ).

In chapter 3, he writes, "Now it becomes you also not to treat your bishop too familiarly on account of his youth, but to yield him all reverence, having respect to the power of God the Father, as I have known even holy presbyters do, not judging rashly, from the manifest youthful appearance [of their bishop], but as being themselves prudent in God, submitting to him, or rather not to him, but to the Father of Jesus Christ, the bishop of us all. It is therefore fitting that you should, after no hypocritical fashion, obey [your bishop] in honour of Him who has willed us [so to do], since he that does not so deceives not [by such conduct] the bishop that is visible, but seeks to mock Him that is invisible. And all such conduct has reference not to man, but to God, who knows all secrets."

Chapter 3 in this way gives us a very clear insight into the thought of St. Ignatius regarding the hierarchical way of being united with God in love and obedience. When we submit to the bishop, we are not submitting ultimately to the bishop, but ultimately to God the Father, because it is God who has sent and appointed the bishop as His representative. We thus serve God by way of following our divinely appointed shepherd, the bishop. To disobey the visible bishop (or feign obedience to him) is to disobey the Bishop who is invisible (i.e. God the Father).

In chapter 4 he writes, "It is fitting, then, not only to be called Christians, but to be so in reality: as some indeed give one the title of bishop, but do all things without him. Now such persons seem to me to be not possessed of a good conscience, seeing they are not steadfastly gathered together according to the commandment."

Some Christians, according to St. Ignatius, recognize a person as having the title 'bishop', but disregard their bishop in their activities, as if he has no authority. This behavior, claims St. Ignatius, is not in accordance with the commandment pertaining to the assembling of believers. Believers are supposed to assemble in union with their bishop.

In chapter 6 he writes, "Since therefore I have, in the persons before mentioned, beheld the whole multitude of you in faith and love, I exhort you to study to do all things with a divine harmony, while your bishop presides in the place of God, and your presbyters in the place of the assembly of the apostles, along with your deacons, who are most dear to me, and are entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father before the beginning of time, and in the end was revealed. Do ye all then, imitating the same divine conduct, pay respect to one another, and let no one look upon his neighbour after the flesh, but do ye continually love each other in Jesus Christ. Let nothing exist among you that may divide you; but be ye united with your bishop, and those that preside over you, as a type and evidence of your immortality." (my emphases)

This paragraph again shows how St. Ignatius understands the basis for a divine harmony in the Church. There is an hierarchical order of bishop, presbyters, and deacons. They are united to each other in that hierarchy, and the laity are united to them in obedience and love. This is the key to unity, according to St. Ignatius, that we be united to our bishop and the others under him in the hierarchy, so that we may reflect the eternal order and unity in the Godhead.

In chapter 7 he writes, "As therefore the Lord did nothing without the Father, being united to Him, neither by Himself nor by the apostles, so neither do ye anything without the bishop and presbyters. Neither endeavour that anything appear reasonable and proper to yourselves apart; but being come together into the same place, let there be one prayer, one supplication, one mind, one hope, in love and in joy undefiled."

Again, the unity St. Ignatius urges us to maintain is based on an hierarchical order that comes from God the Father, through His Son Jesus Christ whom He sent, then through Christ's Apostles whom He sent, and then through the bishops whom they appointed. For St. Ignatius, to be united together in true unity in the Church, we must be united to the eternal divine harmony that has become incarnated through Christ and continues in the enduring apostolic succession.

St. Ignatius finishes chapter 7 with the following: "Therefore run together as into one temple of God, as to one altar, as to one Jesus Christ, who came forth from one Father, and is with and has gone to one."

We are to run together as into one temple of God, not to multiple temples. The Church is one, because Christ is one, because God the Father is one. How do we ensure that we run together into one temple of God? For St. Ignatius, the answer is: By following the bishop whom God has appointed and established.

In chapter 13 he writes, "with your most admirable bishop, and the well-compacted spiritual crown of your presbytery, and the deacons who are according to God. Be subject to the bishop, and to one another, as Jesus Christ to the Father, according to the flesh, and the apostles to Christ, and to the Father, and to the Spirit; that so there may be a union both fleshly and spiritual."

Notice again the hierarchical conception St. Ignatius teaches of order and unity. The unity of a plurality in which the plurality is in some sense preserved is always a unity of *order*. There is an order in the Trinity. So likewise, there is an order in the Church, of deacons to presbyters, and presbyters to the bishop. If we wish to imitate Jesus in His obedience to the Father, we are be obedient to the bishop, and thus, together in submission to our bishop, we are also to be subject to one another. For in this way, according to St. Ignatius, the Apostles were subject to Christ, to the Father, and to the Spirit. By being subject to those in the flesh who have been divinely established over us, we are also being subject to the Spirit.

In his epistle to the Trallians, St. Ignatius writes in chapter 1 about Polybius as the bishop of the church at Tralles. He writes, "I know that you possess an unblameable and sincere mind in patience, and that not only in present practice, but according to inherent nature, as Polybius your bishop has shown me, who has come to Smyrna by the will of God and Jesus Christ, and so sympathized in the joy which I, who am bound in Christ Jesus, possess, that I beheld your whole multitude in him."

