Friday, April 17, 2015

ANF V: The End!

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Conclusion


So month later, I've finally finished the fifth volume in this beast of a series. Which means I've got what, 42 left to go? Something like that, anyway. This volume is mostly Cyprian, with a good deal of Hippolytus and Novatian thrown in (Caius gets a nod too). Since I went through this whole volume a few pages at a time, I won't make extensive commentary or quotation here. Instead you can click the link below if you want to see the whole thing, or the names above to see the individual writers.

ANF V

I don't know if I'll perform an exercise like this again. This kind of daily reading/blogging takes a lot of time and I have several other writing projects I'm working on (including a bi-weekly series on Machiavelli and Hobbes available here). So this and the City of God of last year may have been a one-of. If I do come back to daily blogging through the church fathers, it will be this summer. But no promises.

Oh, and a review of the book itself. This volume is worth reading, just maybe not all of it. While these authors are by and large more accessible than those of previous volumes (which I assume is caused by a combination of translation and manuscript availability), the content gets a bit repetitive. And of course as with any of these volumes the theology and exegesis aren't always as great as they could be. Still, there is gold to be mined here as we watch these faithful Christians try to obey Scripture and stay faithful to the Gospel. Though we don't always agree with their interpretations or actions, we can always benefit from their wisdom and example.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

ANF V: Appendix on Re-Baptism

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Appendix: A Treatise on Re-Baptism by an Anonymous Writer


Once again we're faced with a work by that most prolific of writers, "anonymous." And once again we're back to the question of legitimate baptism. This time the dispute is over whether or not those who were baptized into the "true" church, and then left for a schismatic church (Novatian's, for example), and then return, need to be re-baptized. If not, will a simple "laying on of hands" by the pastor and elders suffice?
The author in a long passage points out that this question has really been settled, but because of contentious human nature we refuse to acknowledge the authority of the church and so once again the Scripture arguments need to be brought up. Which is a great thing to notice: even though the decision has been made, force is not the recourse. Instead the authority of Scripture and persuasion are the tools in question, and remain so for centuries yet to come in the church.

By and large, this treatise can be skimmed. There's nothing here that wasn't also in the letters from Cyprian, other than some more explicit expositions of Scripture on baptism (which were largely only hinted at in Cyprian's letters). As there, we might not be able to go along with the exegesis or some of the theological conclusions--especially those that dance near baptismal regeneration and the idea of a single, unified church as the only legitimate one--but we can certainly go along with the submission to Scripture and the idea that we ought to be doing church and administering the sacraments correctly. Interestingly, here baptismal regeneration is explicitly rejected, "lest on this principle we should believe that even Gentiles and heretics, who abuse the name of Jesus, could attain unto salvation without the true and entire thing [that is, without faith]."
The overall point is that in baptism we have a great deal of flexibility, so long as we are being faithful and solemn in our administration of the sacrament. In answer to the specific question, no re-baptism is required, since the water does not save and is not necessary in the strictest sense...

So, this is a fine one to read but not because there's anything new to be picked up here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

ANF V: Appendix Against Novatian

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Appendix: Anonymous Treatise Against the Heretic Novatian


As the introductory notice points out, it's unclear who wrote this treatise (hence the "anonymous" bit in the title). It probably wasn't Cyprian but probably was a like-minded pastor, probably from North Africa.

I'm tempted to say that there's nothing new here that we haven't already seen in the letters of Cyprian and so you can go ahead and skip it. And that's true, so far as it goes. But although there are no new theological arguments in this short treatise, there are some turns of phrase that are simply too good not to read. Such as this one:
lo, there appeared opposed to me another enemy, and the adversary of his own paternal affections--the heretic Novatian--who not only, as it is signified in the Gospel, passed by the prostrate wounded man, as did the priest or the Levite, but by an ingenious and novel cruelty rather would slay the wounded man, by taking away the hope of salvation, by denying the mercy of his Father, by rejecting the repentance of his brother. 
As with Cyprian's letters, I'm on board with his concern for the integrity of the church. And I'm certainly on board with his respect for Scripture. But I just can't go along with either his exegesis (which: ugh) or his extreme view of church unity. You can split off into different local church and still be a part of the true church. I would rather that not happen, of course, but I would not condemn a body that holds to the Gospel just because it formed its own institution. This, for example, is simply too far: "For ye who were some time Christians, but now are Novatians, no longer Christians, have changed your first faith by a subsequent perfidy in the calling of your name." The fact is we have no record of them rejecting any of the core tenets of the Gospel, and so they are still Christians. That said, the author was there and I am not, so to some extent we should also give something of the benefit of the doubt to our sources.

So is this worth reading? Yes, but not because you'll get anything new out of it. Only because of the author's excellent way with words and imagery.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

ANF V: Appendix Baptism Controversy Records

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Appendix: Acts and Records of the Famous Controversy about the Baptism of Heretics


This passage can be read quickly, since it really is just a mini-table of contents pointing the reader to other places in this volume where this subject is dealt with.

Monday, April 13, 2015

ANF V: Novatian on the Meats IV-VII

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Novatian: On the Jewish Meats IV-VII


In addition to each forbidden animal providing a sermon on sin (see the previous chapters), Novatian argues in the conclusion to the treatise that the OT dietary laws were provided to teach us self-restraint and the dangers of luxury.
Luxury is inimical to holiness. For how shall religion be spared by it, when modesty is not spared? Luxury does not entertain the fear of God; since while pleasures hurry it on, it is carried forward to the sole daring of its desires...
And although the specific tenets of those laws have now been overturned by the coming of Christ, the basic principles underlying them remains in effect. Now we understand that these laws are not fulfilled by a proper diet, but are fulfilled 1) in Christ and 2) in the holy life of a Christian, for "the meat, I say, true, and holy, and pure, is a true faith, an unspotted conscience, and an innocent soul." And again "God rejoices in our faith alone, in our innocency alone, in our truth alone, in our virtues alone. And these dwell not in our belly, but in our soul..."

The Gospel, at the end of the day, should call us to be temperate in a way that is consistent not with the external observations of the OT law, but with the life it called OT believers to live. That is, a life of moderation, generosity, and holiness dedicated to war against sin and love of God and neighbor.

This treatise is excellent, so read it!

Friday, April 10, 2015

ANF V: Novatian on the Meats I-III

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Novatian: On the Jewish Meats I-III


Whatever we ultimately conclude about either Novatian or the specific theology of this treatise, we can't deny that he simply drips with pastoral concern. He encourages the congregation to hold to the truth of Christ as found in Scripture, rather than being caught up in customs, superstitions, or other false beliefs imported from modern Judaism--which itself does not even know what its purer predecessor was about.

In these first three chapters, Novatian gives us a delightful little Biblical theology of food, walking through the development of God's plan for our palette. He begins with the tree of life, explains how sin led to first toil and cultivated grains, and then death and flesh. But then the law for the restraint of sin and the development of civilization and religion and the cultivation of worship of God divided flesh into "clean" and "unclean," not because of the inherent qualities of the animals themselves but because of the rational nature of man made in God's image.

Now, I do think Novatian's overall point is probably a good and accurate one. But I don't know that we need to join him in walking through the unclean animals and suggesting the vices they each represent that we are to avoid. Don't get me wrong, it's a lot of fun to do that, but it's hardly good exegesis.
Thus in the animals, by the law, as it were, a certain mirror of human life is established, wherein men may consider the images of penalties; so that everything which is vicious in men, as committed against nature, may be the more condemned, when even those things, although naturally ordained in brutes, are in them blamed.
Still, these chapters are fun, so don't skip them!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

ANF V: Novatian On the Trinity XXIX-XXXI

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Novatian: Treatise Concerning the Trinity XXIX-XXXI


Moreover, the order of reason, and the authority of the faith in the disposition of the words and in the Scriptures of the Lord, admonish us after these things to believe also on the Holy Spirit, once promised to the Church, and in the appointed occasions of times given.
So simple a summary of the faith regarding the Holy Spirit, and yet full and rich and applicable to the more-charismatic and less-charismatic alike. In the last section Novatian defends the doctrine and Deity of the Holy Spirit, with a simple interpretation that manages to contain much truth while avoiding the errors that some of his contemporaries (*cough* *cough* Tertullian) fell into. The Holy Spirit is the Person of the Trinity who is with us now, strengthening, supporting, and sanctifying.

And yet, to say that the Godhead is three persons is not to say that there are three gods. Novatian ends his treatise by defending the unity of God as One rather than as three divinities. The last chapter on the relationship within the Trinity makes me wish I knew Greek, because while it makes sense and has some depth in English, I'm sure the Greek words and phrases have a theological depth that may not quite be carried into English. Of course if it was written in Latin, then I've no excuse but my own laziness... [shrug]

Overall, this treatise is worth reading, although as I've said along the way part of it at least can be skimmed.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

ANF V: Novatian on the Trinity XX-XXVIII

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Novatian: Treatise Concerning the Trinity XX-XXVIII


These chapters continue the defense of the nature and person of Christ from Scripture, arguing against specific heretical claims and interpretations (mostly the Sabellians) and giving his own read. These chapters are fairly interesting, but again can be skimmed in good conscience. Novatian again defends the full Deity and the full humanity of Christ, balancing well these aspects of His person without wandering into any of the heresies that would later develop:
For we know that the Word of God was invested with the substance of flesh, and that He again was divested of the same bodily material, which again He took up in the resurrection and resumed as a garment. And yet Christ could neither have been divested of nor invested with manhood, had He been only man: for man is never either deprived of nor invested with himself.
Novatian really is an excellent apologist, whatever his ecclesiastical proclivities.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

ANF V: Novatian On the Trinity IX-XIX

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Novatian: Treatise Concerning the Trinity IX-XIX


Continuing his discussion of the Trinity, in chapter IX through XXVIII, Novatian discusses the second Person,  the Song of God. He begins by clearly articulating the full Deity and humanity of Christ, contrary to the claims by pop-religious books that this wasn't settled until nearly a century and a half later.
For this Jesus Christ, I will once more say, the Son of this God, we read of as having been promised in the Old Testament, and we observe to be manifested in the New, fulfilling the shadows and figures of all the sacraments, with the presence of the truth embodied. 
Novatian is especially clear that Christ was fully a person, who came to redeem our bodies as well as our souls:
it is not the substance of the flesh that is condemned, which was built up by the divine hands that it should not perish, but only the guilt of the flesh is rightly rebuked, which by the voluntary daring of man rebelled against the claims of divine law. 
Novatian likewise argues powerfully for the Deity of Christ, largely using OT proof-texts. And while this has some value as an apologetic approach, it has more for us as Christians in showing us how the early church regarded the authority of the Bible. Specifically, to deny that Jesus is God is to deny the Scripture, while to deny the Scripture inevitably leads to denying the divinity of Christ. Which of course we see both truths in our own day as well.
But Christ promises to give salvation for ever, which if He does not give, He is a deceiver; if He gives, He is God.
He finds these arguments in both the New and Old Testaments, arguing that they are veiled in the Old Testament because humanity just wasn't ready to receive that truth yet--just as you want to wake up in dim light rather than in the full light of day...

While you could probably technically skim these sections without too much loss, I wouldn't recommend it. Novatian has some interesting arguments and fascinating reads on Scripture (which I don't always agree with, but so far have been always intrigued by). So I'd say skim it if you must, read it if you can.

Monday, April 6, 2015

ANF V: Novatian On the Trinity I-VIII

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Novatian: Treatise Concerning the Trinity I-VIII


Loosely following the structure of the Creed, in this first section Novatian outlines the Divinity of God the Father. I won't go in detail through each of the eight "arguments" given in these chapters, I'll just encourage you to read these because they are excellent. For example, Chapter II gives us a wonderful articulation of Divine Providence:
And over all these things He Himself, containing all things, having nothing vacant beyond Himself, has left room for no superior God, such as some people conceive. Since, indeed, He Himself has included all things in the bosom of perfect greatness and power, He is always intent upon His own work, and pervading all things, and moving all things, and quickening all things, and beholding all things, and so linking together discordant materials into the concord of all elements, that out of these unlike principles one world is so established by a conspiring union, that it can by no force be dissolved, save when He alone who made it commands it to be dissolved, for the purpose of bestowing other and greater things upon us. 
Excellent, excellent stuff. There might be a slight tendency to over-allegorization at times, but that's a failing of the Church Fathers in general, and there's no reason to single out Novatian for criticism there specifically.

Friday, April 3, 2015

ANF V: Novatian Introduction

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Novatian, a Roman Presbyter: Introductory Notice


The editors associate Novatian with other fathers like Tatian and Tertullian, who were powerful witnesses to the faith but wandered into questionable doctrines and practices later in their lives. Perhaps not open heresy per se, but ideas and actions that today we would hesitate to associate with and then would have openly condemned.
And yet, that does not negate the good they did in contending for the faith. Novatian specifically, as we saw much of in Cyprian's Epistles, divided the church structure by opposing the election of Cornelius, and eventually holding a different view of baptism, polity, and holiness. In the last he was overly extreme, ultimately coming to an uncharitable view of Christian practice. And yet, he still held faithfully to the truth revealed in Scripture and may even have been martyred.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

ANF V: Caius Fragments

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Caius the Presbyter: Fragments


As the Introductory Notice points out, Caius is a mostly unknown figure with many works attributed to him (most notably the "Muratorian Canon"), but none certainly his.
The fragments themselves are worth skimming, especially since the whole section is short and on having finished it you can claim to have read all or most of what we have from this shadowy apologist.
In these fragments, we see a concern for the supremacy of Scripture over tradition and claims to apostolic teaching handed down privately or personally. We see also the concern for orthodox Christology and a unified church around Christ.

So read and enjoy, it's short!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

ANF V: Cyprian? Elucidations

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Cyprian? Elucidations

There are only three of these, they're all short, and they're thoughtful additions to the text. So do read these (especially notes II and III). And with that, we are at the end of Cyprian!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

ANF V: Cyprian? Repentance

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Cyprian? Exhortation to Repentance

This short piece is composed entirely of quotations from Scripture, and so can be read or skipped as desired. Of course, they're quotations on repentance and so worthy of being reminded of, so why skip it?

Monday, March 30, 2015

ANF V: Cyprian? On Chastity

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Cyprian? Of the Discipline and Advantage of Chastity

Another treatise possibly written by Cyprian, this one on sex. Or at least, not having sex. Before getting to that, the author reminds the reader that it is his job as a preacher to preach the Word of God and encourage his congregation to live in a way that reflects that Word well. "For the danger is all the greater if we know the Lord's will, and loiter in the work of the will of God." Part of this life is chastity. This does not mean absolute abstinence, but rather putting sex in the place God wants it. That is, for singles and for the married it means being content with the sex God has called you to have, whether that means none or just with your spouse. We see this mandate laid down both in the creation order of Genesis and the recreation of God's people in the church through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The author then gives us several examples of chastity, both from Scripture (Joseph) and from the Apocrypha (Susanna). The author likewise notes the connection of chastity to modesty and caution in how we use our eyes and thoughts. These are only accomplished with the help of God working through His Word.

Overall, this is a fine little treatise. And while like many ancient Christian thoughts on sex it sometimes goes to unfortunate rhetorical extremes, by and large it is worth reading and benefiting from.