Friday, January 30, 2015

ANF V: Cyprian Epistles XXIX-XXXI

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Cyprian: Epistles XXIX-XXXI

The elders of the church in Rome reply to Cyprian, still dealing with the issue of the lapsed. In some sense, they argue, the fact that so many are demanding to be readmitted to church membership is a sign that perhaps they are not true believers--true believers in circumstances such as this would exercise patience and be willing to do what it takes to uphold the unity of the church. Specifically, they should not be using letters of recommendation from the martyrs/confessors to divide the church on this issue: "For if they say that the Gospel has established one decree, but the martyrs have established another; then they, setting the martyrs at variance with the Gospel, will be in danger on both sides." They have simultaneously rebelled against the Gospel and undone the good work of the martyrs by opposing them to the Gospel. The reality of course is that it is these aggressive lapsed who are wrong, not the Gospel or the martyrs. This issue needs to be left to the elders and the church, and not decided by a single faction--not even so blessed a faction as that of the martyrs.

With that said, this does not mean we should totally reject the lapsed. Charity and mercy must be our goal in all things. Having lapsed is a cancer that takes long to cure, not a 24 hour bug that is fixed overnight. If they truly desire to be restored they will understand that and work towards the unity of the church, rather than demanding some imagined rights that they in truth gave up when they betrayed the Gospel of Christ.

This is followed by Epistle XXX, in which the Roman elders emphasize the great sin of apostasy, and how much worse it is than never having believed in the first place. As a result, we as a church need to be careful to guard against it, and protect our own congregations against this sin's encroachment. This includes thinking carefully about how to deal with the lapsed who repent. The best way to decide this may be to call an assembly "with bishops, presbyters, deacons, and confessors, as well as with the laity who stand fast." In other words, the church (not just the elders).

Through all of this, we must continue to pray--both for the lapsed, "that they may be raised up," and for the faithful, "that they may not be temped to such a degree as to be destroyed." In other words, thoughtfulness and discipline should never eliminate mercy and care. The greatness of the sin is in no way greater than the forgiveness that comes through Christ, and there is healing in the Gospel declared by the church in Word and sacrament.

Epistle XXXI is from Cyprian asking the elders in Carthage to be sure to pass Rome's letters on to him, and his letters back to them.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

ANF 5: Cyprian Epistles XXVI-XXVIII

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Cyprian: Epistles XXVI-XXVIII

In these Epistles we get the first clear(ish) view of Cyprian's polity, and it is one that does not completely stand up to Biblical scrutiny, albeit without completely falling either. Again, the question is what to do with the lapsed who are requesting readmission to the church. Some in this category are asking with humility and patience, had good reputations before the persecution as believers, and come with the support of the confessors. Their patience ought to be rewarded, even if we ought to find out which "confessors" are supporting them and ask that they stop taking action on behalf of the whole church.
But what is that whole church? Cyprian cites Matthew 16:18-19 ("thou art Peter, and upon this rock...") and then notes that:
Through the changes of times and successions, the ordering of bishops and the plan of the Church flow onwards; so that the Church is founded upon the bishops, and every act of the Church is controlled by these same rulers. Since this, then, is founded on the divine law, I marvel that some, with daring temerity, have chosen to write to me as if they wrote in the name of the Church...
All this, of course, is simply false and an interpretation of Matthew 16:18-19 that does not account for the context of the rest of Matthew 16 or Matthew 18, where we see that the "keys" in question are tied respectively to the leadership (elders, pastors, bishops, whatever name that takes), the confession of Christ, and the congregation of believers. The church rests ultimately on Christ and the confession of Him as Messiah by believers, but within that umbrella both leadership and the congregation have a role to play in the government of the church. One does not have final authority over the other, but both have roles to play. (For more on that, check out these books.)
With that said, even Cyprian doesn't demand the absolute dominance of the leaders of the church, he goes on: the name of the Church; when the Church is established in the bishop and the clergy, and all who stand fast in the faith.
Even Cyprian sees a broader base for church government than those who would later abuse his writings in establishing a solid ecclesiastical hierarchy.

In Epistle XXVII Cyprian commends the leaders who have withheld communion from those individuals who have claimed to speak for the whole church, despite repeated warnings not to do so. Until the church can "by the Lord's mercy... begin to assemble together" no decision should be made and patience, care, and caution ought to be the order of the day--not haste and reconciliation based on sympathy for potentially false words. Cyprian is not claiming to have final authority himself ("Of which thing I cannot make myself sole judge, since many of the clergy are still absent..."), and notes that really the issues have not even been looked into. Epistle XXVIII sends a brief of this to the church in Rome, wanting to be sure that there is a "common plan for the advantage of the administration of the Church." Not that he is asking for guidance from Rome, just that he is keeping them in the loop.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

ANF V: Cyprian Epistles XXIII-XXV

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Cyprian: Epistles XXIII-XXV

In Epistle XXIII, Cyprian provides an update on some of the minor offices of the church (reader and sub-deacon), which have recently been filled. Alas, no details are given as to how exactly this happened, other than Cyprian says that "I have made" them reader/sub-deacon, but "by the general advice." Are they elected or appointed Cyprian? Not that it matters all that much, but church polity today is of course still a difficult question...

