Origen on Scripture (Theology Class #3)

Origen, Commentary of the Gospel of John.

Origen is discussing the nature of Scripture. In this text one finds lots of issues raised (and positions on those issues taken) which have recurred over and over countless times in the history of the church, for example:

–    Section 4, “The Study of the Gospels is the First Fruits Offered by These Priests of Christianity.” The primacy of the four Gospels as the “first fruits of the Scriptures.” Origen clarifies that in one sense the epistles of the NT are not properly called “Scripture,” since when Paul says things like, “I say, and not the Lord” and “so I ordain in all the churches,” etc. Also when Paul says “Every Scripture is inspired and profitable by God” he is probably not referring to his own writings. The four Gospels are the first fruits of the Scriptures for Origen in that they are the first which are offered to God, after the whole has become ripe.

–    Section 5, “All Scripture is Gospel; But the Gospels are Distinguished Above Other Scriptures” and Section 6, “The Fourfold Gospel.” John’s Gospel is the First Fruits of the Four. Qualifications Necessary for Interpreting It.”  the primacy of John as the “first fruits of the Gospels.” Origen thinks this is the case in light of two considerations: first, that, while the other Gospels discuss Jesus genealogically, John gives us a picture of God the Word before all genealogy and indeed before all time; second, that John summons us to an intimate commitment to Christ in that we must follow the Beloved Disciple in lying “on Christ’s breast and [receiving] from him Mary to be … mother also.”

–    Section 7, “What Good Things are Announced in the Gospels.” How the Gospel announces and delivers good things. When a believer hears the Gospel, “it brings him a benefit and naturally makes him glad because it tells of the sojourn with men, on account of men, and for their salvation, of the first-born of all creation, Jesus Christ.”

–    Section 8, “How the Gospels Cause the Other Books of Scripture also to be Gospel.” The nature of the Old Covenant Scriptures. Origen teaches that the four canonical Gospels reveal the gospel of salvation in the other books of Scripture. When Christ “sojourned with men and caused the Gospel to appear in bodiy form … [he] caused all things [in the “Old Testament”] to appear as Gospel…. He opened the way for all who desired it … to understand what things were true and real in the law of Moses, of which things those of old worshipped the type and the shadow, and what things were real of the things narrated in the histories which ‘happened to them in the way of type,’ but these things ‘were written for our sakes, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.’

–    Section 9, “The Somatic and Spiritual Gospel.” Analogies between old covenant (“the law”) and the new covenant (“the Gospel”). [Note: I think that this hermeneutic instinct is important for de Lubac, whose hero is Origen.] Origen seems to extrapolating by analogy from old covenant to new covenant. In both, there is a “not-yet” component: just as “the law contains a shadow of the good things to come,” so also “the Gospel teaches a shadow of the mysteries of Christ.” Based on this, Origen concludes another analogy: just as, for Jews it was necessary to be faithful to their Jewishness  (ie, “to be a Jew”) both outwardly (by circumcision) and inwardly (“in secret” … this must go along with “circumcision of the heart”), so also for the Christian it is necessary to be faithful to one’s “Christianness” both outwardly (Origen sees this as baptism) and inwardly (“in secret”).

–    Section 10. “How Jesus Himself is the Gospel.” Origen is saying here, quite simply, that Jesus is the content of Gospel Proclamation. He himself is the good news; he is the promised good things. He is the resurrection; he is the glad tidings.

–    Section 11. “Jesus is All Good Things; Hence the Gospel is Manifold.”

I am attempting to summarize all our readings in our “Theology: God & Creation” class class at SSW. For the list of texts we are reading, see here.

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Pickstock & McLaren on Liturgy & Art

Brian McLaren, who will soon be speaking at my the Seminary of the Southwest here in Austin soon, suggests that worship is art. He rightly states that “there is a huge difference between propoganda and art. Art says, ‘Hey, I’m telling the truth as I see it. And the truth might not be pretty.’”