In chapter 2, he writes, "For, since you are subject to the bishop as to Jesus Christ, you appear to me to live not after the manner of men, but according to Jesus Christ, who died for us, in order, by believing in His death, you may escape from death. It is therefore necessary that, as you indeed do, so without the bishop you should do nothing, but should also be subject to the presbytery, as to the apostle of Jesus Christ, who is our hope, in whom, if we live, we shall [at last] be found. It is fitting also that the deacons, as being [the ministers] of the mysteries of Jesus Christ, should in every respect be pleasing to all. For they are not ministers of meat and drink, but servants of the Church of God. They are bound, therefore, to avoid all grounds of accusation [against them], as they would do fire."

Here again we see St. Ignatius treat of the offices of bishop, presbyter, and deacon. The Christians are to be subject to their bishop as to Jesus Christ. They are to do nothing apart from him, that is, nothing pertaining to the Church. They are to be subject to the presbytery as to the apostle of Jesus. So the authority of Christ and the Apostles continues in the Church, according to St. Ignatius, through the offices of bishop and presbyter. The deacon is in a different order. The deacon is distinct from the bishop and presbyter in the third place after the bishop and the presbyter. The deacon is not a minister of the "mysteries" (i.e. the sacraments). He is not a priest. Deacons are not "ministers of meat and drink" (i.e. the Body and Blood of Christ). They are servants of the bishop, and in this way servants of the Church of God.

In chapter 3 he writes, "In like manner, let all reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ, and the bishop as Jesus Christ, who is the Son of the Father, and the presbyters as the sanhedrim of God, and assembly of the apostles. Apart from these, there is no Church. Concerning all this, I am persuaded that you are of the same opinion. For I have received the manifestation of your love, and still have it with me, in your bishop, whose very appearance is highly instructive, and his meekness of itself a power; whom I imagine even the ungodly must reverence, seeing they are also pleased that I do not spare myself."

Here again the deacon is to be honored as an "appointment of Jesus Christ" while the bishop is to be honored (by comparison) as if Jesus Christ. The presbyters are to be honored as "the sanhedrin of God, and assembly of the apostles." By describing the presbytery in both of these ways, St. Ignatius draws a connection between the magisterial authority under the Old Covenant and that of the New Covenant. He also once again shows in this chapter the three fold distinction in Holy Orders, from bishop, presbyter, and deacon.

In chapter 7 he writes, "Be on your guard, therefore, against such persons [i.e. hertics]. And this will be the case with you if you are not puffed up, and continue in intimate union with Jesus Christ our God, and the bishop, and the enactments of the apostles. He that is within the altar is pure, but he that is without is not pure; that is, he who does anything apart from the bishop, and presbytery, and deacons, such a man is not pure in his conscience."

Here St. Ignatius says that if remain humble and in intimate union with "Jesus Christ our God, and the bishop, and the enactments of the apostles" we will be able to avoid being deceived by heretics. This statement strongly suggests that in the mind of St. Ignatius, what was enacted by the apostles and continues in the succession of the bishops is a way of remaining in intimate union with Jesus Christ. If we remain in this divinely established order, according to St. Ignatius, we will be protected from heresy. In other words, St. Ignatius seems to hold that in the succession of bishops set up by the Apostles, there is some kind of promise of divine protection from heresy and schism.

In chapter 12, he writes, "Continue in harmony among yourselves, and in prayer with one another; for it becomes every one of you, and especially the presbyters, to refresh the bishop, to the honour of the Father, of Jesus Christ, and of the apostles."

By remaining in harmony with one another, and praying for another, we refresh our bishop, and honor God the Father and Jesus Christ, and the apostles [who appointed the bishops]. (We can't help here but be reminded of Hebrews 13:17).

In chapter 13 St. Ignatius writes, "Fare well in Jesus Christ, while you continue subject to the bishop, as to the command [of God], and in like manner to the presbytery."

St. Ignatius seems to believe that with the death of the Apostles, it is important to emphasize to the Christians that the apostolic authority continues in the succession of bishops whom the Apostles appointed. Only in this way, in his view, can unity be preserved and heresy avoided.

In his epistle to the Romans, St. Ignatius writes in a very different manner from the tone in his other letters. He never enjoins the Roman Christians to submit to their leaders. He instead asks them to pray for him. It is worth recalling that at this time, there was a recognized primacy in the three "apostolic churches": Rome, Antioch, and Alexandria. But there is also a clear deference here on the part of St. Ignatius to the church at Rome, apparent in the very style and tone he adopts in his letter to the church at Rome, in contrast to that in his other letters. This seems to be an indication of the recognition on the part of St. Ignatius of the primacy had by the church at Rome, even among the three apostolic churches.

In chapter 2 he writes "that God has deemed me, the bishop of Syria, worthy to be sent for from the east unto the west." Then in chapter 9 he writes, "Remember in your prayers the Church in Syria, which now has God for its shepherd, instead of me." Here we see him identify himself as "the bishop of Syria", whose role he sees as a shepherd. It is not that while he was the bishop of Syria the church there in Syria did not have God as its shepherd. What he means here apparently is that now (upon his absence from Syria) the church in Syria has only God as its shepherd (or bishop).