Epistles XXIV and XXV are letters from Cyprian to Moyses and Maximus (XXIV) and from Moyses and Maximus to Cyprian (XXV). In his letter, Cyprian gives us two things that are worthy of close attention:

  1. An example of how one Christian ought to praise another.
  2. A description of how a Christian ought to think about persecution and suffering.
1. Cyprian shows us how a Christian ought to speak well of another Christian. This can actually be something of a challenge. We of course believe in the sovereignty of God and the sinfulness of man, so in a sense everything good that happens is due to God and not to us. And yet, we wish to acknowledge when believes obey and grow and are faithful, but do so without planting the seeds of pride. Cyprian writes:
I had already known from rumor, most brave and blessed brethren, the glory of your faith and virtue, rejoicing greatly and abundantly congratulating you, that the highest condescension of our Lord Jesus Christ should have prepared you for the crown of confession of His name. 
In other words, "I thank God for the work He has done in and through you" is the right way to acknowledge and praise the works of believers while attributing all final glory to God. 

2. This is not, of course, to say that we ought to rush to embrace persecution or suffering. What does it mean to be a true "confessor"? 
You prompt the keeping of these precepts [God's Word as found in Scripture]; you observe the divine and heavenly commands. This is to be a confessor of the Lord; this is to be a martyr of Christ-- to keep the firmness of one's profession inviolate among all evils, and secure. For to wish to become a martyr for the Lord, and to try to overthrow the Lord's precepts; to use against Him the condescension that He has granted you; to become, as it were, a rebel with arms that you have received from Him; this is to wish to confess Christ, and to deny Christ's Gospel. I rejoice, therefore, on your behalf, most brave and faithful brethren; and as much as I congratulate you for the crown of the Lord's discipline. The Lord has shed forth His condescension in manifold kinds of liberality.
Christians ought to obey, to confess the Gospel, and to use to the tools God has given us wisely--not rushing into punishment and persecution, but with discipline and thoughtfulness according to God's wisdom revealed in His Word.

Epistle XXV is the response from the confessors, where they thank Cyprian for the encouragement found in his letter to them. Which of course shows us how we ought to receive proper praise as believers--with gratitude to God for the work He does through His people. The tell Cyprian that their greatest joy is to hold to Christ in the midst of suffering, which of course can never be more than temporary. "For what more glorious, or what more blessed, can happen to any man from the divine condescension, than to confess the Lord God, in death itself, before his very executioners?"
These confessors demonstrate how they draw solace and strength from Scripture, and cling to the promises God has made to us therein. They ask for prayer that God will strengthen them to be strong in the face of suffering, and hold to the faith despite the worst the world can do. 
The writers express their gratitude to the church, and encourage the lapsed to repent and return to God. They point out that the hope some of the lapsed have, that despite having betrayed Christ publicly God will still forgive them and welcome them in, is an empty hope so long as they maintain their public rejection of the faith. Those who do repent and wish to return to the membership of the church need to be patient, and realize that whatever their status in God's eyes, it will take time and care for the church to be convinced that they are sincere. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

ANF V: Cyprian Epistles XX-XXII

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Cyprian: Epistles XX-XXII

Epistles XX and XXI are not from Cyprian at all, but rather are from Celerinus of Rome to Carthage, and from Lucian (presumably in Carthage, and at least in North Africa) back to Celerinus.

Celerinus writes to those who are in prison for confessing Christ to ask them to pray for his sister, who had identified as a Christian but "in this time of devastation has fallen from Christ; for she has sacrificed [to the gods] and provoked our Lord."
In reply, Lucian does not respond to the direct request other than to apologize for the delay in writing (the church was being persecuted, after all--though peace is now being restored) and to note that he and the other believers are greatly sorrowed by the defection. The implication, however, is that the petition has been granted--which in fact we know for a fact from the next letter.

Epistle XXII is from Cyprian and includes the other two, and notes that Lucian had acted alone and without the authorization of the elders or of the Christians currently suffering in prison. The letters Lucian sent were both unauthorized and too broad in scope, and now have large numbers of people clamoring to be restored (or even admitted for the first time) to the full fellowship of the church, despite there as yet being no clear decision on what to do in some cases, and the clear need for division between the church--"martyrs are made by the Gospel," after all--and the world.