Much of what McLaren says here is good and true, it seems to me. He is right to call out “the worship industry” in its propaganda-like consumerism, displayed in its attempts to create a pre-packaged “experience” for “worshippers.”

He is right to imply that for an artist to pander to people’s consumeristic desires cheapens her art.

However, worship is not reducible down to art; worship is not art. Worship and liturgy may contain esthetic qualities, and it is and should be beautiful. In The Pillar and Ground of the Truth Pavel Florensky describes Russian startsky’s as “connoisseurs of beauty.” However liturgy is not artistic expression.

I have been searching for an example to show how this is the case, and today Catherine Pickstock gave it to me. In her article “Asyndeton: Syntax and Insanity,” she praises writers like Joyce and Pound for their use of disorder in their writing in order to depict the disorder of the fragmented, modern world around them. In doing this they were consummate artists. This is good and true artistic expression. It is beautiful in its truthfulness (as McLaren would say).

However, what if the liturgy were to attempt to mirror this cultural disorder by itself becoming disordered? In fact this very thing has (unwittingly, perhaps) been attempted in the modern church, as Pickstock labors to point out in this article. Twentieth-century Anglican revisions of the Creed have used asyndetic syntax in the attempt to make the Creed more palatable or acceptable to the modern worshipper. (Hmmm … this actually sounds like what McLaren rightly critiques above: the desire to pander to the consummeristic urges of modern people.)

But not only is this bad art; it is damaging to the people, for it distorts the true purpose of worship and liturgy. Unlike art, the purpose of the liturgy is not to prompt people to reflect more deeply on the world around them, as noble a purpose though this be.  (This might, however, be a purpose of preaching.) Rather, the purpose of the liturgy is to put people into participatory contact with the transcendent God. And this is something which art – no matter how good – can never do.

I am yet again forced to the conclusion that the problem with “the emergent church” is the way it thinks (to the extent that this movement is a monolithic “it”) about liturgy and worship. It has many good things to say about art. And yet, there are lots of good artists and philosophers out there who can teach us about art.

Teaching about art is not the primary role of the church. The role of the church, again, is to enact the ritual, liturgical participation in God, which is, as Alexander Schmemann tells us, the life of the world.

This is something that artists cannot do. It is something that only the church can do.

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++Rowan on Scripture (Theology Class #2)

Rowan Williams, On Christian Theology,  “The Discipline of Scripture” (ch5)

In this chapter Rowan Williams argues that the discipline required by the Church in order to read Scripture aright is the discipline of time spent with the text of Scripture in the context of the church’s liturgical practice, its lectionary which is connected to the festal cycle of the Church, supremely the Paschal mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ. Patiently waiting upon Scripture, with all its internal conflicts and challenges, is necessary for the church in general, but it has never been more urgent than today, when we (the church) find ourselves struggling deeply with the same conflicts which are plaguing the world around us.

The key word here is “time.” What Rowan is trying to do in this article is in many ways to show how our (the Church’s) reading of Scripture is like, is analogous to, Scripture itself: it is a diachronic process, much to the chagrin, perhaps, of recent reactions to the higher criticism of the previous generation of high modernity, reactions which, even if quite close to Rowan’s own orthodox views (one thinks of canonical criticism a la Brevard Childs), have tended to eclipse the time-bound nature of the narrative in favor of a synchronic reading of the text in which the only “time” acknowledged is the “eternal present” of the reader. Synchronic readings “spatialize” something which is intended to flow through time; they spatialize the narrative of redemptive history.

It is somewhat ironic that Rowan in this article is defending the more explicitly modern ways of reading Scripture such as source criticism, form criticism, redaction criticism, as well as their modern, positivistic “kissing cousin,” fundamentalism, with its would be “univocal descriptions and exact representation of particular sequences of ‘fact.’” (48)  And yet, at least these approaches (the nonfundamentalist ones, that is) maintain that readers must be attentive to the difficulties and struggles within the text. Unlike the tendencies of some types of canonical and literary approaches, these hermeneutic strategies refuse any easy unity or harmony of the text.