From Troas, St. Ignatius wrote his epistle to the Philadelphians. In chapter 2 of this epistle he writes, "Wherefore, as children of light and truth, flee from division and wicked doctrines; but where the shepherd is, there follow as sheep. For there are many wolves that appear worthy of credit, who, by means of a pernicious pleasure, carry captive (2 Timothy 3:6) those that are running towards God; but in your unity they shall have no place."

How are we to flee divisions and wicked doctrines? For St. Ignatius, the answer is follow the shepherd (i.e. the bishop).

In chapter 3 he writes, "Keep yourselves from those evil plants which Jesus Christ does not tend, because they are not the planting of the Father. Not that I have found any division among you, but exceeding purity. For as many as are of God and of Jesus Christ are also with the bishop. And as many as shall, in the exercise of repentance, return into the unity of the Church, these, too, shall belong to God, that they may live according to Jesus Christ. Do not err, my brethren. If any man follows him that makes a schism in the Church, he shall not inherit the kingdom of God. If any one walks according to a strange opinion, he agrees not with the passion [of Christ.]."

What does he mean by "evil plants which Jesus Christ does not tend"? He means those who are separate from the bishop. "For as many as are of God and of Jesus Christ are also with the bishop". But God is merciful, so that if any return in repentance to the unity of the Church, they shall belong to God. St. Ignatius makes a very strong claim about schism. To create a schism or to follow those who create a schism, is to imperil one's soul. We are not to walk according to "strange [novel] opinion", but according to what has been handed down to the bishop.

In chapter 4, he writes, "Take heed, then, to have but one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup to [show forth] the unity of His blood; one altar; as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery and deacons, my fellow-servants: that so, whatsoever you do, you may do it according to [the will of] God.."

Here clearly St. Ignatius enjoins the believers in Philadelphia to be united to their bishop, so that they may have only one Eucharist and in this way show forth the unity of Christ's blood. Here too we see St. Ignatius's understanding of the three offices: bishop, presbytery and deacon. In being joined in our actions to the bishop and the presbyters and the deacons, we are ensuring that we are acting according to the will of God.

In chapter 7, he writes, "For, when I was among you, I cried, I spoke with a loud voice: Give heed to the bishop, and to the presbytery and deacons. Now, some suspected me of having spoken thus, as knowing beforehand the division caused by some among you. But He is my witness, for whose sake I am in bonds, that I got no intelligence from any man. But the Spirit proclaimed these words: Do nothing without the bishop; keep your bodies as the temples of God; love unity; avoid divisions; be the followers of Jesus Christ, even as He is of His Father."

Here too we see St. Ignatius exhorting the Christians to "love unity" and "avoid divisions". How are they to do this? By "giving heed to the bishop, the presbytery, and the deacons".

In chapter 8 he writes, "I therefore did what belonged to me, as a man devoted to unity. For where there is division and wrath, God does not dwell. To all them that repent, the Lord grants forgiveness, if they turn in penitence to the unity of God, and to communion with the bishop."

According to St. Ignatius, God is a God of unity, peace and order. He does not dwell where there is division and wrath. So if we wish to be united to God, we must return to the "unity of God". How do we return to the "unity of God"? By seeking communion with the bishop.

In chapter 10 he writes, "as also the nearest Churches have sent, in some cases bishops, and in others presbyters and deacons." He St. Ignatius reports that some of the churches bishops, and others sent presbyters and deacons. It is very clear that there is in the mind of St. Ignatius a clear distinction between the bishop and the [mere] presbyter.

In epistle to the Smyrnaeans, Ignatius writes in chapters 7-8, "But avoid all divisions, as the beginning of evils. See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid."

How do we avoid divisions (which are the beginning of evil)? For St. Ignatius, the answer is: Follow the bishop even as Jesus Christ follows the Father, and follow the presbytery as we would the apostles, and reverence the deacons as being the institution of God. Here we see in St. Ignatius the three primary Holy Orders as having been established and perpetuated by God, so that to follow those holding these Holy Orders is to follow God. Likewise, there is a very important relation, according to St. Ignatius, between Holy Orders and the other sacraments, particularly the Eucharist. Only that Eucharist is proper (licit) which is administered by the bishop or by one to whom the bishop has entrusted it (i.e. a presbyter under him). According to St. Ignatius, the same is true of baptisms. The people are to follow the bishop. Where the bishop is, there is the Catholic (i.e. universal) Church. In other words, the bishop forms the backbone, so to speak, of the Body of Christ. We are all joined together in an organic unity insofar as we are joined to the bishop.

In chapter 9, he writes, "It is well to reverence both God and the bishop. He who honours the bishop has been honoured by God; he who does anything without the knowledge of the bishop, does [in reality] serve the devil."

That needs no commentary.

In chapter 12 he writes, "I salute your most worthy bishop, and your very venerable presbytery, and your deacons, my fellow-servants, and all of you individually, as well as generally, in the name of Jesus Christ, and in His flesh and blood, in His passion and resurrection, both corporeal and spiritual, in union with God and you."

Lastly, in his epistle to Polycarp, St. Ignatius writes in chapter 5, "If [the man who chooses to remain a virgin for Christ] begins to boast, he is undone; and if he reckon himself greater than the bishop, he is ruined. But it becomes both men and women who marry, to form their union with the approval of the bishop, that their marriage may be according to God, and not after their own lust."

Notice that for St. Ignatius, marriage of Christians should be approved by the bishop.