Monday, January 26, 2015

ANF 5: Cyprian Epistles XV-XIX

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Cyprian: Epistles XV-XIX

In Epistle XV, Cyprian writes to believers in prison for confessing the faith. he reminds them that what they have is more than the mightiest and most glories powers of the earth could ever comprehend--friendship with God.
Now, therefore, let magistrates and consuls or proconsuls go by; let them glory in the ensigns of their yearly dignity, and in their twelves fasces. Behold, the heavenly dignity in you is sealed by the brightness of a year's honor, and already, in the continence of its victorious glory, has passed over the rolling circle of the returning year. The rising sun and the waning moon enlightened the world; but to you, He who made the sun and moon was a greater light in your dungeon, and the brightness of Christ glowing in your hearts and minds irradiated with that eternal and brilliant light the gloom of the place of punishment, which to others was so horrible and deadly. 
Cyprian then asks that they pray for him, which in Epistle XVI they respond that he is in their thoughts.

Epistle XVII returns to the question of restoring the repentant lapsed. Cyprian says that repentance and humility are necessary for all of us, including them, and that we ought to account for the recommendation of those who went to prison for the faith in restoring those who apostatized rather than suffer persecution, but that at the end of the day this "matter... waits for the counsel and judgment of all of us." Consequently, Cyprian does not "dare to prejudge and so to assume a common cause for my own decision." He may have meant he was waiting for a Council or Synod to make a decision, or he may have meant that the congregation was to decide. I like to think it's the latter, but I suspect it's the former.

Epistle's XVIII and XIX are a back-and-forth between one Caldonius and Cyprian. In XVIII, Caldonius asks what to do with a few people who had been believers who were disciplined for rejecting the faith but may not have actually done so. (One woman, "Bona," made a sacrifice to the gods--a sign of NOT being a Christian--only when physically dragged there by her husband, claiming all the way 'I did not do it!" and presumably unwilling at every point.) Caldonius asks Cyprian what ought to be done when such individuals petition for readmission to the membership of the church. Cyprian replies that they ought to be restored, given their confession and their clear contrition and the apparent working of grace in their lives. Cyprian then refers Caldonius to a book he has written on this topic.

Friday, January 23, 2015

ANF 5: Cyprian Epistles X-XIV

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Cyprian: Epistles X-XIV

The Tenth Epistle likewise is about what to do with those who turn away from the faith in a time of persecution. Cyprian reminds his fellow elders that it is not enough to claim with our mouths to believe the Gospel, we must reflect that belief in our lives as well--"those who so devotedly and bravely maintain the faith of the Lord should also maintain the law and discipline of the Lord." In terms of the life of the congregation, this means not being hasty in admitting people of questionable practice into membership. While we of course want to be generous in our treatment of those who claim to be brothers and sisters in Christ, we also want to be careful such that we are doing our best to only allow true believers into the rolls of the church. This means that in the case of those who turned aside from Christ in times of persecution, prudence and patience are going to be our key allies, rather snap judgments.

Epistle XI repeats the theme, this time being directly addressed to the congregation. Again, he reminds them that those who fall away are to be objects of prayer and pity, not condemnation.
I sympathize with you in your suffering and grief, therefore, for our brethren, who, having lapsed and fallen prostrate under the severity of the persecution, have inflicted a like pain on us by their wounds, inasmuch as they tear away part of our bowels with them-- to these the divine mercy is able to bring healing. Yet I do not think that there must be any haste, nor that anything must be done incautiously and immaturely, lest, while peace is grasped at, the divine indignation be more seriously incurred.
Cyprian encourages the members of the church to 1) encourage those who have fallen away to return to Christ; 2) hold the elders accountable by reminding them that the restoration process is and should be slow. The elders who have taken communion to those who have not yet been restored should be rebuked, and possibly even disciplined themselves.

That we have not completely abandoned the lapsed is the point of Epistle XII. Though they are not yet fully restored to communion, they are likewise not totally cut off from the fellowship of the church. The elders, for example, are not to deny them prayer in time of sickness, good instruction, and fellowship with the catechumens (new believers who are being instructed before being admitted to full membership in the church). With that said, Epistle XIII reiterates that other than for those on their deathbed, the re-admittance process needs to be slow--possibly even not fully happening until the persecution itself is over (however emphatic the lapsed may be in their desire to rejoin the fellowship).

Epistle XIV is Cyprian's summary of the point of all of these letter, and should probably have been read before any of the other stuff about restoring the lapsed. (I think there was a note of some sort about that, but I'm trying to go in order. [shrug])

Thursday, January 22, 2015

ANF 5: Cyprian Epistles VII-IX

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Cyprian: Epistles VII-IX

Writing to the elders and deacons of his church, Cyprian encourages them to remain faithful and holy and humble, keeping in mind that suffering is nothing technically less than what we deserve for our sins. And while we of course may pray for the easing of our suffering, the divisions among us show that there is no guarantee we will receive it. Specifically, we ought to pray for suffering believers, for the safety and holiness of the church, and for a heart dedicated to God alone. This we ought to do both as individuals and as a congregation.