And yet, all of the above modern approaches fail to appropriate and develop the medieval hermeneutic which we see in the sensus litteralis of, for example, St. Thomas Aquinas. It is true that for Thomas this literal sense is primary, but for him the literal sense includes not just the record of the events wrought by God in history, but along with that all kinds of complex human workings such as metaphor and perspective. So where the higher critics of modernity (and the positivistic fundamentalists) fall short of Thomas is in their reduction of historiography down to the something positivistic, but where the literary types (in reaction to the former) err is at the deeper level of the priority of the historical or temporal nature of the text, its “messy” duration through time. For Thomas as well as for Rowan, this must be primary, in a nonreductionistic way.

One way in which we see the fecundity of this medieval approach is that it posits an analogy between the development of the text of Scripture itself though and my (or our) own development through time in our faith journeys. As Rowan puts it, “The time of the text is recognizably continuous with my time.” (49) Synchronic readings, again however, tend to overlook this.
If the Bible’s movement through time mirrors our own movement through-time, then we can also pattern our own reading of the Bible on its movement through time. Hence the festal lectionary of the Church. There is an “analogy of duration between us and the text.” (50)

The use of a scriptural lectionary bound to the festal cycle is “a major mediation of the sensus litteralis,” since the latter includes not just a dramatic mode of exegesis but also a public performance, a “taking of time now for the presentation of the time of the text.” (51)

As we live the Passion narrative(s) during Holy Week, it is as if we don’t know the ending. We enter into the thick of risk and open-endedness. And we have been doing this before the advent of modern criticism: the church has always had, read, and celebrated the confrontational discussion going on between the four Gospels, for example.

Now, modern critical scholars may be correct to emphasize the ideological disputes between, say J, D, and P in the Hebrew Bible. However, as Rowan has already suggested, the pre-modern community of believers had long before modernity accepted and canonized such diversity of voices and agendas Ruth versus Ezra on the issue of cross-cultural marriage; Chronicles versus Kings on the presentation of various kings (or even kingship itself), to take just two examples.  So this cacophony of voices which leads us into discussion and group struggle, has already been embraced by the community of faith. If anything, higher criticism only underlines a point which has already been made.

And if this is so, if this kind of “diachronic” conflict is built into Scripture, then our (individual and corporate) reading of the same ought to be shaped in analogy to this pattern. This means that we can only discern the “inner reality” of Scripture through time spent hearing, considering, and interacting with all the voices in the text over time: seeing and meditating upon the issues, the connections, the questions raised. So, again, our reading of the text takes place diachronically, over or through time. Reading deeply and faithfully takes time.

Where, then, does the unity and coherence of Scripture come from? It comes from its community of readers: not so much that this community simply invents its own meaning, but rather the meaning comes from the connection, or the analogy, that exists between this diachronic narrative we have been considering and the self-identifying practices of the church which it precisely does and did not invent. We are talking about the central things which give this community its identity: baptism and eucharist, which point to the death and resurrection of Christ. Jesus, the crucified and risen Christ, is the hermeneutic key to Scripture, and not some abstract Jesus, but the Jesus who is embodied, and whose life is reenacted, in the church.

In order not to lose this meaning and this identity, we must participate in this same diachronic struggle which we see in Scripture, even as we read it together. It is in the difficulty of the struggle, the risk, the cost, the disappointment, that we open ourselves as the church to Christ, and grasp the possibility of speaking Christ into the world. Far from a cheap pluralism (and the advocates of cheap pluralism do abound), however, we all must remain open to the judgment of the Paschal mystery.