In chapter 6, in speaking of the duties of the flock he writes, "Give heed to the bishop, that God also may give heed to you. My soul be for theirs that are submissive to the bishop, to the presbyters, and to the deacons, and may my portion be along with them in God!"

In chapter 7 he writes, "It is fitting, O Polycarp, most blessed in God, to assemble a very solemn council, and to elect one whom you greatly love, and know to be a man of activity, who may be designated the messenger of God; and to bestow on him this honour that he may go into Syria, and glorify your ever active love to the praise of Christ."

We see here how St. Polycarp, as bishop, would assemble a solemn council in order to choose someone do perform this particular task of going to Syria as a messenger on behalf of St. Ignatius.

What can we learn from these seven epistles regarding what St. Ignatius believed about the Church? We see clearly his concern for the preservation of the unity and orthodoxy of the Church. We see also his firm belief that the divinely established means for the preservation of the unity and orthodoxy of the Church is for all Christians, wherever they may be, to follow the bishop. We see also a clear conception of three Holy Orders in the Church: bishop, [mere] presbyter, and deacon. Also clearly implicit in St. Ignatius's ecclesiology is a belief in the perpetual divine protection of the unity and orthodoxy of the Church through the apostolic succession of the bishops. Of course this does raise the question of whether bishops can fall into apostasy. What is explicit in St. Ignatius's ecclesiology regarding the ordered relation of deacon, presbyter and bishop, implies that insofar as there is any hierarchical order among the bishops themselves, those subordinate bishops should likewise defer to those of greater authority. And this seems to be the case for the bishops of the three apostolic churches: Alexandria, Antioch, and Rome. St. Ignatius, as the bishop of the church in the second highest place of honor and preeminence in the "Catholic Church", clearly shows deference to the church at Rome, and in this way gives an example to all bishops of lesser sees. Implicit then in St. Ignatius's belief that the laity are assured divine protection as they follow their bishop are two conditions: namely, that the bishop in question is in full communion with the bishop holding the highest authority in the Church, and that this bishop with highest authority in the Church has some unique divine protection from error.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

St. Clement on the Church

I would like to consider the letter of St. Clement of Rome, in particular to see what he tells us about the Church. I wrote a little about this letter in a previous post earlier this year -- there I was talking about love and unity. (The relation of love and unity is a theme I intend to write about here shortly, in a series of posts.) If you wish to comment on this post, let me ask you to read first the letter of St. Clement to the Corinthians in a prayerful and careful manner. (Ideally, read it out loud.) What kind of heart and character do you hear in the words of St. Clement? Does he seem to be the kind of person who would deviate from what he had received, or does he seem to be someone who would rather gladly die than depart from what he had received?

First, what do we know about St. Clement? One of the ways we know about St. Clement is through St. Irenaeus (c. 130 – c. 200 AD). St. Irenaeus was a pupil of St. Polycarp (c. 69 - 155 AD) bishop of Smyrna. (See St. Irenaeus's description of his personal knowledge of St. Polycarp in Ad haer 3.3.4.) And according to St. Irenaeus, St. Polycarp "was not only taught by the Apostles, and lived in familiar intercourse with many that had seen Christ, but also received his appointment in Asia from the Apostles as Bishop in the Church of Smyrna." St. Irenaeus had been a priest (presbyter) in Lyon under bishop Pothinus (c. 87 - 177 AD), and around 177-178 he had been sent to St. Eleutherus (bishop of Rome from 175-189 AD), to help bring some relief from the persecution under Marcus Aurelius. (To see the letter commending St. Irenaeus to St. Eleutherus, see Eusebius, History of the Church, 5.4.) St. Irenaeus spent some significant time with the Church at Rome. He served as bishop of Lyon from approximately 177 AD until the end of his life.

St. Irenaeus, in his Adversus haeresis writes concerning St. Clement and his letter to the Corinthians:

[BOQ] The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric. This man, as he had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes. Nor was he alone [in this], for there were many still remaining who had received instructions from the apostles. In the time of this Clement, no small dissension having occurred among the brethren at Corinth, the Church in Rome despatched a most powerful letter to the Corinthians, exhorting them to peace, renewing their faith, and declaring the tradition which it had lately received from the apostles, proclaiming the one God, omnipotent, the Maker of heaven and earth, the Creator of man, who brought on the deluge, and called Abraham, who led the people from the land of Egypt, spoke with Moses, set forth the law, sent the prophets, and who has prepared fire for the devil and his angels. From this document, whosoever chooses to do so, may learn that He, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, was preached by the Churches, and may also understand the apostolical tradition of the Church, since this Epistle is of older date than these men who are now propagating falsehood, and who conjure into existence another god beyond the Creator and the Maker of all existing things. To this Clement there succeeded Evaristus. Alexander followed Evaristus; then, sixth from the apostles, Sixtus was appointed; after him, Telephorus, who was gloriously martyred; then Hyginus; after him, Pius; then after him, Anicetus. Soter having succeeded Anicetus, Eleutherius does now, in the twelfth place from the apostles, hold the inheritance of the episcopate. In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth. [EOQ] (Ad. haer. 3.3.3) (emphases mine)

St. Irenaeus, who had spent time with the Church at Rome, and who had been taught under St. Polycarp who had conversed with some Apostles, claims that St. Clement had also conversed with the Apostles (i.e. Peter and Paul), and that he was bishop of the Church at Rome after St. Linus and St. Cletus. That is also attested to by the liturgy of the Church at Rome, which to this day preserves the name of "Clemens" after Linus and Cletus in the litany of prayers, and these names follow directly after those of the Apostles. The recitation of these names in the Roman liturgy has been in place apparently since the second century.