In Epistle VIII, Cyprian notes that martyrdom and greater suffering only increases our glory in Christ. We should look to those who have gone through suffering and strive to follow their example--above all keeping our eyes on Christ, who suffered first and in our place. We ought to support each other and mourn the damage done to "our Mother, the Church" even while standing firm against the  assaults of the world.
If the battle shall call you out, if the day your contest shall come, engage bravely, fight with constancy, as knowing that you are fighting under the eyes of a present Lord, that you are attaining by the confession of His name to His own glory; who is not such a one as that He only looks on His servants, but He Himself also wrestles in us, Himself is engaged,--Himself also in the struggles of our conflict not only crowns, but is crowned. 
Nor should we mourn those who have gone to be with the Lord, for they are the ones who are truly blessed.

In Epistle IX,  Cyprian tackles the tough question of what to do with those who fell away during persecution, but now that it's over want to come back to the body of believers (as exemplified by taking the Lord's Supper). Of course we should restore the truly repentant, but some have been quick to restore those who are perhaps not truly believers, and only want back in because it is now safe. The elders need to investigate closely and carefully before making a proclamation about whether or not these individuals have truly saving faith--obviously something which is not easily answered given their recent lapse.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

ANF 5: Cyprian Epistles II-VI

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Cyprian: Epistles II-VI

In the second Epistle, the Roman elders write to Cyprian's church (giving him the title "pope," interestingly enough) that just because their pastor has gone into hiding (from the persecution), they were still required to pursue the Scriptural business of the church. However frightening it may be, we still are obligated to obey God rather than man and stand in the faith. In this case, it means sorting through the question of what to do with those who give in to persecution, but then repent. We are to remind them of the truth, and encourage them to repent, and then receive them back in on their repentance. Of course, the other business of the church ought to go on as well--care for the poor, catechizing the new believers, and so on.

Epistle III is a brief and friendly reply to Epistle II, and just asking for confirmation that the letter Cyprian received was the one that was indeed sent.

Epistle IV is Cyprian's encouragement to the church leadership that even though he is in hiding, they need to continue doing the work of the church--caring for those in prison for the faith, caring for poor believers, and maintaining a Gospel peace among believers. Epistle V expands this charge and again emphasizes that even in persecution, and even in the absence of the church's pastor, the life and business of the church must go on. This includes not only care for the poor, but the pursuit of holiness and obedience within the church body by individual members of the congregation.

Epistle VI is Cyprian's letter encouraging an elder and "other confessors" to cling to the practice of the faith, even in persecution and trials in the world. Christians are not Christians if they believe and then fall away, but rather when we preserve to the end we give true evidence of our faith. "faith itself and saving birth makes alive, not by being received, but by being preserved."  This means both our public confession to the world and to each other, and our holy practice.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

ANF 5: Cyprian Epistle I

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Cyprian: Epistle I, To Donatus

Cyprian begins with a wonderful overview of how and when theological reflection ought to occur (it ought to be like sitting in a pleasant garden on a nice day). He tells us a bit about his own conversion, which, like Augustine's, came by surprise after conviction of sin:
'How,' said I, 'is such a conversion [regeneration] possible, that there should be a sudden and rapid divestment of all which, either innate in us has hardened in the corruption of our material nature, or acquired by us has become inveterate by long accustomed use?'
He goes on to ask why anyone who has enjoyed the pleasures of sin and this world would ever give them up--it would be like voluntarily going from being rich to being poor. "It is inevitable, as it ever has been, that the love of win should entice, pride inflate, anger inflame, covetousness disquiet, cruelty stimulate, ambition delight, lust hasten to ruin, with allurements that will not let go their hold."
And yet, there is grace. Grace changed his nature and brought him new life that put off this old sinful man and put on Jesus Christ. "All our power is of God; I say, of God. From Him we have life, from Him we have strength, by power derived and conceived from Him we do."

Now we are to live new and holy lives, led by the Spirit and going where He leads. The problem is that wherever in this world we look, we see sin. Rural and urban makes no difference, everything is bathed in the blood of rebellion against God. Worldly religion involves murder, adultery, and incest. And worldly practice--should we imagine we can see what goes on behind closed doors--is absolutely no better. Even those who know what is right and who are charged with prosecuting evil, judges, statesmen, lawyers, etc, are guilty of the very things they seek out in others. This is the reality at every level of society and in every corner of the world. Every man without something lives to take it from others, and every man with something lives in fear that it will be taken from him, and so there is no peace for anyone anywhere. What, having taken us on this imaginary tour of the world, Clement asks are we to do?
Hence, then, the one peaceful and trustworthy tranquillity, the one solid and firm and constant security, is this, for a man to withdraw from these eddies of a distracting world, and, anchored on the ground of the harbour of salvation, to life his eyes from the earth to heaven; and having been admitted to the gift of God, and being already very near to his God in mind, he may boast, that whatever in human affairs others esteem lofty and grand, lies altogether beneath his consciousness. He who is actually greater than the world can crave nothing, can desire nothing, from the world. 
And so we ought to pursue fellowship with God--and this in prayer and Scripture ("now speak with God, now let God speak with you, let Him instruct you in His precepts, let Him direct you"). This no one can take from you, and we need never fear poverty for God has made us rich by our relationship with Him.