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St. Thomas on Scripture (Theology Class #2)

Only now, nine years after finishing my MDiv, am I finally getting around to reading Thomas Aquinas on Scripture. Some interesting points which I wish I had known much earlier:

1. Thomas emphasizes the priority of the literal sense of Scripture, its sensus litteralis. However, he does not mean by this what most modern people mean by “literal.” When most modern people talk about “literalism” or “literal” interpretations of Scripture, they tend to mean something like “common sense” (whatever that is) or “the plain meaning” (whatever that is) or some kind of univocal historical precision (which presupposes a modern, positivistic view of history and historiography). However, when Thomas discusses the literal sense of Scripture, he is talking about the historical meaning: the “mighty deeds” wrought by God in space and time. He does not presuppose in this, however, “a univocal description and exact representation of particular sequences of ‘fact’” (to quote Rowan Williams).

2. Thomas affirms what later Reformed theologians would mean when they say that “Scripture interprets Scripture.” Specifically, Thomas says that “everything in Scripture that is taught metaphorically is elsewhere in Scripture taught nonmetaphorically.” (Walter Bauerschmidt, Holy Teaching (2005) p. 41, n. 36). So, for example, if one wanted to interpret, say, from the Book of Revelation the “literal” rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem at some point in the future, this would fall short of this “test” which Thomas proscribes (since nowhere else in Scripture is there a nonmetaphorical reference to this).

3. Thomas, as is well known, advocates the four-fold meaning of Scripture. What I did not know, however, is that this is one of the “doctrines” he defends in the Summa Theologica using the structure of disputatio. He quotes Gregory the Great: “Holy Scripture, by the manner of its speech, transcends every scientia, because in one and the same sentence, while it describes a fact, it reveals a mystery.” (Bauerschmidt, 43). He then develops this by distinguishing between the literal sense (see above) in which the text of Scripture refers to the “things” in creation and the spiritual senses of Scripture. This is one “kind of referring,” (the first kind), he says. These created things, however, themselves refer to God himself (or to heaven, or to the church, etc.). This is the second kind of referring, the spiritual kind of reference, which presupposes the literal.  It is this spiritual sense that has a three-fold division. “So far as the things of the Old Law refer to things of the New Law, there is the allegorical sense. So far as the … things that signify Christ are signs of what we should do, there is the moral sense. So far as things related to eternal glory are signified, there is the analogical sense.”

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Theology Class (#1 & #2): Williams, Augustine, Chesterton

For background on my reasons for posting this, see here.

Readings we discussed in class today (Tue, 2-10-09):

– Rowan Williams, On Christian Theology, prologue & ch. 1

– Bauerschmidt, Holy Teaching, prologue

– St. Augustine, Confessions, Bk. I.

– Chesterton, GK. “The Blue Cross” (from The Essential Father Brown).

Summary of Augustine’s Confessions, ch. 1.
God has created us with desire, desire for him. To desire is at the very depths of who we are as human persons, but only God can satisfy this desire. Which is why it is frustrating and destructive when we try to satisfy our deep desire for God with anything that is “less” than God, ie, the creatures which God has made. Christ makes it possible for our desires to be satisfied in the world, by Christ, in and even through the creation, which is intended by God to be an icon to God, and not an idol which is a (dead) end in itself.

Summary of prologue to Rowan William’s On Christian Theology. There are three registers of theology: the celebratory, the communicative, and the critical. The celebratory is the language of praise or worship of God. The communicative is the attempt to pursuade those not in the faith / tradition / church to accept the claims of theology. The critical is the church’s attempt to critique its own discourse throughout history in order to make it more honest and integral.

Summary of chapter 1 of Rowan William’s On Christian Theology. Any discourse lacks integrity when it is not really about what it claims to be about. In advertising, for example, a “text” might claim to be about the safety of your children or the attainment of satisfaction but it is really about the sale of cars or the sales of a new restaurant chain. Many theological texts claim to be about God or some aspect of God’s economy or dealings with humanity, but in fact they are really about power.

Summary of Chesterton’s “Blue Cross.” forthcoming.

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“Systematic” Theology, Anglican Style

This blog is about my theological pilgrimage (Lt. peregrinatio), and so I am going to blog about an experience I am having which is profoundly important for me. I am finally experiencing, in a formal way, one way to do (“systematic”) theology postmodern, Anglican style.