The well-known Church historian and bishop of Caesarea, Eusebius (249 - 340 AD) claims (History of the Church 3.4) that St. Clement is the same Clement referred to by St. Paul in Philippians 4:3, where St. Paul writes, "I ask you also, who are a true co-worker, to help these women, for they have labored side by side with me in the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life." (See also Eusebius History of the Church, 3.15.) Some have claimed that the Fortunatus referred to at the end of St. Clement's letter is the same Fortunatus referred to by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 16:17. Eusebius goes on to refer to St. Clement's letter to the Corinthians. Eusebius writes:

[BOQ] There is extant an epistle of this Clement which is acknowledged to be genuine and is of considerable length and of remarkable merit. He wrote it in the name of the church of Rome to the church of Corinth, when a sedition had arisen in the latter church. We know that this epistle also has been publicly used in a great many churches both in former times and in our own. And of the fact that a sedition did take place in the church of Corinth at the time referred to Hegesippus is a trustworthy witness. [EOQ] (History of the Church, 3.16.)

Hegesippus (c. 110-180 AD), who visited various bishops during his travels, including the bishops of Corinth and Rome, is quoted by Eusebius as having appended some remarks to Clement's Epistle to the Corinthians; these remarks indicate that the Church at Corinth remained pure in doctrine until Primus became bishop. (History of the Church 4.22)

The tradition has always and everywhere treated the letter of St. Clement to the Corinthians as from St. Clement of Rome. Dionysius the bishop of Corinth in 170 AD mentions St. Clement's letter, and reports that it was still read in their Sunday gatherings. (Eusebius quotes Dionysius's letter in History of the Church 4.23.) The letter was cited as St. Clement's by St. Clement of Alexandria (d. c. 215) and by Origen (185 - 232 AD). Tertullian (c. 155 - c. 222), in his Prescription Against Heretics, claims that St. Clement was ordained by the Apostle Peter, as St. Polycarp was ordained by the the Apostle John. (Prescrip. c. 32)

Eusebius claims that St. Clement was still the "head of the Roman community" in the first year of Trajan. (See History of the Church, 3.21.) According to Eusebius (E.H. 3.34), St. Clement "departed this life, yielding his office to Evarestus" in the third year of the Emperor Trajan (100 AD), having been "in charge of the teaching of the divine message for nine years in all." St. Clement is thus thought to have been the bishop of the Church at Rome from about 90-91 AD to about 100 AD. The date of his letter to the Corinthians is not entirely certain, but traditionally it has been thought to come right after the persecution under Domitian, and thus around 96 AD.

Here now I wish to consider the contents of St. Clement's letter with regard to what he says about the Church. St. Clement opens his letter with this line: "The church of God which sojourns at Rome, to the church of God sojourning at Corinth". Here we see the recognition of distinct [particular] churches. There is a church that sojourns at Rome, and there is a church that sojourns at Corinth. Then he continues two lines later to address the church at Corinth as "dear brethren". These churches then, are in some way related. (More on that below.)

The situation at the church in Corinth was as follows. Members of the church at Corinth had "consulted" the church at Rome regarding a schism in the church at Corinth. (c. 1) This schism, which St. Clement describes as a "shameful and detestable sedition", involved the casting out by the laity (or some portion of them) of the elders (presbyters) of the church at Corinth. Speaking to the laity at the church at Corinth, St. Clement tells them that they had previously been "obedient to those who had the rule over you, and giving all fitting honour to the presbyters among you." (c. 1) "Moreover, you were all distinguished by humility, and were in no respect puffed up with pride, but yielded obedience rather than extorted it, and were more willing to give than to receive." ... "Every kind of faction and schism was abominable in your sight." (c. 2)

But, in their contentment and ease, they forsook their previous manner of living, and became puffed up and envious. (c. 3) He writes, "For this reason righteousness and peace are now far departed from you, inasmuch as every one abandons the fear of God, and is become blind in His faith, neither walks in the ordinances of His appointment, nor acts a part becoming a Christian, but walks after his own wicked lusts, resuming the practice of an unrighteous and ungodly envy, by which death itself entered into the world." (c. 3) He shows that since the fall of Adam and Eve, many evils have arisen from this very root of envy. (c. 4) According to St. Clement, these very same evils are what led to the persecutions and martyrdoms of Peter and Paul, "the greatest and most righteous pillars [of the church]". (c. 5)

Who should the laity obey? "It is right and holy therefore, men and brethren, rather to obey God than to follow those who, through pride and sedition, have become the leaders of a detestable emulation." (c. 14) The argument that St. Clement is constructing over the course of the entire epistle is that we follow God by following those authorities whom God has appointed, not those who rise up in sedition. We are not to follow those who make a rebellion, even if they do so claiming to be for peace. "Let us cleave, therefore, to those who cultivate peace with godliness, and not to those who hypocritically profess to desire it." (chptr 15)