This is, as hopefully is clear, a must-read.

Monday, January 19, 2015

ANF 5: Cyprian Life and Passion

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Cyprian: Life and Passion

The interesting comment by the editors of the 19th century edition of the Ante-Nicene Fathers says that "Cyprian is the Ignatius of the West," presumably with all the strengths and weaknesses that entails. That is, he had an essential deep and doctrinal concern for the organic life of the church, but perhaps too top-heavy a view (though were I of the Anglican or Presbyterian persuasion I might be more inclined to agree with even this aspect of his writings).

So, we have a record of Cyprian's life from "Pontius the Deacon." Pontius tells us that everyone knows of Cyprian, and that his fame will probably last until the end of the world. But, just in case (and so that the next generations will have a record of the great men of the past) Pontius has given us a brief overview of the life and martyrdom of Cyprian.

Pontius begins with Cyprian's conversion, mentioning only that he had a background in the "liberal arts" and had already become discontent with Classical learning when he came to believe the promises of Scripture. Cyprian very quickly became a presbytr and a preacher, in addition to being a husband and father, and eventually he went on to become a bishop. He served through persecution and plague and banishment, until finally being martyred (which he had been told about in a vision beforehand).

Honestly, this piece is a little heavy in the "oh he was the holiest person ever to live" department, but that's probably to be expected of ancient hagiography. It is worth skimming through by way of preparation for reading the epistles.

Friday, January 16, 2015

ANY 5: Hippolytus Appendix

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Hippolytus: Appendix to the Works of Hippolytus. Containing Dubious and Spurious Pieces

This collection of odds and ends involves the doctrine of the Incarnation, the nature of prophecy, the antichrist, and a number of other issues. Loosely chilliastic in nature, these tidbits emphasize application to the present and resistance to present antichrists, as well as the great coming one.

The end of this collection includes a list of the Apostles, first a bit on each of the twelve and then a listing of the "seventy," followed by the "Heads of the Canons of Abulides or Hippolytus," and then the "Canons of the Church of Alexandria." Some of this is interesting, though of course as someone who is nearly a historian (it was my minor field) I would question the accuracy of the record included here. As someone who cares about theology, I'm quite happy to say that this might as well be true, since it doesn't functionally affect the truth laid out in Scripture.

The two sets of Canons are interesting enough whatever their age--the former claims to be those used by the "Ethiopian Christians" while the latter belongs to the church in Egypt (allegedly). While these are really to spare to be much use overall, it is interesting that we see somewhat clear displays of

  1. Some kind of congregationalism ("A bishop should be elected by all the people.") 
  2. The necessity of a profession of faith, repentance, and pursuit of a holy life for membership in the church and access to the sacraments (baptism and communion). 
  3. The concern for holiness in the course of a church service (possibly to a sinful or legalistic extent, though again these are so spare it can be hard to tell what the exact practice was). 

This section can be skipped in all good conscience. The apocalyptic stuff is interesting enough I suppose, but not really necessary reading--especially given that 1) we don't really know who wrote it/where it comes from; and 2) the clear interpositions from later copyists (such as the mention of the "spotless Mary", clearly an insertion from a later time). The lists concerning the Apostles is certainly interesting enough intellectually (especially the section on the 12 that gives us a bit more information than found elsewhere), but not necessarily worth the effort required to read it. The canons are a bit interesting as well, but again so uncertain as to their date, use, or content, they're really not necessary reading.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

ANF 5: Hippolytus Other Fragments

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Hippolytus: Works and Fragments II.--Dogmatical and Historical: Fragments of Discourses/Homilies and Fragments of Other Writings

These odds and ends are so short and so few that there's really no reason not to read them, other than sheer laziness. Besides, they're mostly excellent, even if they're also mostly spurious.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

ANF 5: Hippolytus Discourse on the Holy Theophany

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Hippolytus: Works and Fragments II.--Dogmatical and Historical: The Discourse on the Holy Theophany

This short work is a meditation on the goodness of God as revealed to mankind in creation. Specifically Hippolytus focuses on light, water, fire (specifically the "fire" of God's verbal promises--especially those through John the Baptist), and ultimately Christ Himself as displayed in His baptism by John and sealing by the descent of the Holy Spirit and the blessing of the Father. All of these beauties are held out to the world through the preaching of the Gospel, and are available for any who will repent, believe, and be baptized. "The father of immortality sent the immortal Son and Word into the world, who came to man in order to wash him with water and the Spirit; and He, begetting us again to incorruption of soul and body, breathed into us the breath (spirit) of life, and endued us with an incorruptible panoply. If, therefore, man has become immortal, he will also be God."

This short work is devotional and wonderful--be sure to read it.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

ANF 5: Hippolytus Against Beron and Helix

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Hippolytus: Works and Fragments II.--Dogmatical and Historical: Against Beron and Helix

This work exists only in fragments, a the introductory note says, "of a discourse, alphabetically divided, on the Divine nature and the Incarnation against the heretics Beron and Helix." Despite its fragmentary nature, this little piece is worth reading for the tantalizing snippets it offers. For example:
Between God the Maker of all things and that which is made, between the infinite and the finite, between infinitude and finitude, there can be no kind of comparison, since these differ from each other not in mere comparison (or relatively), but absolutely in essence. And yet at the same time there has been effected a certain inexpressible and irrefragable union of the two into one substance, which entirely passes the understanding of anything that is made.
The Incarnation preserves the unique Divinity of God, and yet simultaneously unites it with the finitude and humanity of man:
He remained, therefore, also, after His incarnation, according to nature, God infinite, and more, having the activity proper and suitable to Himself, an activity growing out of His divinity essentially, and manifested through His perfectly holy flesh by wondrous acts economically, to the intent that He might be believed in as God, while working out of Himself by the flesh, which by nature is weak, the salvation of the universe.
 In the Incarnation we can, with the Apostles, meditate on the fullness of God and the fullness of man simultaneously. And yet Beron has been teaching that in becoming man, Divinity was subsumed into humanity, until it no longer had the aspects of divinity. Instead, as Christians we maintain that all God did as a human He did through His Divinity, and all that He did (after the Incarnation) with His Divinity in the Son He did as a human. The two are united and yet separate in a way that is mysterious and expressible only through confession, not through rational comprehension.

These fragments are worth your the time it takes to slowly read through them.

Monday, January 12, 2015

ANF 5: Hippolytus Against Noetus

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Hippolytus: Works and Fragments II.--Dogmatical and Historical: Against the Heresy of One Noetus

Noetus reportedly is guilty of "paterpassionism", that is, "He alleged that Christ was the Father Himself, and that the Father Himself was born, and suffered, and died." Of course, Noetus also "alleged that he was himself Moses, and that Aaron was his brother." Upon being investigated by the by the church, Noetus was excommunicated--only to go and found his own school. The goal of this school is to maintain the unity of Divinity, which is of course a good thing! But in doing so, "they make use only of one class of passages." When the whole counsel of Scripture is taken into account, we see that the Trinity is clearly the fundamental nature of God, which Hippolytus proceeds to prove from numerous texts concerning the Father, the Son, and the Spirit:
A man, therefore, even though he will it not, is compelled to acknowledge God the Father Almighty, and Christ Jesus the Son of God, who, being God, became man, to whom also the Father made all things subject, Himself excepted, and the Holy Spirit; and that these, therefore, are three. But if he desires to learn how it is shown still that there is one God, let him know that His power is one. But as far as regards the economy there is a threefold manifestation... In these things, however, which are thus set forth by use, we are at one. For these is one God in whom we must believe, but unoriginated, impassible, immortal, doing all things as He wills, in the way He wills, and when He wills. 
So Hippolytus defends the Unity and the Trinity of God. But that's not all--God is known only through Scripture:
There is, brethren, one God, the knowledge of whom we gain from the Holy Scriptures, and from no other source. For just as a man, if he wishes to be skilled in the wisdom of this world, will find himself unable to get at it in any other way than by mastering the dogmas of philosophers, so all of us who wish to practice piety will be unable to learn its practice from any other quarter than the oracles of God. Whatever things, then the Holy Scriptures declare, at these let us look; and whatsoever things they teach, these let us learn; and as the Father wills our belief to be, let us believe; and as He wills the Son to be glorified, let us glorify Him; and as He wills the Holy Spirit to be bestowed, let us receive Him. Not according to our own will, nor according to our own mind, nor yet as using violently those things which are given by God, but even as He has chosen to teach them by the Holy Scriptures, so let us discern them.
 The truths of God essential to salvation and the holy life can be found nowhere other than in His Word. And so we ought to dedicate ourselves fully to its study and to obedience to the truth we find there.

And what do we find in God's Word? 1) That God created all things by His power as expressed in a Word, according to His will and wisdom, for His own purpose and pleasure; 2) That God is Trinity, "not... that there are two Gods, but that it is only as light of light, or as water from a fountain, or as a ray of light from the sun;" 3) That God reveals Himself to the world through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and through the Incarnate person of Jesus Christ; 4) this is not two separate revelations, but a preparatory revelation (the OT) and the revelation itself (as expressed in the NT); 5) "For it is through the Trinity that the Father is glorified. For the Father willed, the Son did, the Spirit manifested."

Hippolytus ends with a Scriptural defense of the Incarnation and an articulation of what we believe when we confess this truth, including that:
He does not refuse the conditions proper to Him as man, since He hungers and toils and thirsts in weariness, and flees in fear, and prays in trouble. And He who as God has a sleepless nature, slumbers on a pillow. And He who for this end came into the world, begs off from the cup of suffering. And in an agony He sweats blood, and is strengthened by an angel, who Himself strengthens those who believe on Him, and taught men to despise death by His work. And He who knew what manner of man Judas was, is betrayed by Judas. And He, who formerly was honoured by him as God, is contemned by Caiaphas. And He is set at nought by Herod, who is Himself to judge the whole earth. And He is scourged by Pilate, who took upon Himself our infirmities. And by the soldiers He is mocked, at whose behest stand thousands of thousands and myriads of myriads of angels and archangels. And He who fixed the heavens like a vault is fastened to the cross by the Jews. And He who is inseparable from the Father cries to the Father, and commends to Him His spirit; and bowing His head, He gives up the ghost, who said, “I have power to lay down my life, and I have power to take it again;” and because He was not overmastered by death, as being Himself Life, He said this:  “I lay it down of myself.” And He who gives life bountifully to all, has His side pierced with a spear. And He who raises the dead is wrapped in linen and laid in a sepulchre, and on the third day He is raised again by the Father, though Himself the Resurrection and the Life. For all these things has He finished for us, who for our sakes was made as we are. For “Himself hath borne our infirmities, and carried our diseases; and for our sakes He was afflicted,” as Isaiah the prophet has said. This is He who was hymned by the angels, and seen by the shepherds, and waited for by Simeon, and witnessed to by Anna. This is He who was inquired after by the wise men, and indicated by the star; He who was engaged in His Father’s house, and pointed to by John, and witnessed to by the Father from above in the voice, “This is my beloved Son; hear ye Him.” He is crowned victor against the devil. This is Jesus of Nazareth, who was invited to the marriage-feast in Cana, and turned the water into wine, and rebuked the sea when agitated by the violence of the winds, and walked on the deep as on dry land, and caused the blind man from birth to see, and raised Lazarus to life after he had been dead four days, and did many mighty works, and forgave sins, and conferred power on the disciples, and had blood and water flowing from His sacred side when pierced with the spear. For His sake the sun is darkened, the day has no light, the rocks are shattered, the veil is rent, the foundations of the earth are shaken, the graves are opened, and the dead are raised, and the rulers are ashamed when they see the Director of the universe upon the cross closing His eye and giving up the ghost. Creation saw, and was troubled; and, unable to bear the sight of His exceeding glory, shrouded itself in darkness. This (is He who) breathes upon the disciples, and gives them the Spirit, and comes in among them when the doors are shut, and is taken up by a cloud into the heavens while the disciples gaze at Him, and is set down on the right hand of the Father, and comes again as the Judge of the living and the dead. This is the God who for our sakes became man, to whom also the Father hath put all things in subjection. To Him be the glory and the power, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, in the holy Church both now and ever, and even for evermore.  Amen.
In other words, this little essay is excellent, and well worth your time.

Friday, January 9, 2015

ANF 5: Hippolytus Against Plato

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Hippolytus: Works and Fragments II.--Dogmatical and Historical: Against Plato, On the Cause of the Universe

Here we have Hippolytus' (or whoever's) view of life after death, heaven and hell. The righteous are guided to heaven by angels, while the sinners are dragged to hell by demons. The two can see each other, but with a "deep and vast abyss" set between the two, "so that neither can any of the righteous in sympathy think to pass it, nor any of the unrighteous dare to cross it."
But this is not all, for God will resurrect our bodies as well (which you Greeks should believe, since even Plato teaches immortality), so that for all eternity we will be soul and body. And yet, the difference will remain--the bodies of the righteous will be glorified while the bodies of sinners will be scourged, both for all eternity. And what is the dividing line between the two? "Ye who believe these words, O men, will be partakers with the righteous." Faith is what separates Christians from non Christians, heaven from hell.

[If it's unclear why this is "Against Plato," it is because despite their surface similarities, Christians must ultimately reject the teachings of Plato about eternity in the Republic and the Timaeus.]

Thursday, January 8, 2015

ANF 5: Hippolytus Expository Treatise Against the Jews

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Hippolytus: Works and Fragments II.--Dogmatical and Historical: Expository Treatise Against the Jews

This work is interesting in its approach, if not necessarily in its substance. With that said, there's really no reason not to read it, since it weighs in at just under three pages ("The Conclusion is Wanting"). The idea is that Hippolytus is going to witness to the Jews by pointing out how His words and life are the fulfillment of the Old Testament--which of course they admit is the Word of God. Which means that the bulk of this is simply quotations from the OT and Apocrypha, which means it may not be strictly necessary to read--but again at only three pages why not read it?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

ANF 5: Hippolytus Treatise on Christ and Antichrist

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Hippolytus: Works and Fragments II.--Dogmatical and Historical: Treatise on Christ and Antichrist

The point of this treatise--as should be true of all Christian writing-- is that so that the reader can hear the truth, glorify God, be equipped for life, and argue faithfully with unbelievers. Hippolytus notes that his method is the same as the prophets of old--simply to pass on the message handed down to us without changing it as found in Scripture and empowered by God. Specifically, this is the message concerning Christ and His salvation of His people. His people, then, are all who come to Him for salvation--men, women, eunuchs, all manner of human beings.

But just as Scripture teaches us about Jesus, so it teaches us about the antichrist, which we must be prepared for. Which is the main point of this treatise. We see that the antichrist will be a blasphemous parody of Christ's life.

So much is the first five paragraphs of the treatise, which are well worth your time. Starting in paragraph six Hippolytus begins to walk through specific texts, explaining how the text is fulfilled in Christ, while other texts point to the antichrist. And while we may not always agree on the interpretation of any given text, it is certainly an interesting exercise. It appears that Hippolytus' interpretation is along the lines of modern Premillennialism (which makes sense, if he was a student of Irenaeus--and if this is not a spurious text), albeit much milder than the more modern form. And, as with some modern Premillennialists , Hippolytus does not forget the most important part of Revelation:
But we who hope for the Son of God are persecuted and trodden down by those unbelievers. For... the sea is the world, in which the Church is set, like a ship tossed in the deep, but not destroyed; for she has with her the skilled Pilot, Christ. And she bears in her midst also the trophy which is erected over death; for she carries with her the cross of the Lord.
Paragraphs 6 through the end may be skimmed, but be sure at least to read 59 and 67.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

ANF 5: Hippolytus Exegetical Fragments III

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Hippolytus: Works and Fragments I.--Exegetical

Continuing a listing of the useful/interesting bits and fragments in Hippolytus' commentaries on Scripture (again, you don't need to read all of them unless you're a scholar in the field, I'm just trying to point out the highlights):

  • On Matthew: Hippolytus takes a minimalist interpretation of what we are asking for when we petition God for "our daily bread."
  • Doubtful Fragments on the Pentateuch: While this section isn't necessarily worth reading in full, it is interested to see that at some point someone thought it worthwhile to try to figure out how the actual physical books of the law were passed own from Moses to the "present" day. 
  • The Law: I completely believe that this section was originally found in Latin and Arabic, albeit before the time of Islam. "In the name of God eternal, everlasting, most mighty, merciful, compassionate." 
  • On the Psalms: This section is useful mostly as an example of how NOT to interpret Scripture (and here we have to stress that this is certainly a later, spurious, writing--not a Hippolytus original). For example, "Let us inquire, further, why there are one hundred and fifty psalms. That the number fifty is sacred, is manifest from the days of the celebrated festival of Pentecost." And again "The number fifty, moreover, contains seven sevens, or a Sabbath of Sabbaths; and also over and above these full Sabbaths, a new beginning, in the eight, of a really new rest that remains above the Sabbaths." And at that point the non-mathematically inclined are now lost, while the mathematically inclined are laughing. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

ANF 5: Hippolytus Exegetical Fragments II

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Hippolytus: Works and Fragments I.--Exegetical

Continuing a listing of the useful/interesting bits and fragments in Hippolytus' commentaries on Scripture (again, you don't need to read all of them unless you're a scholar in the field, I'm just trying to point out the highlights):

  • On Daniel.II: This section cannot but be interesting to those of us in the 21st century who are so steeped in various forms of 20th century Premillennial thought. (Not that I hold to such thought, but I was like many Christians raised in it.) "But that we may not leave our subject at this point undemonstrated, we are obliged to discuss the matter of the times, of which a man should not speak hastily, because they are a light to him." 
  • On Susannah: Of course, one should read Susanna first. But having done that, the comments Hippolytus makes are pretty darn interesting, despite the nature of the Apocryphal text. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

ANF 5: Hippolytus Exegetical Fragments I

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Hippolytus: Works and Fragments I.--Exegetical

This section, taking up forty pages in the 19th century Schaff/Coxe edition, is as big a grab-bag as you would expect. As with the Refutation of All Heresies, reading all of these bits and pieces is not strictly necessary unless you are interested in the field of early church studies specifically. For general edification, I'd look to the longer and more coherent writers like Tertullian, Origen, or one of the Clements.

With that said, there are a few useful bits and pieces here and there. Specifically pay attention to:

  • Genesis 49:21-26: Hippolytus has some interesting comments on how this passage points prophetically to Christ. 
  • On Kings: Where Hippolytus tackles the difficult question of the Witch of Endor, and whether she actually summoned the spirit of Samuel, or a demon instead. (And no, I have no opinion on that.)
  • On Psalm II and XXII/XXIII: We get a clear and faithful exposition of the humanity and Deity of Christ.
  • On Psalm CIX/CX: Hippolytus gives us an excellent overview of what Christ does by means of His life and death.
  • On Proverbs: This is a worthwhile introduction to a difficult book of the Bible. "Proverbs, therefore, are words of exhortation serviceable for the whole path of life," all of which are summed up in Christ: "the fruit of righteousness and the tree of life if Christ. He alone, as man, fulfilled all righteousness." Christ is the Wisdom we find in the book, calling all to heed and obey Him.