I am going to try to summarize, in one paragraph each, each of the texts we read in our “Theology I: God and Creation” class taught by Tony Baker at the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, TX.

I do want to call attention to the selection of the texts we are reading in this class (which is sort of the first forray into theology which MDiv students at this Episcopal seminary are getting). I am grateful for my training at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, but it is interesting to compare in contrast the assigned readings in this this class versus what we were assigned to read at Westminster. I am pretty sure that, at Westminster, we did not read anything older than the reformation (in formal theology classes), and nothing from outside the Reformed tradition. (I will get back to this point and confirm it or correct it later.)

First Summary: here.

Here is the assortment of texts, portions of which we are assigned in this theology class at SSW:

Augustine, The Confessions.

Chesterton, GK. Father Brown: The Essential Tales.

Floresky, Pavel. The Pillar and Ground of the Truth.

Pickstock, Catherine. Asyndeton: Syntax and Insanity: a Study of Revision of the Nicene Creed.

Origen. Commentary on the Gospel of John.

De Lubac. Henri. Medieval Exegesis.

Augustine. On Christian Doctrine.

Hooker, Richard. Ecclesiastical Polity.

Maurice, FD. Theological Essays.

Solovyov. Vladimir. Lectures on Divine Humanity.

Florensky, Pavel. The Pillar and Ground of Truth.

Von Balthassar, Hans urs. Theo-Drama: Theological Dramatic Theory, Volume IV: The Actions.

Gregory of Nyssa. Concerning We Should Not Think of Saying That There are Not Three Gods.

Johnson, Elizabeth. Basic Linguistic Options: God, Women, Equilavence.

St. Anselm: Proslogium.

Gutierrez, Gustavo. On Job: God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent.

Borges, Jorges Luis. Funes, the Memorious.

Bonhoeffer, Deitrich. Letters and Papers from Prison.

Weinandy, Thomas G. Does God Suffer?

Edwards, Jonathan. Ethical Writings.

Sayers, Dorothy. The Mind of the Maker.

Gregory of Nyssa. On the Making of Man.

Williams, Rowan. On Christian Theology.

Bauerschmidt. Holy Teaching.

Tanner, Kathryn. God, Jesus, and the World.

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“Ascension” – Acts 1:9-11 (Class #5: 2-9-09)

Here is the outline for class #5 in our Acts study at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Austin, TX.  The title of the course is “A New Kind of Conquest” (see blog categories below). For the outline of Acts we are using, see here, and for more info please contact Matt.

(Once again I am encouraged by the depth of the discussion last night, as we discussed the meaning of the ascension (“stage 2” of the resurrection) of King Jesus.)

“Ascension”

I. Cosmology of “Heaven and Earth”

A. Gen 1:1 – “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Hendiadys for the whole creation.

B. “Heaven is “God’s Dimension or realm,” not “where you go when you die.”

C. The whole narrative of Scripture, including the resurrection and the ascension (and the incarnation!), is about the coming-together of “heaven” and “earth.”

D. St. Thomas Aquinas on the human person: “a rational animal.” Kind of like animals (body), and kind of like angels (disembodied souls). Human being as nexus of “heaven” and “earth.”

II. Scriptural (ie, OT) Precedent: Dan. 7:9-14 & “The Ancient of Days”

A. Daniel would have been in people’s minds due to the “abomination of desolation” text we have discussed in connection of the sacriledge of Antiochus Epiphanes IV.

B. “… coming on the clouds.” Typology of cloud in OT.

III. Greco-Roman Precedent: “ascensions” of Caesars.

Arch of Titus: souls of emperors going up to heaven.

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Acts 1:6-8 (class #4: Feb 1, 2009)

Here is the outline for class #4 in our Acts study at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Austin, TX.  The title of the course is “A New Kind of Conquest” (see blog categories below). For the outline of Acts we are using, see here, and for more info please contact Matt.