He considers the examples of Christ, and the Old Testaments saints, in their humility and meekness. These are the examples we are supposed to emulate. "Thus the humility and godly submission of so great and illustrious men have rendered not only us, but also all the generations before us, better" (c. 19) We should be able to see this, he claims, from nature itself. God has established the whole universe in harmony and order. (c. 20) He wants all men to live in peace. And the Church likewise is set up by God in an ordered manner, to exist in the unity of a harmony (c. 37) so that if we follow that order in humility we will have peace and be to the world an example of humility like Christ and the Old Testament saints and Apostles. We must not therefore abandon the post that has been assigned to us in this divinely ordered body which is the Church. To do so is to go against God and the order He has set up through His wisdom and foresight. St. Clement writes:

"It is right, therefore, that we should not leave the post which His will has assigned us. Let us rather offend those men who are foolish, and inconsiderate, and lifted up, and who glory in the pride of their speech, than [offend] God. Let us reverence the Lord Jesus Christ, whose blood was given for us; let us esteem those who have the rule over us;" (c. 21)

There is an intimate connection between esteeming those who have rule over us, and reverencing Jesus Christ. To leave our post and take to ourselves an authority that does not belong to us is to offend God. (This hierarchical way of thinking is contrary to what I have termed 'monocausalism'.) St. Clement refers to those who set themselves against the will of God as God's enemies. He writes, "But who are His enemies? All the wicked, and those who set themselves to oppose the will of God." (c. 36)

All this first part of St. Clement's letter is to communicate the way in which God has set up the Church in an ordered, hierarchical way so that there will be peace and harmony, just as God created nature with an order so that all things move in harmony. St. Clement at this point (c. 37) discusses the organizational structure of an army, with its generals, prefects, commanders of a thousand, of a hundred, or of fifty. He points out that the army's ability to function in an ordered way, and also the well-being of each soldier in the army, depends upon all of its members operating in accordance with their particular rank. (c. 37) Likewise, he draws an analogy between the Church and a living body. "Let us take our body for an example. The head is nothing without the feet, and the feet are nothing without the head; yea, the very smallest members of our body are necessary and useful to the whole body. But all work harmoniously together, and are under one common rule for the preservation of the whole body." (c. 37) What is his point in drawing a comparison between the Church on the one hand, and an army and body on the other? We all need each other, and we are part of a divinely ordered whole. For that reason we cannot divide from this whole or arrogate a role or rank within it that has not been given to us. This then gives us some insight into the relation of the church sojourning at Rome and the church sojourning at Corinth. They are each members of one Body, and one army. They are not a mere plurality or mere collection of independent entities; they are a unity -- an organic Body, with different roles and different gifts.

St. Clement then appeals to the order of the Jewish priesthood, showing how God had appointed that offerings be made at certain times and at particular places by certain persons. (c. 40) He makes a very clear reference to the three-fold order in the priesthood of the Old Covenant: High priest, priest, and Levite. Then he mentions the laymen. (This is the first time this term is used in the existing Christian literature.) The clear implication is that just as there was a hierarchical order in the Old Covenant, so likewise is there in the New Covenant. Why is he saying this? In order to show those laymen who had rebelled against their presbyters that they were going against a divinely appointed authority. He writes:

"Not in every place, brethren, are the daily sacrifices offered, or the peace-offerings, or the sin-offerings and the trespass-offerings, but in Jerusalem only. And even there they are not offered in any place, but only at the altar before the temple, that which is offered being first carefully examined by the high priest and the ministers already mentioned. Those, therefore, who do anything beyond that which is agreeable to His will, are punished with death. You see, brethren, that the greater the knowledge that has been vouchsafed to us, the greater also is the danger to which we are exposed." (c. 41)

This paragraph will make more sense when we get to St. Ignatius, for St. Clement is clearly also speaking of the Eucharist. (See St. Ignatius's letter to the Smyrnaeans, chapter 8.) The Christians knew of the prescription set up by the Apostles for following the Lord's command to "Do this in remembrance of Me". St. Clement is drawing a comparison (of similarity) between the order of Jewish worship and the order of worship commanded by Christ. (There is no contradiction between what St. Clement is saying here (chapters 40-41) and what St. Paul says in Colossians 2:13-21 about Christians not needing to follow the Jewish ceremonial law.)

St. Clement now gets to the fundamental basis for the authority of the presbyters of the church at Corinth:

[BOQ] The apostles have preached the gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ [has done so] from God. Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ. Both these appointments, then, were made in an orderly way, according to the will of God. Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand. And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first fruits [of their labours], having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe. Nor was this any new thing, since indeed many ages before it was written concerning bishops and deacons. For thus says the Scripture in a certain place, I will appoint their bishops in righteousness, and their deacons in faith. [EOQ](c. 42)

Notice that by saying that these offices of bishop and deacon are not new, St. Clement is connecting the Old and New Covenants. And that makes his earlier three-fold distinction between high priest, priest, and Levite relevant to the New Covenant order as well. He sets up an expectation of the difference between the bishop and presbyter, as equivalent in a way, to the difference between the high priest and the priest. Also notice here that order (and orders) comes from the top down. God the Father sent Jesus. Jesus in turn authorized and sent the Apostles. And the Apostles in turn authorized and ordained bishops and deacons. Here we say that one does not take a 'rank' in the army (or body) of Christ by arrogating it to oneself, but by being called to do so by one having that authority. Only those having authority can give authority, because one cannot give what one does not have. The Church in its order imitates Christ who said, "My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me." (See the passages from the gospels in which Jesus specifies His relation to the Fathers here.)

