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.