Tuesday, December 30, 2014

ANF 5: Hippolytus Elucidiations

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

HippolytusThe Refutation of All Heresies

I won't try to top the comments of the 19th century editors on Hippolytus. I'll just add my own note that unless you're an expert in the field (or aspiring to become one), there's really no need to read the whole of The Refutation of All Heresies. I recommend reading only book X, and maybe snippets of the other books (I've tried to highlight which bits are most worthy of attention in my own reviews).

The rough structure of the Elucidations seems to be something like this:

  • Comments on Hippolytus on heresy in general: I, V, XIV, XV, XVI
  • Comments on Hippolytus' place among the ANF: II, IV, VI, XIII, XV
  • Comments on how Hippolytus disproves later Roman Catholic claims: III, IV, VI, VIII, IX, X, XII, XVIII, General Note
  • Comments on Hippolytus' language or theology: III, V, IX, XI, XII, XIII, XV, XVI, XVII, XVIII

Monday, December 29, 2014

ANF 5: Hippolytus X

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

HippolytusThe Refutation of All Heresies

In Book X, Hippolytus gives us a recap of the philosophers and heresies he's covered. Most interesting he gives us a quick summary of "the Doctrine of the Truth."

What we need to be especially clear about is that
The truth has not taken its principles from the wisdom of the Greeks, nor borrowed its doctrines, as secret mysteries, from the tenets of the Egyptians, which, albeit silly, are regarded amongst them with religious veneration as worthy of reliance. Nor has it been formed out of the fallacies which enunciate the incoherent... curiosity of the Chaldeans. Nor does the truth owe its existence to astonishment, through the operations of demons, for the irrational frenzy of the Babylonians. But its definition is constituted after the manner in which every true definition is.. as simple and unadorned. A definition such as this, provided it is made manifest, will of itself refute error.
This is opposed to the errors of the philosophers and heretics, who either start with one (false) idea and derive a system from that, or start with multiple limited observations and try to tie their system back into one (also false) idea. Or they steal from others who have done these things and wrap these false ideas up in Christian language.
Again, Hippolytus surveys the various heresies he has discussed, which we need not get into again. (Admittedly, there may be some new ones here--I didn't do a side-by-side of previous books.)

Instead, we should ask where the truth is found? It comes only from God, who existed from Eternity past and as Creator of all that exists is Sovereign and Lord. What that means for physics and the nature of external reality, Hippolytus says we should see his other work Concerning the Substance of the Universe. Which is unfortunate for us, since it is lost.
All we need to note here is that when God had the idea of creation, the Logos (Christ) acted and created:
The Logos alone of this God is from God himself; wherefore also the Logos is God, being the substance of God. Now the world was made from nothing; wherefore it is not God; as also because this world admits of dissolution whenever the Creator so wishes it. But God, who created it, did not, nor does not, make evil. He makes what is glorious and excellent; for He who makes it is good.... Evil had no existence from the beginning, but came into being subsequently [by the actions of creatures.]
Despite our sin, God did not leave us alone and instead spoke to the world first through Moses and the Law, then through the Prophets. Finally He spoke through the Logos, the Word Himself "so that we could see Him with our own eyes." In Christ, we see what man should have been and can be through grace.
And so we must resist heresy and pursue a life of holiness as laid out in Scripture, lived by Christ, and empowered by our regeneration and forgiveness through Christ.

Friday, December 26, 2014

ANF 5: Hippolytus IX.XIII-XXVI

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

HippolytusThe Refutation of All Heresies

Here Hippolytus surveys the different shades of Judaism. Way back in the day, all Jews followed Moses. But then they crossed the Jordan and got themselves a nation, and all manner of legal interpretations of the Mosaic law sprung up. Today, "there is a division amongst them into three sorts:" the Pharisses, the Sadducees, and the Essenes. About these last, Hippolytus has some very nice things to say:
These practice a more devotional life, being filled with mutual love and being temperate. And they turn away form every act of inordinate desire, being averse even to hearing of things of the sort.
Though they shun marriage, they do adopt children and welcome women into their number. They live in communes and share all possessions among themselves. These communes are scattered across the region. They are rigorous in their practice, though there are a number of shades of sects within their broad belief system.
But, while they do believe in the Resurrection, they also hold to certain teachings of the Pythagoreans, Stoics, and Egyptian teachers. They also tend towards prophecy and prognostication.

The Pharisees are a sect of the Essenes who do marry but who are still rigorous about the law. These tend to have some orthodox doctrines, but tend towards fatalism and legalism.

The Sadducees deny both the resurrection and the immortality of the soul, though they still strive to be moral--largely because they believe this is your only chance to do so. They also tend to strive after worldly riches, because again this is all you'll get. They acknowledge only the first five books of the Old Testament as Scripture.

The Jews in general acknowledge God as "Creator and Lord of the universe," but they tend to stop there. They do wish to serve and honor this Creator, but are still waiting on the Messiah, and in doing so have actually missed him. At this point, it can only be shame at missing and even executing the Messiah that keeps them from seeing the truth in their own Scriptures, at least according to Hippolytus. In part this is because they only read the apocalyptic prophecies about the rule of the King over a worldly Kingdom.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Why we need the Common Law: Review of "Sir William Blackstone and the Common Law" by Robert Stacey

If you are anything like the bulk of college freshmen I run into (including myself, when I was a freshmen--not that I ran into myself, that's a bit too existential for my tastes), you've probably never heard of the "common law." I don't know if this is a reflection on the current state of education or just a sad state of affairs politically and culturally, but in either case Robert Stacey's book Sir William Blackstone and the Common Law is a good step towards correcting that deficiency.

The Summary:

In this short volume, Stacey gives a good overview of both the life and thought of William Blackstone and the common law in general. In seven chapters, Stacey provides:
  1. An overview of the common law, and some reasons Stacey thinks its study is relevant for today.
  2. A brief biography of Blackstone himself.
  3. A brief overview of the English common law tradition.
  4. An overview of Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England.
  5. A quick summary of the influence Blackstone's Commentaries had on the Founding and on early American law (from the mid 18th century through the late 19th).
  6. Some criticisms of Blackstone, and possible responses to those criticisms.
  7. Why Blackstone's thought needs to be brought back into the modern world. 
Especially useful is Stacey's definition of the common law and why it matters for liberty. He first cites Arthur Hogue's definition:
[The] common law is a body of general rules prescribing social conduct, enforced by the ordinary royal courts, and characterized by the development of its own principles in actual legal controversies, by the procedure of trial by jury, and by the doctrine of the supremacy of the law. (48)
Stacey then refines this definition by working out the various parts of the phrase "English common law." Specifically, he argues that it is "law," which is intended to protect "people, their property, and their interests" from criminals, from other nations, and most importantly "from their own government which would otherwise exercise considerable power without external checks." (48) Likewise, he notes that the "common law is English," and shouldn't be grafted wholesale into other nations or cultures. (48) Even those societies which are common law societies originally derived from English law should have their own varieties. Finally, common law "is common in the sense that it is applied to the people by the people.... The common law is even superintended by the people it governs by means of the jury system... The 'commonness' of the common law is further underscored by the fact that the king himself was subject to it. Under common law, law itself is supreme... and king and peasant alike are subject to the same rule of law." (49)

And of course, the fundamental non-negotiable aspect of the common law is that it is rooted in history, rather than legislation. That is, the common law is not something that a legislature sat down and drew up, it rather develops over decades and centuries through the careful (and sometimes less-careful) application of judicial decisions by judges and juries in particular instances. More on that below.

The rest of the book is dedicated to Blackstone himself and his place, and the place of the common law, in American legal tradition. For a short book, this text tackles a large number of issues with clarity and thoughtfulness, though perhaps not always with accuracy.

The Strengths:

As I noted above, one of the strengths is that this is a book on the common law, which Americans desperately need to know more about if we're to hold on to our traditional freedoms. Even better, Stacey is a competent author and manages to fit a lot of information into a short volume without being either too dense or too breezy. His short exposition on the role of the common law in the movement for American independence and the drafting of the U.S. Constitution is excellent, and helps explain where all those long passages in the Declaration of Independence (that none of us ever read) come from and why they are important. Traditional freedoms like that of trial by jury, and protecting from troop quartering, and right of petition (83-84) are so ingrained in us today that most people never even think about them. And yet, they came from somewhere and have a long history in the common law tradition that is worth understanding if we wish to preserve them.

The Weaknesses:

While the weaknesses in no way offset the value of the strengths, they should not be ignored. And there are some serious weaknesses here.