St. Paul did this when he was dealing with a question of supreme importance: "I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you." (1 Cor 11:23) (See also my post on Acts 15:24 and my post on Romans 10:15.) It seems to me that gnosticism of the Montanistic sort turns the gospel into a mere message, separable from authorized persons, and received directly from heaven (making the incarnation unnecessary) by a divine spirit into one's own heart, and thus robs these verses of their true meaning and denies the organic and incarnational nature of the Mystical Body of Christ.

St. Clement goes on in chapter 43 to say the following:

[BOQ]And what wonder is it if those in Christ who were entrusted with such a duty by God, appointed those [ministers] before mentioned, when the blessed Moses also, a faithful servant in all his house, noted down in the sacred books all the injunctions which were given him, and when the other prophets also followed him, bearing witness with one consent to the ordinances which he had appointed? For, when rivalry arose concerning the priesthood, and the tribes were contending among themselves as to which of them should be adorned with that glorious title, he commanded the twelve princes of the tribes to bring him their rods, each one being inscribed with the name of the tribe. And he took them and bound them [together], and sealed them with the rings of the princes of the tribes, and laid them up in the tabernacle of witness on the table of God. And having shut the doors of the tabernacle, he sealed the keys, as he had done the rods, and said to them, Men and brethren, the tribe whose rod shall blossom has God chosen to fulfil the office of the priesthood, and to minister unto Him. And when the morning was come, he assembled all Israel, six hundred thousand men, and showed the seals to the princes of the tribes, and opened the tabernacle of witness, and brought forth the rods. And the rod of Aaron was found not only to have blossomed, but to bear fruit upon it. What think ye, beloved? Did not Moses know beforehand that this would happen? Undoubtedly he knew; but he acted thus, that there might be no sedition in Israel, and that the name of the true and only God might be glorified; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.[EOQ](emphases mine)

Notice how St. Clement is showing in chapter 43 that the order God provided to avert schism under Moses is present also in the New Covenant, through the apostolic succession -- the appointment by the Apostles of the bishops and deacons discussed in chapter 42. This leads to the key paragraph for our intention of learning what St. Clement has to say about the Church:

[BOQ]Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect fore-knowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry. We are of opinion, therefore, that those appointed by them, or afterwards by other eminent men, with the consent of the whole church, and who have blamelessly served the flock of Christ, in a humble, peaceable, and disinterested spirit, and have for a long time possessed the good opinion of all, cannot be justly dismissed from the ministry. For our sin will not be small, if we eject from the episcopate those who have blamelessly and holily fulfilled its duties. Blessed are those presbyters who, having finished their course before now, have obtained a fruitful and perfect departure [from this world]; for they have no fear lest any one deprive them of the place now appointed them. But we see that you have removed some men of excellent behaviour from the ministry, which they fulfilled blamelessly and with honour.[EOQ] (c. 44)

The Apostles knew there would be strife over the office of the episcopate; they had been foretold of this by Jesus. So when they appointed bishops, they gave careful instructions regarding the continuation of the office, and how this was to be done. This is part of the Apostolic teaching, namely, how the episcopal office is to be perpetuated, so that contention and strife over the episcopate can be averted. The means by which it is to be averted is that ordination is only from bishop to bishop, for if laymen could ordain, then there would be unending contention over the episcopal office. The whole church consents, or proposes candidates for ordination, and in this way too strife is averted, for the leaders are approved (or proposed) by the governed, even though ultimately given authority by those already having authority. It is no small sin to rebel against these divinely appointed who were appointed and authorized according to the order laid down by Christ through the Apostles.

What is the source of our divisions? St. Clements replies:

[BOQ]Why are there strifes, and tumults, and divisions, and schisms, and wars among you? Have we not [all] one God and one Christ? Is there not one Spirit of grace poured out upon us? And have we not one calling in Christ? Ephesians 4:4-6 Why do we divide and tear in pieces the members of Christ, and raise up strife against our own body, and have reached such a height of madness as to forget that we are members one of another? Romans 12:5 Remember the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, how He said, Woe to that man [by whom offences come]! It were better for him that he had never been born, than that he should cast a stumbling-block before one of my elect. Yea, it were better for him that a millstone should be hung about [his neck], and he should be sunk in the depths of the sea, than that he should cast a stumbling-block before one of my little ones. Your schism has subverted [the faith of] many, has discouraged many, has given rise to doubt in many, and has caused grief to us all. And still your sedition continues.[EOQ] (c. 46)

Notice how serious is the damage done by schism, according to St. Clement. It subverts the faith of many, discourages many, and gives rise to doubt to many, and causes grief to us all. The seriousness of this fault is thus treated by St. Clement as aptly described by Christ's claim about it be better that a millstone be hung around the offender's neck and that he be cast into the sea, than that he cast a stumbling-block before Christ's little ones. I wonder whether we take seriously enough how much damage the various contemporary schisms in Christianity have done to the faith of many. If we realized that the millstone prescription applied to our present schisms, wouldn't we be burning the midnight oil to be reconciled and reunited with each other?