 

“A Question about the Kingdom”

I.      Is it bad to be a child?

II.    Why were they[1] still like children? 

III.  OT Precedents

  • A.   Ps 72
  • B.    Ps 89
  • C.    Isa 40 – 55

IV. Kingdom Dreams Transfigured

V.   Didn’t Jesus basically answer, “No”?

VI. Not just a trip, but a journey (1:8)

VII.  “My witnesses: King Jesus. We have a job to do.

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++Rowan on Contemplation

“To use a word like ‘dispossession’ is to evoke the most radical level of prayer, that of simple waiting on God, contemplation. This is a complex area: let me venture some dogmatic assertions. Contemplation in its more intense forms is associated with apophasis, the acknowledgement of the inadequacy of any form, verbal, visual, or gestural, to picture God definitively, to finish the business of religion speech (the acknowledgement which is at work in praise as well), and the expression of this recognition is silence and attention. Contemplation is giving place to the prior actuality of God in what is misleadingly called ‘passivity:’ misleadingly, because it is not a matter of suspending all creaturely activity (as if that were possible) in pure attention to the divine void.” — Rowan WIlliams, On Christian Theology, p. 11.

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The Killers, St. Thomas, & these Strange Days

Last night Bouquet and I went to the Killers concert here in Austin (thanks, Caroline, for the tickets!) and it got me thinking. At various points during the concert, but especially during the song “Smile Like You Mean It” I found myself looking around at the thousands of jumping, youthful hipsters, and thinking, “Wow. This is postmodernity.”

At a broad level, one of the things going on in theology today (though this has been going on for at perhaps a century) is that people are trying to retrieve Thomas Aquinas, and that for two reasons: first, to rescue him from the arid and stultifying “scholasticism” which can at times tend to co-opt Thomas so as to solidify certain medieval characteristics of the Roman Church, and second, to bring Thomas’ theology into our contemporary culture and discourse both to actually attend to his arguments but also (at a deeper level) to develop Christian tradition today through innovative, non-identical repetition.

This, in fact, is one of the primary agendas of Radical Orthodoxy. To postmodernize, if you will, Thomistic theology in ways that are faithful to him and to the tradition he inherited and developed.

Now, I received my M.Div from a conservative, Reformed seminary, I am grateful in many ways for the riches I received there. However, it does trouble me that, basically, the only exposure we had to Thomas was to label him as one of those nasty, medieval “Roman Catholics” who elevate autonomous “natural theology” at the expense of biblical revelation. There is so much more to the story than that, even within the Reformed tradition of Calvin and his followers.

This is one main reason I am grateful to be Anglican and to be studying at an Episcopal seminary, where Thomas’ importance (in this retrieved way, alluded to above) is second to none.

One towering example of an Anglican theologian (a 20th century one, no less, though he did rely heavily upon those Anglican Thomists known as the Caroline Divines such as Jeremy Taylor and Lancelot Andrewes) who loves and develops Aquinas is Kenneth Kirk.

In his book The Vision of God (in which he argues that “seeing God” is the “chief end” of man and thus of paramount importance for [Christian] ethics) he makes several points in his summary of Thomistic theology and its importance for ethics and Christian moral theology:

  1. Theological reasoning is analogical.
  2. B/c of this, we can learn of God by learning of (God’s) creation.
  3. Man stands as intermediate between non-intelligent matter, on the one hand, and pure, incorporeal intelligence (ie, the angels) on the other. Man’s perfection, thus, is analogically related to the perfection of “brutes” as well as of angels.
  4. Thomas is perhaps the first Christian theologian (after St. Paul, perhaps?) who takes our embodiment calmly. Up til him, the best theology could do was to say something like, “Live like angels if you can; if you cannot, then live as much like them as possible.” “St. Thomas insists on saying, on the other hand, ‘Live like men, that is, like embodied souls. And remember that souls embodied cannot behave as if they were disembodied.’ The soul, in fact, is not entombed in, but endowed with, a body. Bodily emotions and bodily goods, though not the whole of the whole of the human good, are genuinely and eternally a part of it.”“By this new approach to ethics, St. Thomas brought back the heroics of ascetic rigorism – always aspiring, often unregulated, sometimes tragically wasteful – to the test of reason, and subordinated them to the supreme rule of the beatific vision as commensurate to human nature.”
  5. Though the body is now affirmed as something to be accepted, gently nurtured, and celebrated, this does not mean that deep meditation and contemplation “is idle day-dreaming. Every Christian must bring to it the same honest endeavor, the same perseverance, as the scholar brings to the solution of his problems. Without such earnestness, prayer will forever be barren.
  6. This emphasis on meditation is for the “wayfaring man, though a fool” and not for the scholar or philosopher alone.
  7. As much as Thomas stresses the key role of meditation and contemplation, he does insist that the intuition of the divine essence – the sight of God face to face – is sternly reserved for eternity.
  8. One primary condition for success in meditative awareness in prayer of God’s presence now and for final beatific vision of God in eternity is ordered discipline
For more on St. Thomas Aquinas, see the Confessing Reader’s post here.
  1. Kirk, Kenneth. The Vision of God (New York, Longmans, Green, and Co., 1947), p. 157.
  2. ibid.


 

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Eucharistic Donation: a Fly in the _Oinos_

For the last few months I have been serving as an LEM (Lay Eucharistic Minister) at our home parish, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in South Austin. I have served the chalice at Communion before, but it is always, it seems, an ongoing learning process. This last week I had some questions and so I called our church’s curate to talk them through with him.

After doing a great job answering all my questions, he volunteered something very interesting to me. He said, “Oh, and if a fly were to happen to fall into the wine, what you should do is use a clean wafer to dig the fly out, and then immediately eat the wafer and the fly.”

Unfortunately, nothing of the kind happened this last Sunday at the rail, much to my chagrin. However, when I was talking about these instructions with another friend of mine, he looked at me, rolled his eyes, and asked with something like quizzical disgust, “Why in the world would you eat the fly? Why not just throw it away or something?”

Why in the world, indeed. I thought back to a conversation Bella (my five year old) and I had recently had about the three “givings” or donations which occur in the Eucharist.

First, God gives to us, God gives to Adam, creation in the form of wheat and grapes.

Then, priestly Adam receives the creation, under the species of wheat and grape, from God. We then transform it from glory to glory, turning it into bread and wine, which we offer, give, or sacrifice, together with our tithes and offerings, and “our selves, our souls and bodies,” back to God in the Eucharist.

God then receives this offering (which is sacramentally and / or symbolically the whole creation) from us and transforms or transfigures these creatures of bread and wine into the body and blood of his Son Jesus Christ, bringing them to a new state of glory. God then gives them back to us, the new Adam, and we feast on, and become, the body (and blood) of Christ.

Now, back to the fly. Without needing to buy into any particular theory of “what happens” to the elements of bread and wine, this rendition of the “three givings” has something really important to say what is going on in the eucharist. In particular, it shows how the eucharist is a symbol, or a microcosm, or a “microchron,” or indeed a sacrament(al sign) of the whole creation.

In the Eucharist, all of creation is transfigured into Jesus Christ, the firstborn of all creation, Christ becoming all in all. Everything is changed: trees, rocks, people, etc. What is in the chalice is (a sacramental symbol of) the whole world.

So it makes sense that if anything were to fall into that chalice, we would consume it. In so doing we would be consuming the whole world which is the body and blood of Christ.

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Clement of Alexandria on Cities

“I pray to Christ to wing me to my Jerusalem. for the Stoics say that heaven is properly a city, though places here on earth are not…. For a city is an important thing, and its people a decorous body, a multitude of men regulated by law, as the Church (that city on earth impregnable, invulnerable) is ruled by the Word, a product of the divine will on earth as in heaven. Images of this city the poets create with their pens; the Hyperboreans, the Arimaspian cities, the Elysian plains, are commonwealths of just men. And we all know Plato’s city, laid up as a pattern in heaven.”  — Clement of Alexandria, Strom.., iv, 26.

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