First and foremost, this book is at times far too disconnected from history, especially in the discussion of the origins of the common law. The author is too quick to try to spot the Bible behind the common law. And while I know tradition states that Alfred the Great reformed the law code with the Ten Commandments in mind, in reality the method of law that is so central to the common law has origins that are mostly lost to history, and almost certainly Germanic (and hence probably at least partially pagan) in origin. Which is not to say that the law has no value, just that we need not necessarily bend over backwards to baptize something that need not be baptized. After all, as Christians our doctrine of common grace does not require that every decent and stable law code be built directly upon the Bible. The Holy Spirit can and does move unbelievers to make good public policy as well as, and very often even better than, Christians. It is part of our responsibility as Christians to recognize the wisdom and good works of non-Christians, enjoy the benefits thereof, and praise God for His kindness in giving these common grace gifts to the world. We do not--we should not--try to twist the people who hold those gifts into our own image just so we will feel better about enjoying them. However Christian Alfred the Great was, and whatever work he did with the Ten Commandments (and let's be honest, Early Medieval England is not a hotbed of clear and thorough historical sources), his source material was certainly not Christian in origin. And that's fine, because we can still see that it is a good system of laws.

Second, the book could have talked a bit more about the role of juries and courts in the common law. The truly distinctive trait of the common law is that it is not the civil law. That is, the common law has never been voted on or passed by a legislature. It is simply a body of law that has grown and developed under the influence of judges and juries over the centuries. It is possible that this was not emphasized because Blackstone himself doesn't emphasize it (I haven't read much of Blackstone, so I couldn't say), which would be fine. It could also be because the book was supposed to be only a short introduction, which would also be fine. But, the lack of focus on how the common law develops could also be because the author didn't want to emphasize too much the apparent anti-democratic nature of the common law, which would be much less fine.

I say "apparent" anti-democratic nature because I would want to qualify that a bit--juries are inherently democratic institutions (far more so than professional, life-tenured judges). Democracies at least since ancient Athens have used juries as the means of letting the community decide innocence or guilt when it comes to a crime. What the common law adds is that the jury's decision becomes a part of the law itself. The democratic institution becomes the means of growing the law.
That, of course, does not work in the American mind. For us, "democracy" means "the people and their representatives", where "their representatives" can mean Congress or the President, but not the judicial system. Certainly not the courts, and certainly not a bunch of ignorant farmers chosen by lot being swayed by slick-tongued lawyers. The common law, on the other hand, says that it's exactly these farmers who, over the course of a century or seven, will slowly make good and bad decisions such that a local body of law grows that is representative of the people, just and wise, worthy of being lived under, and good for us all. Again, working these ideas out in detail may have just been too much for a short introduction, but the jury system really is central to English common law and, I can only assume, to Blackstone's writings.


Even with these weaknesses, this book is worth your time and attention. The common law is essential for modern Americans to understand, and if we want to preserve the rights and traditions that we enjoy we had better understand the system in which they developed. Sir William Blackstone and the Common Law is a good step in that direction.

ANF 5: Hippolytus IX.I-XII

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

HippolytusThe Refutation of All Heresies

Most of the heresies mentioned so far have been heresies from the past. Now Hippolytus is going to dig into modern-day heresies and expose their errors. The method, however, will be the same: survey their beliefs and expose where those beliefs are drawn from pagan sources.

Noetus, Epigonus, and Cleomenes spread in Rome the heresy of the Heraclitian philosophy. They even managed to seize the leadership of the church in Rome and the office of bishop [later to become "Pope"] in the persons of Zephyrinus and Callistus. "Heraclitus then says that the universe is one, divisible and indivisible; generated and ungenerated; mortal and immortal; reason, eternity; Father, Son, and justice, God." In other words, contradictions rule the doctrine under this system, with only Reason stretching over all things. Unfortunately, we do not have access to this universal Reason (so much is Heraclitus, along with other certain doctrines and eschatologies). Christ, in this view, comes to give us access to this universal Reason. This in turn collapses the Son into the Father, since Reason is indivisible.
In practice, these false teachings lead to laxity in church life and practice. Hippolytus stood opposed to those (especially Callistus and Zephyrinus) who taught this, and in turn was accused of rigidity and ditheism. Hippolytus gives a long survey of the life and thought of Callistus (at least compared to the other heresies heretofore mentioned), and declares him a heretic and unfit to lead the church--especially in matters of doctrine and and practice.

The heresy of Elchasai, taken from Pythagoras, claims to be based on a book dictated by a male apparition (Jesus) and a female apparition (the Holy Spirit), which reforms both doctrine and practice, especially baptism. Elchasai teaches in this case baptismal regeneration, especially for the most severe sins. This in turn becomes odd practice--baptism as a means of exorcism or physical healing, if only it's done enough (40+ times).

Monday, December 22, 2014

ANF 5: Hippolytus VIII

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

HippolytusThe Refutation of All Heresies

The Docetists, like most Gnostics (though Hippolytus attributes their beliefs to the Sophists) believe that the flesh is evil and that only the spirit matters. Jesus was not a real person, he was rather just the appearance of one "[Jesus] contracted Himself--as it were a very great flash in a very small body, nay, rather as a ray of vision condensed beneath the eyelids."

Monoimus argues (perhaps tied to his name?) that all things in existence are one whole--man is the universe. All things are united to each other, and the purpose of the Son of man is to reunite all creation and make us aware of our oneness. (It's note really as Eastern sounding as I'm making it, but it's close.)  This system is taken from Pythagoras, as we see in its obsession with math.

Tatian gets a nod here, as a student of Justin Martyr who went astray. The very brief reference suggests that maybe Tatian isn't quite as bad as the other heretics listed.

Hermogenes latches on to Socrates that God created using pre-existing material. The creation act is an eternal relationship, wherein God is always creating and matter is always being created. God is in this sense an eternal organizer, more than a Creator. Much of what Hermogenes teaches is pretty close to orthodoxy, for whatever that's worth.

The Quartodecimians (with their great name and all) hold "that Easter should be kept on the fourteenth day of the first month" [hence, the footnote tells us, their name]. They of course ignore the the Jewish calendar and the practice of Passover. "In other respects, however, these consent to all the traditions delivered to the church by the Apostles."

The Montanists, however, don't get off so easily. They hold to the doctrine of continuing inspiration of both prophets and Scripture.
And being in possession of an infinite number of their books, [they] are overrun with delusion; and they do not judge whatever statements are made by them according to the criterion of reason; nor do they give heed unto those who are competent to decide; but they are heedlessly swept onwards, by the reliance which they place on these impostors. And they allege that they have learned something more through these, than from law, and prophets, and the Gospels. But they magnify these wretched women above the apostles and every gift of grace, so that some of them presume to assert that there is in them something superior to Christ.
And while they are orthodox in much of their doctrine, they end up being weird in their practice (either extremely ascetic or extremely permissive, depending on the sect in question). Hippolytus will get back to these.

The Encratites likewise teach something of orthodoxy, "in respect, however, of their mode of life, they pass their days inflated with pride." They restrain from meat and drink only water and don't marry and end up looking more like the Cynics than like Christians. In doing so, they set a standard that is contrary to the vision of the Christian life laid out by the Apostle Paul. "This voice, then, of the blessed Paul is sufficient for the refutation of those who live in this manner, and plume themselves on being just."

Friday, December 19, 2014

ANF 5: Hippolytus VII.XVII-XXVI

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

HippolytusThe Refutation of All Heresies

Like Tertullian, Hippolytus writes here against Marcion's dualistic view of the Bible. Where Tertullian highlights the errors within Marcion and the harmony of the two testaments of Scripture (Marcion's heresy was to divide the Old from the New, and to declare that the God of the OT was evil, while the God of the NT was good--being consistent in this belief involved even chopping up the NT so that it conformed to this scheme), Hippolytus points out that Marcion's teachings aren't really Christian at all. They are in fact lifted from the philosopher Empedocles and given Christian names. Instead of "Friendship" and "Discord," we get the God of the OT and the God of the NT.
Both Marcion and his student Prepon reject the salvation of Christ when the reject the Incarnation and human birth of our Savior, and in doing so show the true heart of their religion: disdain for the created order.

The heretic Carpocrates, on the other hand, doesn't even let the world be created by God--it was created by angels. Jesus was not Incarnate, He was born as all men are (Joseph was His father), but then was raised up by communion with God to become a God, and show the rest of us the way.

Cerinthus holds something similar, arguing that it was at His baptism that Jesus was selected by God to work miracles and preach. The Ebionaeans and Theodotus follow this teaching as well, though they at least admit that God is the creator of the world.

The Melchisedecians argue that Jesus just appeared to be God, but was not in reality. This seems to be similar to the teaching of the Nicolatians--here we get a bit of the background of Nicolaus, though this may or may not be accurate when set beside similar treatments in Tertullian, Irenaeus, and Eusebius.

But why are there so many heresies? While this chapter (like most of the book so far) really can be skimmed, be sure not to miss this observation, buried in the discussion of Carpocrates:
Now these heretics have themselves been sent forth by Satan, for the purpose of slandering before the Gentiles the divine name of the Church. And the devil's object is, that men hearing, now after one fashion and now after another, the doctrines of those heretics, and thinking that all of us are people of the same stamp, may turn away their ears from the preaching of the truth, or that they also, looking, without abjuring, upon all the tenets of those heretics, may speak hurtfully of us.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

ANF 5: Hippolytus VII.I-XVI

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

HippolytusThe Refutation of All Heresies

Yet more heresies derived from pagan philosophy are exposited. Yet, this isn't to say the Classical sources are without their uses--Hippolytus cites the myth of Ulysses and his encounters with Charbydis, Scylla, and the Sirens as examples of what we Christians face when heresies arise:
My advice to my readers is to adopt a similar expedient.. either on account of their infirmity to smear their ears with wax, and sail straight on through the tenets of the heretics, not even listening to doctrines that are easily capable of enticing them into pleasure, like the luscious lay [song] of the Sirens, or, by binding one's self to the Cross of Christ and hearkening with fidelity to His words not to be distracted, inasmuch as he has reposed his trust in Him to whom ere this he has been firmly knit, and I admonish that man to continue steadfastly in this faith.
Resuming the discussion of the various heresies, Hippolytus notes that Basilides seems to have stolen his system from Aristotle. Specifically, he draws on Aristotle's natural philosophy (physics) and method (logic). While Aristotle is not completely useless--not least because some of his works (such as De Anima) are so obscure that they're almost unintelligible--at the end of the day he still holds truths that are incompatible with the doctrines of Christianity.

We see this not least when Basilides has to appeal as a defense of his beliefs to a "secret discourse" passed down from the disciples (Matthias in this case) to him. The problem is that when Basilides applies Aristotelian thought and method to his conception of Christianity, he ends up with a created Christ and Holy Spirit, who once were not until they were made. Perhaps they were made out of God's own self, and perhaps they were made out of nothing (maybe even God Himself came out of nothing--the confusion is probably mine and not that of Hippolytus). Pagan thought is simply not compatible with Trinitarian thought, and ends--as does Basilides--in a Gnosticism that either elevates physical creation to godhead or demotes it to being created evil, or both. Jesus, in this system, becomes the way we escape physical creation back into "formlessness." His passion has the sole effect of freeing us from our physical bonds and reunifying us with the unformed Creator.

And, as with most heretics, our only access to these mystical truths (for they are certainly not found in Scripture or in the teachings of the church) comes through special, spiritual revelation given from God through Basilides to those searching for truth.

Saturnilus likewise  teaches a form of Gnosticism, albeit a much simpler and more straightforward one than that of Basilides. And yet, it shares the same failings--matter is bad, and Jesus comes solely to free us from this carnal realm of Satan.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

ANF 5: Hippolytus VI.XXIV-L

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

HippolytusThe Refutation of All Heresies

Having roughly outlined the teachings of Pythagoras, Hippolytus now comes to his main point: "And from this system, not from the Gospels, Valentinus, as we have proved, has collected the materials of heresy... and may therefore justly be reckoned a Pythagorean and Platonist, not a Christian."
The father of a major stream of Gnosticism builds his theology not from the Bible but from pagan philosophy, which shows in the stream of oddities Hippolytus walks us through. Valentinius imagines existence as a series of spiritual emanations flowing forth from the Monad--the "Father"--one such emanation being (among many, many others) Sophia (wisdom), another Christ, another the Logos, another the Holy Spirit. Physical creation comes through the evil of these emanations--the Demiurge, the God of the Old Testament who is really sort of stupid but thinks he is alone in the universe, and not himself a derived being.
The basic idea is that in all of existence--both spiritual and physical--Valentinius teaches that different spiritual powers are at work. All of these powers ultimately flow from the One source of existence, but are at odds with each other. Our responsibility is to be able to see behind the appearances and understand these powers and side with the One against the wicked powers and on the side of the good powers. This is why Jesus and the Holy Spirit came, to teach us the truth and the way to the One. (Though different sects of Gnostics disagree as to which way and truth Jesus actually taught--not that Christians can necessarily throw stones there!)

Again, Hippolytus emphasizes that these are not taken from Scripture, but are instead Platonic and Pythagorean ideas wrapped up in the (very loose) language of Christianity. At times, Hippolytus points out, Valentinus doesn't even both rewording his material, he just lifts it directly from Plato.

Valentinius of course is not the only heretic. Hippoltyus introduces us to Secundus, who gets even more creative with his powers and emanations. The same is true of Marcus as well, who (if possible) upped the ante by mixing in sorcery and charlatanism. He tried to prove his power by working "miracles" during the Lord's Supper:
And very often, taking the Cup, as if offering up the Eucharistic prayer, and prolonging to a greater length than usual the word of invocation, he would cause the appearance of a purple, and sometimes of a red mixture, so that his dupes imagined that a certain Grace descended and communicated to the potion a blood-red potency.
However, it was revealed that Marcus was mixing in food coloring in a timed-delay device of admittedly clever design. This was just one of his wicked practices--which pale in comparison to his false teachings. Irenaeus did the hard work of exposing these falsehoods, so Hippolytus announces that he is merely going to skim the necessary high points so that no one else will be deceived. He focuses specially on Marcus' attempt to find mystical meaning in the alphabet, including in the letters of Christ's name. This section once again gets fairly tedious, the main point is that clearly Marcus is simply lifting from Pythagoras, and has no true Biblical foundation to stand on--as had been proven by Irenaeus.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

ANF 5: Hippolytus VI.I-XXIII

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

HippolytusThe Refutation of All Heresies

In the sixth book, Hippolytus continues his catalog of heresies, this time picking up with Simon Magus and later copycats of his chicanery. But it does us no good to compare Simon to any of those who followed him, for all must be compared to Christ, who "was man, offspring of the seed of a woman, born of blood and the will of the flesh, as also the rest of humanity." There was, then, no "magic" about the birth of Jesus itself. Simon, however, draws on Greek philosophy (especially Aristotle and Plato) and uses them to interpret the Old Testament as a sort of book of magic and mystery which explains--and gives us power over--the physical world. Hippolytus fills in the Biblical narrative about Simon by saying that after several further confrontations with Peter, Simon declared that he would prove himself by being buried alive and rising again the third day. Simon remains in the grave his followers put him in, "for he was not the Christ." [To be fair to Simon, the Biblical account is unclear as to whether or not he eventually repents.]

Following his description of Simon's heresy, Hippolytus turns to discuss Valentinus, who he claims "is certainly... connected with the Pythagorean and Platonic theory." This is not the "good" Platonic theory that some Christians have embraced, it is the "bad" Plato who describes creation by pagan forces in the Timaeus. (Plato and Pythagoras, in turn, steal their ideas from the Egyptians.)

Hippolytus gives an overview of Pythagorean philosophy, which is based on numbers but which very quickly becomes spiritual in nature. Through numerology, the Pythagoreans break the world down into two basic principles: love and discord. These two principles are at war, with discord trying to divide the world and love trying to tie it back together. This in turn leads to a number of philosophical and theological oddities and sayings that are reflected in very specific practices and beliefs that have the appearances of truth and discipline, but in reality are little better than superstition.

Monday, December 15, 2014

ANF 5: Hippolytus V.XV-XXIII

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

HippolytusThe Refutation of All Heresies

The problem with some of these heretics is that when they draw on Scripture, they often over-allegorize in order to bring in ideas stolen from worldly philosophers. This can even include principles of natural law and theories of physics.
In this manner... they corrupt their pupils, partly by misusing the words spoken... while they wickedly pervert, to serve any purpose they wish, what has been admirably said (in Scripture).
Hippolytus goes over a particular heretic (according to the note otherwise unknown) named "Justinus" who wraps pagan thought--especially drawn from Heredotus and the myths--in Biblical language. Many heresies are derived from Justinus, who may very well have been the source of many of the heresies that followed--heresies which Hippolytus will review in the following books.

Friday, December 12, 2014

ANF 5: Hippolytus V.IV-XIV

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

HippolytusThe Refutation of All Heresies

Hippolytus continues tracing the relationship between the Gnostics and the mystery cults, and emphasizing the areas where they are deficient in their theology (to say it as generously as possible). He notes their tendency to over-spiritualize everything (this is especially true of those who worship the "Great Mother", magna mater):
They rashly assume in this manner, that whatsoever things have been said and done by all men, (may be made to harmonize) with their own particular mental view, alleging that all things become spiritual. 
One reason the various heresies end up over-spiritualizing is their tendency to take (admittedly accurate) attributes of God and apply them to us as human beings. For example, they take the way that God creates the world through the Word/Idea (Logos), and declare that in the same way our ideas about the material world impart and create spiritual meaning. "Employing this exemplar, (the heretics) seem to adroitly introduce their secret mysteries, which are delivered in silence."
We can see here an early version of the Word-Faith heresy, where if only you have the right ideas you can attune yourself properly to the world and so flourish.

One thing that seems to stand out is that Hippolytus treats the heretics according to their own words and beliefs, not according to stereotypes about them held by their theological enemies. He regularly quotes their words (even a hymn or two) and appeals to their teachings, being careful to distinguish between different sects and schisms and paying close attention to the finer points of doctrine. Of course, it is virtually impossible for us to confirm most of what he says, as this is our sole source for many of these minor movements (unless there's something in Nag Hammadi that I'm not aware of--entirely possible, as I'm no scholar of Gnosticism). But there at least appears to be a good model for us on how to engage with those who claim to be Christian but in fact are heretics. We should be careful, thorough, generous, and attentive to what they believe, and formulate our response accordingly.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

ANF 5: Hippolytus V.I-III

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

HippolytusThe Refutation of All Heresies

In book Five, Hippolytus moves on from the magicians and astrologers and pagans in general to deal with heresies that claims to be Christian, specifically the Gnostics. These Gnostics claim that "The originating principle of perfection is the knowledge of man, while the knowledge of God is absolute perfection." We possess this knowledge through rational, psychical (spiritual), and earthly means--all three of which were brought to perfection in Jesus, who had a three-part person (or possibly was three men in one body, I'm not sure). As a result there are three kinds of church and three kinds of existence; angelic, psychical, and earthly.

These Gnostics (called the "Nasseni") claim that they received their teaching from James, the Lord's brother, passed down to our day through their teachers. In reality, we can clearly see they're just copying from the pagan mystery cults (both Greek and barbarian). Hippolytus runs through several creation stories showing their similarities to each  other and to the Gnostic extrapolations of his own day. And although there are some surface similarities between these claims and the claims of Scripture (supported by out of context prooftexts), we see these are really just paganism twisted by wild imagination into a pseudo-Christian form.

As with Book IV, this Book V is perhaps best skimmed. The stuff here is interesting, but not terribly useful outside of arguing that Christianity did not come from ancient mystery cults--as even the ancient Christians understood.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

ANF 5: Hippolytus IV

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

HippolytusThe Refutation of All Heresies

Books II and III are missing, so we pick back up in Book IV with Hippolytus' tackling the astrologers and their reliance on the stars. This is simply false, as it is all founded on the horoscope (how the heavens were when you were born). Which requires that you know exactly when you were born with absolute certain knowledge and exactly under what sign you were born. This is of course impossible. Even the act of delivering a baby itself takes time, and so would throw the whole system off (not that the whole system is worth all that much to begin with).

Hippolytus gives a long and involved refutation of particular beliefs of the astrologers, which no doubt it would be as tedious to summarize as it is to read. This might be of use to those who have friends in whatever's left of the New Age movement, but much of Book IV can be skipped with little loss. There are tidbits here and there that are interesting (especially his debunking of the "miracles" that happen in astrologer's temples and roadshows), but not worth the cost of reading the whole book.

Some of this shows the clear influence of Irenaeus' response to the Gnostics--maybe the Gnostics and the Astrologers were in communication with each other? (I confess I don't know much about either.)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

ANF 5: Hippolytus I.XVII-XXIII

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

HippolytusThe Refutation of All Heresies

The Logicians

Plato's student Aristotle "reduced philosophy into an art, and was distinguished rather for his proficiency in logical science." Aristotle argued that there is one underlying stable principle ("substance"), but nine changing expressions of it ("accidents"). Aristotle mostly agrees with Plato, except concerning the soul (which is immortal for Plato, and permanent for Aristotle). Likewise Aristotle sees a good in the physical world, while Plato restricts it to matters concerning the soul. Aristotle's students get their name from their habit of teaching while wandering around the Lyceum, hence they are the 'Peripatetics.'
Zeno and the Stoics (named such because they met in the Stoa, the "porch") carried logic to its utmost, until they were strict fatalists with the Divinity as the source of all existence concerned with directing all creation. We then are like dogs tied to cars (presumably meaning "chariots"), we can trot along willingly or be dragged, but either way we are going. All we have control over is our response to what happens, not to what happens as such. For the Stoic, the soul is immortal but the world will end in a fiery cataclysm.

The Others

Epicurus stands against all others, holding to an atomic chaos in a vacuum. Even the deity is the product of chance, and however "eternal and incorruptible" it may be, God cares nothing for human history or existence--chance is all. So there is no afterlife, and so all our wisdom should be focused on pleasure. Of course, his students have differed on what "pleasure" is, some have thought physical pleasure, and others the pleasure of virtue...

The "Academics" (Skeptics) argue that we can't really know anything for certain, all we have are the appearances because everything is "in a state of flux and change." And so we should not make certain statements, only relative ones.

The Brahimins in India live ascetic vegetarian lives, living in naked (literally) simplicity, since the body is the clothing of the soul. The believe in a god to whom they pray wordlessly, but their god is corporeal, even if their own souls are spiritual and immortal. They do not fear death, and live in a way that reflects that.

The Druids follow Pythagoras to the extreme, and have worked a complex system that mixes math and magic.

Hesiod works the Olympian gods into a system that tries to be rational and explain nature, but which fails to "discern the God and maker of these."

All of these become sources of heresy, which Hippolytus will no proceed to go through. [Which he does in books II and III, which we do not have.]

Monday, December 8, 2014

ANF 5: Hippolytus I.I-XVI

Because I am trying to work my way through the ANF, and because the task of blogging my way through City of God was so useful, I thought I'd give blogging on through the Fathers a go as well. I make no promise to keep this up--and certainly not with the depth, detail, or attention I gave Augustine, but I do hope to be somewhat faithful at it. [shrug] We'll see how it goes.

Without further ado:

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Hippolytus: The Refutation of All Heresies

Book I:
Hippolytus outlines his planned work, wherein he will explain what false teachers believe and why they are wrong. In this book, it will include "natural" philosophers (Thales, Pythagoras, etc., whom we would call the "Pre-Socratics, though they are by no means chronologically before Socrates); "moral" philosophers (Socrates and Plato); and the "logicians" (Aristotle and the Stoics). He will also mention Epicurus, Pyrrho (the Skeptic), the Buddhists, the Druids, and Hesoid.

We have to undertake a work like this because the thought of these philosophers looks like truth and is very seductive to Christians, but in reality is atheist and leads only to heresy. In fact, we can see exactly where the heretics are lifting from pagan thinkers.

The Natural Philosophers

Thales believed that all is in flux and fluid (water), while Pythagoras taught that numbers could sum up existence and that mysticism and magic were the logical outgrowth of combining mathematical principles and the immortality of the human soul. Empedocles was a sort of proto-Stoic, and believed that fire would someday consume all, until then reincarnation and transmigration of souls was the order of the day. Heraclitus builds on this, adding a doctrine of evil to the fiery flux of the world. Thales' student Anaximader asserted that all is stability and order, earthy in nature. Anaximenes holds that air and space is the fundamental principle of existence, and that conflict (as that between hot and cold) is what drives creation. Anaxagoras admits an infinity of matter, but notes that we must also account for the mind--even an infinite mind shepherding material existence. Archelaus is similar in that he saw space for intellect in matter--which inspired his student Socrates. Parmenides held to a doctrine of existence as a balance between stability and flux, albeit one that continues in an eternal cycle. Leucippus holds a similar belief, adding that change and motion are the source of stability. Both Parmenides and Leucippus believe in necessity, though neither defines it. Drawing on Eastern wisdom, Democritus develops the theory of different amounts of space between objects, whether objects the size of hte sun or the size of things so small they cannot be physically experienced. Xenophanes believed that change was an illusion, and that as a result growth in knowledge--and hence any knowledge at all--was impossible. Ecphantus agreed in the impossibility of true knowledge, but held that the earth was at the center of the universe and was rotating from east to west. Hippo holds the mix of the elements and their conflicts as the source of both body and mind.

The Moral Philosophers

Socrates left no writings himself, studied under Archelaus, and held to the maxim "know thyself." But for us to know him, we must turn to Plato. Plato taught "that there are three originating principle of the universe, (namely) God, and matter, and exemplar." That is, God is the Creator, and his object of creation is matter, which is composed of and is the source of the four elements so thought about by the natural philosophers--"fire, air, earth, and water, from which all the rest of what are denominated concrete substances... have been formed." The "exemplar" is the "intelligence of the Deity, to which, as to an image in the soul, the Deity attending, fabricated all things."
Thus, the idea of God (both our ideas about God and God's idea of Himself) become central to Plato's thought. God, as a Spirit, takes matter and shapes it into what was previously only potential. The means by which God shapes and the pattern according to which God shapes is His own Idea.
Plato's followers often disagree over what Plato actually meant--where do natural change and flux fit in? Is Plato a monotheist, or does he have room for multiple created lesser deities? What is going on with the lesser demons Plato talks about? Does Plato hold to the immortality of the soul? Or to some form of reincarnation? Is his view of virtue close to Aristotle's--that is, as a "mean between extremes"? Or is it something else? Is Plato a relativist or not? And how may the virtues be used for happiness and fellowship with God?
Plato argues that the virtues exist in a hierarchy, while the vices are chaotic. He also holds to a view of fate, but likewise believes human beings are responsible moral creatures.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

"City of God" XXII.30

Chapter 30:
This chapter is truly Augustine at his best, which is appropriate after the slog of the first few books.
Who can measure the happiness of heaven, where no evil at all can touch us, no good will be out of reach; where life is to be one long laud extolling God, who will be all in all; where there will be no weariness to call for rest, no need to call for toil, no place for any energy but praise... Every fiber and organ of our imperishable body will play its part in the praising of God.
We cannot imagine the glories of our spiritual and physical state in heaven. Every part of our person will be perfected and put to use in the deepest joy of praising God. Our wills will be perfected and rooted--as they should have been from the beginning--in properly oriented natures defined by love of God, "ineradicably rooted in rectitude and love as in beatitude."
God will be the source of every satisfaction, more than any heart can rightly crave, more than life and health, food and wealth, glory and honor, peace and every good--so that God, as St. Paul said, 'may be all in all.' He will be the consummation of all our desiring--the object of our unending vision, of our unlessening love, of our unwearying praise. And in this gift of vision, this response of love, this paean of praise, all alike will share, as all will share in everlasting life.
Here will will finally have the perfect peace we long for on earth. We will not forget our sin, but it will exist only intellectually in our memories and have no further power over us. Just as we will know of those in hell, but not be pained by the justice of their situation.

In heaven, we will see that all our good works were, "in reality, His," and so have done us no good, other than as they have glorified the Lord by showing His work in us. That becomes the foundation of our Sabbath, which we are drawing ever nearer to.
I am done. With God's help, I have kept my promise. This, I think, is all that I promised to do when I began this huge work. From all who think that I have said either too little or too much, I beg pardon; and those who are satisfied I ask, not to thank me, but to join me in rejoicing and in thanking God. Amen.
Clever writer that he is, Augustine leaves us with the tantalizing mystery of who these people are who think City of God is too short, while at the same time praising God for this wonderful book. Which we should all do.

Friday, December 5, 2014

"City of God" XXII.29

Chapter 29:
So what sorts of things go on in heaven with our glorified lives (both body and soul)? "To tell the truth, I have no real notion of what eternal life will be like, for the simple reason that I know of no sensible experience to which it can be related." To be sure, we are to share in the peace of God, but what does that mean? "We are to receive, within ourselves and in our relations to one another and to God, a supreme degree of peace--whatever that supreme degree for us may be." Anything we can say about heaven is not what we see, it is what we believe. We know that the saints will dwell in the blessed presence of God, but it's hard to say exactly what that means. Will we be able to open or close our eyes? If we close them, do we stop seeing God? The Bible suggests that this seeing is a "heart" seeing, but what does that mean?
When we speak of eyes in heaven having a more powerful vision, we do not mean the kind of sharper sight which snakes and eagles are said to have. For, however keen such animal vision may be, it is limited to material objects. What is mean is that in heaven eyes can see realities that are immaterial.
This vision, however, will not be a vision that rests on our own inherent abilities--however purified and glorified these abilities may be. If this were the case, we would be able to see something of God here and now through our best and greatest available tool--philosophy. Yet, philosophy is not really "our most certain source of knowledge." Our knowledge of God comes only through "the light of reality and of Divine Revelation."
But what exactly is the relation of this to our physical and spiritual eyes? Well, that's hard to say. Augustine walks through a couple of options, but reminds us that at the end of the day it doesn't matter. What matters most will be our standing directly in the delightful presence of God.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

"City of God" XXII.27-28

Chapter 27-28:
There are several pagan philosophers who all have pieces of the truth, and if only they had communicated well with each other they might have come to some version of what Christians know about the world and about the resurrection of the dead, and the relationship of the resurrected body with the soul.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

"City of God" XXII.25-26

Chapter 25-26:
We must reject the pagan doctrine that the physical body is evil and will not be resurrected. God has promised that we will be raised to life whole, and demonstrated the truth of and His faithfulness to this promise in the resurrection of Jesus. Will we choose to believe small and sinful men over these great promises and actions?
Augustine has already argued against Porphyry's doctrine on this issue, even drawing on Plato (whom Porphyry claimed as his authority)--here Augustine recaps his arguments and reminds us that we ought to reject this hatred of the body.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

"City of God" XXII.24

Chapter 24:
Life, of course, is not all misery--though the misery that there is, is just. We also have blessings and mercy under the rule of God's providence.
"First, think of the blessing of fecundity which was bestowed upon man before he fell." This blessing is not removed, though it is corrupted. And in this blessing of the spread of the human race, we see sin and grace mixed up together, as the image of God and the sin of man war with each other through the spread of mankind across the earth.
This teaches us that the world is not as bad as it could be, God has not completely withdrawn his blessing. "He permitted us, in punishment, to fall under the tyranny of the Devil. The truth is that the devil himself is still under God's power, since it is God... who permits that the nature of the devil should even subsist."
Part of this blessing of spreading the human race is the gift of the soul. And while our procreation is not necessarily what it would have been had we not fallen, it is still a great gift that is wrapped up in our spiritual natures.
This, in turn, teaches us that "there is a parallel between natural generation and supernatural regeneration." We see in both that God is sovereign over birth, both physical and spiritual. "And no one can reflect on this marvel without a sense of astonishment and some expression of admiration for the Creator."

We also have the gift of reason, which we see blossom and flow out from infancy over time. This good was intended to raise us above our natural states to contemplation of God, and so the capacity (if not the follow-through) is cause amazement on our parts at God's creative ability.

Even when we are not being stunned by God's grace in salvation through Christ, we should be stunned by His mercy in the "natural genius of man," including "innumerable arts and skills which minister not only to the necessities of life but also to human enjoyment." All the parts of civilization and learning--language itself--are signs of the sheer mercy and blessing of God to a fallen world.

What is true of man's virtue and mind is likewise true of our physical bodies and the natural world. In each of these we should delight in the hand of God at work, while remembering that "all these favors taken together are but the fragmentary solace allowed us in a life condemned to misery."

How much greater, then, are the blessing that will come to those of us who have believed the Gospel and been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb? How much greater will even these earthly blessings be when they are glorified in the new creation, the City of God?

Monday, December 1, 2014

"City of God" XXII.23

Chapter 23:
In addition to the common struggles of the world, believers have the additional struggle against our own internal sin. We never overcome this struggle in this life, though we have the knowledge that because of the Gospel we will have final victory in the heavenly city: "But in that kingdom where we shall dwell for ever, clothed in immortal bodies, we shall no longer have either conflicts or debts,—as indeed we should not have had at any time or in any condition, had our nature continued upright as it was created."
This is not because of us--left to our own devices we would give in to sin at every turn. This is rather because of Jesus Christ, who has won the victory over our sins on the cross.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

"City of God" XXII.22

Chapter 22:
Just as we have a picture of the world to come in the blessing of this life, so we have in this life the constant and unceasing reminder that we are fallen beings living in a sinful and cursed world. Wickedness not only courses through the world as a result of our actions, it streams through the foundations of our very natures. If not for God's mercy, we all of us would become as bad as we could possibly be.
And yet, "for all the blight of ignorance and folly, fallen man has not been left without some ministries of Providence, nor has God, in His anger, shut up His mercies." And yet, even these mercies which soften the burden of sin show that we are in a desperate condition. We have to work at obedience to the moral law and education is a painful process. Our natural inclination is to slide away from these things, and it sometimes seems that the whole world is against us. Just think of how much we have to fear nature, sickness, and other people--to say nothing of hostile spiritual powers. "Even sleep, which we think of as perfect rest, is made restless by dreadful dreams and nightmares so filled with unspeakable phantoms that seem so real that our whole being is filled with fear." When we're awake, life is that much more frightening.
It would seem that sin rules all, yet "from all this but hell of unhappiness here on earth, nothing can save us but the grace of Jesus Christ, who is our Saviour, Lord, and God."

Friday, November 28, 2014

"City of God" XXII.20-21

Chapter 20:
Lest we forget, Jesus is omnipotent. Do we really think he can't reconstruct our bodies as they should be?
Far be it from us to fear that the omnipotence of the Creator cannot, for the resuscitation and reanimation of our bodies, recall all the portions which have been consumed by beasts or fire, or have been dissolved into dust or ashes, or have decomposed into water, or evaporated into the air.  Far from us be the thought, that anything which escapes our observation in any most hidden recess of nature either evades the knowledge or transcends the power of the Creator of all things.
Even cannibalism will be sorted out, and the flesh returned to its rightful (first) owner, since the consumer of it was only "borrowing" it, as it were. And yes, I do love the fact that Augustine discusses cannibalism and the resurrection.
From all that we have thus considered, and discussed with such poor ability as we can command, we gather this conclusion, that in the resurrection of the flesh the body shall be of that size which it either had attained or should have attained in the flower of its youth, and shall enjoy the beauty that arises from preserving symmetry and proportion in all its members.  And it is reasonable to suppose that, for the preservation of this beauty, any part of the body’s substance, which, if placed in one spot, would produce a deformity, shall be distributed through the whole of it, so that neither any part, nor the symmetry of the whole, may be lost, but only the general stature of the body somewhat increased by the distribution in all the parts of that which, in one place, would have been unsightly.  Or if it is contended that each will rise with the same stature as that of the body he died in, we shall not obstinately dispute this, provided only there be no deformity, no infirmity, no languor, no corruption,—nothing of any kind which would ill become that kingdom in which the children of the resurrection and of the promise shall be equal to the angels of God, if not in body and age, at least in happiness.
Whatever else we are, we will be happy and blessed. And that is a promise we can cling to.

Chapter 21:
Our new bodies will not just be our old bodies remade, they will be spiritual in nature. We have a couple of pictures of this now, first in the regeneration that comes with conversion, when our souls are made new and we are washed clean (judicially) by the Holy Spirit. Likewise,
we may, with God’s help, speak of the gifts He lavishes on men, good and bad alike, in this most wretched life, and may do our best to conjecture the great glory of that state which we cannot worthily speak of, because we have not yet experienced it.  For I say nothing of the time when God made man upright; I say nothing of the happy life of “the man and his wife” in the fruitful garden, since it was so short that none of their children experienced it:  I speak only of this life which we know, and in which we now are, from the temptations of which we cannot escape so long as we are in it, no matter what progress we make, for it is all temptation, and I ask, Who can describe the tokens of God’s goodness that are extended to the human race even in this life?
We see something of the good blessing heading our way in heaven in the good blessing given to the whole world through common grace in the here and now. Augustine has already discussed (way back in Book I) about how these gifts are given to all indiscriminately, here we see that even the good that happens to God's enemies is an object lesson for God's people about the hope we have in the coming life.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

"City of God" XXII.19

Chapter 19:
But, when we say that our whole bodies will be resurrected, what about our hair and nails? What about fat people and overly skinny people? There will, Augustine says, be no deformity in our glorified bodies. Which means that we will be of such beautiful proportions that were someone to look at us now as we will be then they would not be able to bear the sight. And while there may still be marks of a sort on our bodies (say, as with the wounds of martyrs, just as the wounds of Christ were still visible), they will be marks of glory that only increase our splendor as reflections of God.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

"City of God" XXII.17-18

Chapter 17:
Women, in the resurrection, will still be women--we don't lose our bodies in that sense.

Chapter 18:
The man who we will be remade in the image of when we are raised again in Christ, in whom even now we are a part of His true body through the church.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

"City of God" XXII.13-16

Chapter 13:
The question of the resurrection of aborted children hinges on our interpretation of human life. If these are lives, they will be resurrected. If they are not, then the question is moot. Augustine's point is that either way it is no objection to the doctrine of the resurrection.

Chapter 14:
As to whether infants' resurrected bodies will be those of adults or of infants, Augustine holds that the main thing is that they will not be less than they were in this life.

Chapter 15:
Really, we'll probably all have bodies the size they were in our prime, or what would have been our prime for those who died as infants.

Chapter 16:
Being conformed to the image of God does have a physical component to it (especially in the resurrection), but it is really a spiritual statement. We are being made holy, so we need not quibble over this point.

Monday, November 24, 2014

"City of God" XXII.11-12

Chapter 11:
The Platonists turn to a rudimentary physics to argue against the Christian worldview. And yet we know that this is a false hermeneutic, both because it does not line up with the true faith and because it is disconnected with reality as we observe it.

Chapter 12:
Unbelievers try to disprove the physical resurrection by bringing up abortions (what kind of body will these murdered babies have?) or cannibalism (who gets that flesh in the resurrection). Augustine will respond to each of these, but he notes they are not questions which the pagans seriously want answered, they are simply asked out of malice.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

"City of God" XXII.9-10

Chapter 9:
The miracles of the martyrs are not ends in themselves, they are testimonies ("witnesses") to our faith in the physical resurrection of Christ. To that end, we should not be trusting in the martyrs, but rather in the God who enables them to die in the faith and as witnesses for the faith.

Chapter 10:
Again, it is not the miracles themselves which we should notice--even the demons can do those things. What we should notice is that God whom the martyrs worship. He is the final end of their lives and deaths.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

"City of God" XXII.8

[This post covers on chapter that has been split over three days in the reading schedule.]

Chapter 8:
Augustine returns to the question of miracles, and asks why there are no more to confirm our faith. He points out that even if miracles continued, there will always be those who remain willfully skeptical.
And yet, it's not really fair to say that there are no miracles. There have been plenty which have confirmed Christ's ascension into heaven--though since the closing of the canon, they have been rare, small, provincial, and largely reported by Christians (and so somewhat untrustworthy--"too unauthoritative to be received without some difficulty or doubt"). The rare big miracle does happen, but again they can not be turned to for absolute demonstrations in the same way that the miracles of Scripture can.
Augustine then proceeds to give several examples of miracles both big and small. Some involve healing, some involve conversion, and some are tied to the relics of the saints. Augustine will have more to say on this last in the next section (lest we think he's encouraging the idolatry of worshiping the martyrs).

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

"City of God" XXII.6-7

Chapter 6:
We should not confuse resurrection and ascension with the pagan idea of divine apotheosis. The Romans made Romulus a "god" because he founded Rome. Christians believe that the City of God is divine because it was founded by Christ:
But though Christ is the founder of the heavenly and eternal city, yet it did not believe Him to be God because it was founded by Him, but rather it is founded by Him, in virtue of its belief.  Rome, after it had been built and dedicated, worshipped its founder in a temple as a god; but this Jerusalem laid Christ, its God, as its foundation, that the building and dedication might proceed.  The former city loved its founder, and therefore believed him to be a god; the latter believed Christ to be God, and therefore loved Him. 
This, in turn, leads to a different kind of city and a different kind of citizen body:
The city of Christ, which, although as yet a stranger upon earth, had countless hosts of citizens, did not make war upon its godless persecutors for the sake of temporal security, but preferred to win eternal salvation by abstaining from war.  They were bound, impriRomsoned, beaten, tortured, burned, torn in pieces, massacred, and yet they multiplied.  It was not given to them to fight for their eternal salvation except by despising their temporal salvation for their Saviour’s sake. 
Our City is built on faith, and whenever faith is rejected we fall away from the City. This is in contrast to the city of man, which is built on works, honor, etc.

Chapter 7:
If Cicero rejects Romulus as a "god" as a result of his (Cicero's) more enlightened era, how much more enlightened must Augustine's time be? And yet we find that Jesus is not only not rejected, but increasingly believed in as a God. This is because He is truly Divine, not just the result of a mythical human elevation.

Monday, November 17, 2014

"City of God" XXII.4-5

Chapter 4:
Augustine again refutes those who deny the possibility of the bodily resurrection and the need for a physical heaven. In fact, Augustine points out, isn't it more remarkable that spiritual beings have physical bodies now? And if spirit and matter can be united now, how much more so when God resurrects and perfects them?

Chapter 5:
Besides, we have the resurrection and ascension of Christ as proof of the doctrine. If we believe that, there should be no more discussion on the subject. The fact that so many believe this doctrine is evidence that should convince the skeptics--all the more so if they (the skeptics) reject the authenticity of the miracles, for then you have a large number of believers without miraculous support, which is even more proof. [I know, I know, Augustine's not at his apologetic best here, but come on--he's got to be running out of steam by this point.]

Saturday, November 15, 2014

"City of God" XXII.1-3

Chapter 1:
Finally, we get to a discussion of the end of the City of God. This will be an "eternal" end, where "eternal" simply means the length of time which does not stop. The highest parts of God's creation (angels and men) were created to be eternal and to live in fellowship with Him forever. We were to feed off of His joy and delight through communion in His presence for all time. However, God also made us mutable, changeable, and with a free will. And using that will, we rejected God and tried to find our happiness and our joy in ourselves. "But, as with the angels, if human nature should choose to fall away from God, misery proportionate to the offense was bound to follow. Here, too, God foresaw the fall, the disregard of His law, the desertion from Good, yet He left man's free choice unchecked..."

But why would God do this? "..because He also foresaw to what good He would turn man's evil. And, in fact, out of this mortal race of men, justly doomed by their own deserts, God gathers, by His grace, so numerous a people that out of them He fills the places and restores the ranks emptied by the fallen angels."
We are lost by the  exercise of our own wills, but restored to God by His grace. And so the City of God will not want for its full complement of citizens.

Chapter 2:
All of creation, both the City of God and the city of man, are governed by the will of God, which has ordained what will be and who will do it. This will is unchangeable, and that is our safety and security (passages in Scripture which seem to suggest that God changes His mind are spoken to us in such a way that we might understand--in fact we are the ones who are changing, not God).

Chapter 3:
So God has promised to lead His people into the City of God, and these promises are unshakable.

Friday, November 14, 2014

"City of God" XXI.27

Chapter 27:
Nor can you offset your sins by good deeds and still expect to get into heaven. We cannot buy our way into heaven, we must repent with a contrite heart focused on God through Jesus Christ. This comes through prayer and by entrance into the body of believers--the "intercession of holy men."

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Characteristics of the Covenant

What is the nature of the covenant God makes with those who believe in the Gospel? According to John Flavel:
  1. It is an everlasting covenant, or a perpetual covenant, a covenant of eternity... For Christ being the principal matter and substance of the covenant, there must be in it an everlasting righteousness, everlasting kindness, everlasting forgiveness, and in consequence to all of these, everlasting consolation, in which all the riches and bounty of free grace shine forth in all their splendor.
  2. It is a covenant ordered in all things... Everything being here disposed and placed in the most comely order, both persons and things here keep their proper place: god the Father keeps the place of the most wise contriver and bountiful donor of the invaluable mercies of the covenant: and Christ keeps the proper place both of the purchaser and the surety of the covenant and all the mercies in it; and believers keep their place, as the unworthy receivers of all the gratuitous mercies and rich benefits thereof... Oh it is a ravishing sight to behold the habitude and respect of the mercies in the covenant, to the sins and wants of all that are in it! Here are found full and suitable supplies to the wants of all God's people. here you may see pardon in the covenant, for guilt in the soul; joy in the covenant, for sorrow in the heart; strength in the covenant, for all the defects and weakness in the creature. 
  3. It is a sure covenant, or a covenant safely laid up and kept... Everything is as its foundation is. Now, God's covenant being founded in his unchangeable counsel and purpose, wherein there can be no lubricity, and Christ being the surety of it, it must needs be, as the text calls it, a sure covenant, wherein the faithfulness of God is as illustriously displayed, as his bounty and wisdom are in the two properties of it. And such a covenant as this, so everlastingly, aptly disposed, and sure, must needs deserve precious respect and high esteem from every believing soul. 
--John Flavel, The Balm of the Covenant Applied to Afflicted Saints, in Works of Flavel, Volume 6, pg 89-90.

"City of God" XXI.26

Chapter 26:
To those who argue that as long as you have the right doctrine but no practice you'll still go to heaven, Augustine discusses what it is to truly have Christ. "Whoever, then, has Christ in his heart, so that no earthly or temporal things—not even those that are legitimate and allowed—are preferred to Him, has Christ as a foundation. "
When we love Christ above all else, then we have the sign that we have truly believed the Gospel. When our lives do not match this claim, we have the sign that we are liars:
But if these things be preferred, then even though a man seem to have faith in Christ, yet Christ is not the foundation to that man; and much more if he, in contempt of wholesome precepts, seek forbidden gratifications, is he clearly convicted of putting Christ not first but last, since he has despised Him as his ruler, and has preferred to fulfill his own wicked lusts, in contempt of Christ’s commands and allowances.  Accordingly, if any Christian man loves a harlot, and, attaching himself to her, becomes one body, he has not now Christ for a foundation. 
We are tried by "fire", in that those who stick to the faith and keep their actions pure are those who are shown to have Christ as the sure foundation. Those who pursue sin are shown to be false in their claims to faith. They will not see heaven.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

"City of God" XXI.25

Chapter 25:
Nor will baptism get anyone out of hell, whether it's a heretical baptism or one applied by an orthodox church. The same may be said of communion, partaking of Christ's spiritual body in reality with the gathered church will not save anyone.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

"City of God" XXI.24

Chapter 24:
We know the prayers of the saints won't spare anyone from hell, because if they could the demons too would be spared, and we know they won't be. We (and the saints in heaven) only intercede for those for whom God has left open the opportunity for repentance. Scripture is pretty clear that this groups is confined to this life, not the next.

Monday, November 10, 2014

"City of God" XXI.22-23

Chapter 22:
Continuing the theme of the various ideas people have as to why hell might not be eternal for some, there is a school of thought that says that good deeds can offset sins such that one might get to heaven despite being a sinner. So reciting the Lord's Prayer or giving alms, for example, might get you out of hell by offsetting your other sins.

Chapter 23:
And yet, we see that the church has never accepted the idea of hell as mere purgation when it comes to the devil. This is not because we are hateful or anything like that--we want all who can be saved to be saved. It is because we wish to be faithful to Scripture, where God has clearly and repeatedly said that hell will be eternal, everlasting, for ever and ever, etc.
"Thus is is Scripture, infallible Scripture, which declares that God has not spared them."
Where Scripture speaks we must bow our emotions and thoughts to the Wisdom of its Author. And if it's true that the devil will never be purged of sin by the fires of hell, how much more true must it be of lesser beings such as men? We do not want to be charged with believing that "men's imaginings have more weight than God's words!" Rather than trying to make ourselves feel better about something we don't like, we ought to "bow in obedience, while yet there is time, to the command of God."
Besides, we have a vested interest as believers in "everlasting" actually meaning "everlasting"--would we want it to be qualified we we speak of "everlasting" joy or "everlasting" life? "Therefore, since the eternal life of the saints is to be endless, there can be no doubt that eternal punishment for those who are to endure it will have no end."

Friday, November 7, 2014

"City of God" XXI.18-21

Chapter 18-21:
There are some who say that God will not punish forever those who remain His enemies--even the devil and the demons--because of the intercession of the saints. Not an "intercession of the saints" in the wicked sense meant by Catholics where an overflow of merit is distributed like coins to beggars, but the sort of intercession all believers are to do for their unbelieving neighbors. Just as Jonah "interceded" for Nineveh (sort-of), and the Ninevites repented, so will believers in the City of God intercede for those in hell, while those in hell will repent and all will go to heaven.
Likewise, some argue that everyone who has been baptized and taken communion, however heretical their beliefs may be later in life [and is there a better argument against baptizing infants than that?], they will be saved by their baptism and connection with the body of Christ.
Some restrict this salvation to those who have been baptized and taken communion in the "true" church, even if they later turn heretic.
And some argue that so long as one holds to legitimate beliefs and liturgical practices (baptism and communion), then our outward actions have no bearing on our salvation.

All of these are, obviously, wrong.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

"City of God" XXI.15-17

Chapter 15:
Our hope, however, is not just in an end of suffering--it is in the heaven that Christ has bought for us. And Augustine is worth quoting here:
For there is but one Son of God by nature, who in His compassion became Son of man for our sakes, that we, by nature sons of men, might by grace become through Him sons of God.  For He, abiding unchangeable, took upon Him our nature, that thereby He might take us to Himself; and, holding fast His own divinity, He became partaker of our infirmity, that we, being changed into some better thing, might, by participating in His righteousness and immortality, lose our own properties of sin and mortality, and preserve whatever good quality He had implanted in our nature perfected now by sharing in the goodness of His nature.  For as by the sin of one man we have fallen into a misery so deplorable, so by the righteousness of one Man, who also is God, shall we come to a blessedness inconceivably exalted.  Nor ought any one to trust that he has passed from the one man to the other until he shall have reached that place where there is no temptation, and have entered into the peace which he seeks in the many and various conflicts of this war, in which “the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh.”
This is not a life or a war we would have chosen by ourselves, nor is it one we pursue for worldly benefit:
Now, such a war as this would have had no existence if human nature had, in the exercise of free will, continued steadfast in the uprightness in which it was created.  But now in its misery it makes war upon itself, because in its blessedness it would not continue at peace with God; and this, though it be a miserable calamity, is better than the earlier stages of this life, which do not recognize that a war is to be maintained.  For better is it to contend with vices than without conflict to be subdued by them.  Better, I say, is war with the hope of peace everlasting than captivity without any thought of deliverance.  We long, indeed, for the cessation of this war, and, kindled by the flame of divine love, we burn for entrance on that well-ordered peace in which whatever is inferior is for ever subordinated to what is above it.  But if (which God forbid) there had been no hope of so blessed a consummation, we should still have preferred to endure the hardness of this conflict, rather than, by our non-resistance, to yield ourselves to the dominion of vice. 
Instead, by God's grace and mercy we are promised a future home in the City of God where we will have to the fullest the peace that we merely taste here and now. There, the satisfaction of our hearts desires will be met and we will have the fullness of that for which we burn now.

Chapter 16:
God, however, does not leave us alone in this conflict. For children, there is grace and protection that comes directly from God. And I think we've all seen this, how many new believers are there who wander near to heresy, wander near to sin, wander near to all manner of dangerous things in life, only to be snatched away by what appears to us to be dumb blind luck, but what is really surely the direct hand of Providence?
As we mature, we see our danger and our inherent sin (both illuminated by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit) and strive according to God's command and by His Spirit to subdue our sins and live according to His Holy Word:
Accordingly vices are then only to be considered overcome when they are conquered by the love of God, which God Himself alone gives, and which He gives only through the Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who became a partaker of our mortality that He might make us partakers of His divinity. 
We as believers then know that the only suffering we will endure is prior to the final judgment, while unbelievers will be judged afterward forever (though to varying degrees according to their own sins).

Chapter 17:
Some Christians are so tenderhearted as to deny the eternity of hell (Origen was one such believer). We must not support this heresy, though we should of course deal gently with our delicate and erring brothers and sisters. Fortunately, they are quite often inconsistent with themselves, and where they come to believe that someday all people will be in heaven, they deny this to Satan and the demons. But what kind of division is that? Certainly not one supported in Scripture...

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

"City of God" XXI.11-14

Chapter 11:
Eternal judgment is not unjust because it lasts longer than the crime committed (we don't even do that in human justice); but it is just because it is proportional to the crime:
And just as the punishment of the first death cuts men off from this present mortal city, so does the punishment of the second death cut men off from that future immortal city.  For as the laws of this present city do not provide for the executed criminal’s return to it, so neither is he who is condemned to the second death recalled again to life everlasting. 
Chapter 12:
Really, the only reason hell seems overly harsh to us is because of how wicked we are in our natures:
The more enjoyment man found in God, the greater was his wickedness in abandoning Him; and he who destroyed in himself a good which might have been eternal, became worthy of eternal evil.  Hence the whole mass of the human race is condemned; for he who at first gave entrance to sin has been punished with all his posterity who were in him as in a root, so that no one is exempt from this just and due punishment, unless delivered by mercy and undeserved grace; and the human race is so apportioned that in some is displayed the efficacy of merciful grace, in the rest the efficacy of just retribution.   
As things worked out, God's justice and mercy are both shown, which could not have been the case if all had been saved, or if all had been left damned. And because so many more remain damned than are saved, those of us who are saved by grace through faith should be all the more grateful to God for His mercy to us.

Chapter 13:
Some of the Platonists argue that "hell" is simply a place of purgation, where mankind are finally purified and made ready for heaven. Christians doctrine, on the other hand, teaches that hell is permanent, and that only in this life and prior to the last judgment is suffering purifying. Augustine mentions that there may be some who are headed for heaven but suffer after death. This is not, however, a full-fledged doctrine of purgatory, not least because he is clear that no one suffers after the last judgment, and in no way does suffering justify.

Chapter 14:
Indeed, this life itself is purgatorial. In this world our life is suffering and purifying. If there is suffering after death for believers, it is only for the very, very few who did not suffer in this life. (I assume that Augustine believes that all Christians need to have at least some extent of similar circumstances for the sake of sanctification, and those of us who have not truly suffered need to catch up with our martyred and persecuted brothers and sisters.) Those non-believers who do not suffer have even worse in store for them...

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

"City of God" XXI.9-10

Chapter 9:
What's more, we know that hell will happen and will last forever and involve physical punishment, because God has said that it will. We don't want to allegorize those passages away to make ourselves feel better--hell will be physical suffering as well as spiritual suffering. God is capable of doing this, since he is "the Source of all that is wonderful in all natures whatsoever."

Chapter 10:
But if the fire of hell is material, how will evil spirits suffer in it? The answer is that 1) the fire is not just physical, it's also spiritual; 2) even now those in hell are suffering without having a body--the structure of the spiritual world is such that the physical world can affect it as well.

Monday, November 3, 2014

"City of God" XXI.8

Chapter 8:
Of course there are wonders in the world, some might respond to the previous chapters, but that's not the same thing as saying that acts contrary to nature can occur. It might be wonderful that human beings can emulate singing from their rear ends (see Book XIV for that tidbit), but that is just a strange part of our nature. And strange is not the same thing as against. We cannot, for example, stick our hands in a fire and come away unburnt--that would be contrary to nature.

Augustine replies that God made nature, and can adjust it as need wishes. We know that He has done this once already when He cursed the earth and changed it to its present state. He can, if and when He wishes, likewise change us so that we are other than we are now, while still being the same people.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

"City of God" XXI.7

Chapter 7:
We don't need to believe the wonders of each and every report that we hear, we know enough of them are true by first-hand account that we can be amazed that the God that rules over all nature. (We should be especially suspicious of things we read about but cannot confirm by experience.)

Friday, October 31, 2014

"City of God" XXI.6

Chapter 6:
Besides, look at all the wonderful things we human beings can do that, if explained to someone who has no exposure, seem incredible. (And of course, how much more true must this be in our modern world of wonders than even in Augustine's advanced day?)

Thursday, October 30, 2014

"City of God" XXI.5

Chapter 5:
Yet more marvels of the physical world are found in books, which relate things far beyond what we would otherwise have access to by personal experience. We believe when we hear of the wonders of India, which is strange and far away. Will we be skeptical then about the claims of Scripture concerning the resurrection and the last judgment?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"City of God" XXI.4

Chapter 4:
Augustine walks through a number of examples of unique physical characteristics that seem improbable (and indeed probably are from a modern perspective), but which nevertheless suggest that God can create a body that can endure whatever He wishes it to. "The truth is that God, who has endowed things with such a marvelous variety of marvelous qualities that their multitude no longer astonishes us, can give to the substance of flesh that qualities requisite for existence in the world to come."

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"City of God" XXI.1-3

Chapter 1:
The last book looked into the Biblical promises of life and joy for the City of God. This book looks at the promises of destruction and hell waiting for those who continue in rebellion. (The last chapter will look to heaven itself.)

Chapter 2:
It's hard enough to believe in resurrection, let alone resurrected bodies that will be able to suffer for eternity. This is contrary to the evidence of those animals (a worm specifically) which currently live in fire--are we not better than worms?

Chapter 3:
We know that it is possible to suffer eternal pain, because there are those in this life who suffer pain but who do not die from it. How much more will that be the case with a resurrected body?

Monday, October 27, 2014

"City of God" XX.30

Chapter 30:
Many, many other passages could be quoted, but that would take too much time.

One of the problems that we have to deal with is the question of who is meant by "The Lord God" when the OT says that "The Lord God" will do something. Is it Christ? Is it God the Father? Is it the Holy Spirit? These answers are not always obvious. Yet, in texts concerning the "last day," Augustine says that generally Jesus is who is meant, and gives a number of proof-texts with interpretations in defense of this position.

In conclusion to this book, Augustine writes:
In connection with the last judgment, therefore, we who believe can be sure of the following truths: Elias the Thesbite will return; the Jews will believe; Antichrist will persecute the Church; Christ will be the Judge; the dead will rise; the good will be separated from the wicked; the world will suffer from fire, but will be renewed. Of course, what we believe is the simple fact that all these things are to be; but how and in what sequence the events are to occur we must leave to future experience, which alone can teach these truths so much better than human intelligence can at present understand.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Roman Emperors: Categorization

So a colleague and I have been kicking around the idea of teaching an "Ancient Roman Politics" class, which means that I've been trying to catch up on my Roman government readings. These are of course few and far between, since the Romans (like modern Americans) weren't really great political thinkers. They were great soldiers, engineers, lawyers, architects, and all other manner of practical occupations, but when it came to being philosophical, well, that was best left to the Greeks.

Anyway, that's an aside. While reading a book about the Roman Empire, I tried to piece together some kind of outline of Roman Emperors. The question is, how do we classify the various kind of Emperors? I don't mean in terms of good vs. bad Emperors, I mean in terms of some kind of unified philosophy of political rule? What kinds of capabilities did the Emperors bring to the administrative table, and what did their rule in general look like?

Unfortunately, the infographic doesn't easily transfer over from Word (no doubt someone with better technological capabilities than me could do it), but this is what I've come up with:

  • Republicans (ruling as exemplars of ancient virtue): Augustus through Marcus Aurelius
  • Tyrants (ruling as kings, for personal profit/pleasure/personal virtue--this one might need some work): Commodus through Elagabalus
  • Military Dictators (ruling as generals first, administrators second): Septimus Severus through Numerian
  • Administrative Bureaucrats (ruling as organizers and unifiers): Diocletian through Theodosius
  • [Western Empire] Puppet Rulers (ruling under the thumb of others, usually a general or staffer, sometimes a barbarian monarch): Honorius through Romulus Augustulus
  • [Eastern Empire] Caesaropapists (ruling church and state alike): Arcadius through Constantine XI
Obviously this is an imperfect list. The "Tyrants" category, for example, implies that there were no good emperors in that stretch, which I'm not sure is the case. Maybe "Autocrats" would be better? The idea is more that the language of the Republic has disappeared, even if the actual style of governing had not changed all that much within the Empire. Instead of pretending to be "Princeps" ("First Citizen"), they were now openly "Imperator."

And of course two of the last three do not account for the rise of Christianity, which has to fit in somewhere. By the time of Diocelation's efforts to consolidate the Empire--including by stamping out dissenting religions--the Christians as a political force have to be accounted for when thinking about the Emperor. In that sense, "What is the Emperor's relationship to minority cultures in the Empire?" becomes a key question. (This would apply to barbarians as well as believers.)

Finally, I'm not at all satisfied with my characterization of the Eastern Empire, but this is a result of my ignorance. I just don't know that much about the Byzantine Emperors, though I suspect that a similar pattern to the one traced out above might apply.