According to St. Clement, the guilt of the Corinthian church's previous schism was lesser, because the persons followed then were Apostles [Cephas and Paul], and a man [i.e. Apollo] approved by the Apostles. "But now reflect who those are that have perverted you, and lessened the renown of your far-famed brotherly love. It is disgraceful, beloved, yea, highly disgraceful, and unworthy of your Christian profession, that such a thing should be heard of as that the most steadfast and ancient church of the Corinthians should, on account of one or two persons, engage in sedition against its presbyters. And this rumour has reached not only us, but those also who are unconnected with us; so that, through your infatuation, the name of the Lord is blasphemed, while danger is also brought upon yourselves." (c. 47)

In chapter 49, St. Clement discusses the relation of love and unity. I will pass over it here, because I have discussed it elsewhere, and hope to discuss it in more detail in the near future.

One of the things that has been handed down from the Apostles, claims St. Clement, is concord. True followers of Christ prefer to be blamed themselves rather than detract from the concord that has been handed down from the Apostles. (c. 51) This same attitude is expressed again in chapter 54 where St. Clement writes:

[BOQ] Who then among you is noble-minded? who compassionate? who full of love? Let him declare, If on my account sedition and disagreement and schisms have arisen, I will depart, I will go away whithersoever ye desire, and I will do whatever the majority commands; only let the flock of Christ live on terms of peace with the presbyters set over it. He that acts thus shall procure to himself great glory in the Lord; and every place will welcome him.[EOQ] (c. 54)

We are to rather be exiled than cause a sedition against the presbyters set over the church. At this point, St. Clement moves to the imperative voice. First he urges those who instigated the sedition to submit to the rightful presbyters:

[BOQ] You therefore, who laid the foundation of this sedition, submit yourselves to the presbyters, and receive correction so as to repent, bending the knees of your hearts. Learn to be subject, laying aside the proud and arrogant self-confidence of your tongue. For it is better for you that you should occupy a humble but honourable place in the flock of Christ, than that, being highly exalted, you should be cast out from the hope of His people.[EOQ] (c. 57)

He has spoken throughout the whole letter about the good of obedience, meekness, humility, order and harmony. Now he calls on those who have participated in the sedition to receive the counsel of the church of Rome, and to observe the "ordinances and appointments given by God", namely, the God-given authority of the Corinthian presbyters.

[BOQ] Let us, therefore, flee from the warning threats pronounced by Wisdom on the disobedient, and yield submission to His all-holy and glorious name, that we may stay our trust upon the most hallowed name of His majesty. Receive our counsel, and you shall be without repentance [i.e. have nothing to regret - BRC]. For, as God lives, and as the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost live,— both the faith and hope of the elect, he who in lowliness of mind, with instant gentleness, and without repentance [i.e. without regret] - BRC] has observed the ordinances and appointments given by God — the same shall obtain a place and name in the number of those who are being saved through Jesus Christ, through whom is glory to Him for ever and ever. Amen.[EOQ] (c. 58)

St. Clement makes his strongest statement in chapter 59, when he says:

"If, however, any shall disobey the words spoken by Him through us, let them know that they will involve themselves in transgression and serious danger;" (c. 59)

This too is a rejection of monocausalism. St. Clement is claiming that God is speaking through him and the church at Rome, and thus that for the Corinthians to disobey the words he is speaking to them is to disobey God. This principle, that God is acting through divinely ordained authorities, can be seen both in the civil authorities as well as the ecclesial authorities, as St. Clement breaks into prayer:

[BOQ] To our rulers and governors on the earth — to them You, Lord, gavest the power of the kingdom by Your glorious and ineffable might, to the end that we may know the glory and honour given to them by You and be subject to them, in nought resisting Your will; to them, Lord, give health, peace, concord, stability, that they may exercise the authority given to them without offence. For You, O heavenly Lord and King eternal, givest to the sons of men glory and honour and power over the things that are on the earth; do Thou, Lord, direct their counsel according to that which is good and well-pleasing in Your sight, that, devoutly in peace and meekness exercising the power given them by You, they may find You propitious.[EOQ] (c. 61)

All the examples St. Clement has appealed to over the course of his letter have been to show the virtues of humility and obedience toward divinely appointed authorities. Thus he writes: "Right is it, therefore, to approach examples so good and so many, and submit the neck and fulfil the part of obedience, in order that, undisturbed by vain sedition, we may attain unto the goal set before us in truth wholly free from blame." (c. 63)

Finally, in conclusion he says, "Send back speedily to us in peace and with joy these our messengers to you: Claudius Ephebus and Valerius Bito, with Fortunatus; that they may the sooner announce to us the peace and harmony we so earnestly desire and long for [among you], and that we may the more quickly rejoice over the good order re-established among you." (c. 65) Here we see St. Clement urging the Corinthians to send back the Roman messengers with news of order having been re-established in the church at Corinth.

I am not going to make any application here of what St. Clement says to the Protestant-Catholic schism. What I want is to get inside the heart and mind of St. Clement, and to understand what he is saying about the Church. He gives an insight into the heart and mind of the Apostles regarding these things, because he still has, as St. Irenaeus says, "the preaching of the apostles ... echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes".